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Opinion & Analysis

Hardship up close

by Robert Azopardi

John F Kennedy once said: “The fact that there have been difficulties and hardships, or obstacles, makes us closer”. This famous quote came to mind after the GSD outreach to Moorish castle Estate. This is an area typically considered as a fortress for GSLP supporters. Quite why I am not sure as many people there suffer chronic abandonment.  However, as Bob Dylan once sang, ‘Times They Are A-Changin’. Lo and behold, within a few minutes one, two and then three working mothers surrounded me and started to express their various concerns. The sincerity, dissatisfaction, and despair were very apparent but their courage and determination in the face of adversity left its mark on me. I now feel compelled to make people aware of their situations and raise their concerns. 

The Moorish Castle area has historically had its fair share of bad press. However, what I saw during my visit there was true community spirit. Neighbours speaking in a friendly manner to one another offering each other support in what seemed like a quiet and peaceful part of town. It is clear that they all share common grievances which range from: a lack of parking in the area, the fact the abandoned Married Quarters has become a hangout for drug users and squatters meaning residents do not feel safe. The failed promises of CCTV cameras have certainly left a bitter taste in the mouths of these residents.  

Scaffolding had been erected above the only children’s playground a week before the GSD visit, suggesting that once again the current government only begins to look busy when the GSD is about. One of the few and treasured open spaces will now be unusable until who knows when. The park itself is susceptible to vandalism. CCTV cameras, as found in other estates, would have helped preserve the park and allow families to take their children to a safe place to play in. The list of neglect and lack of understanding of what these residents’ needs was plain to see. 

However, what struck me the most has been the hardship of two of these ladies, who candidly shared their experiences with me. Both have recently become single parents, and both are raising a number of children on their own. One of the mothers has been working on a zero hours contract for four years. Yes, four years! She explained that she is not entitled to sick leave or holiday pay and could not understand why this position was not a permanent position within the GHA, given the obvious need for her role on a long-term basis. Are we becoming a community where we employ our citizens on what can only be considered abusive terms? Are we really going to deprive our hardworking citizens the right of secure employment, whilst the directors of these agencies enrich themselves at the expense of their employees? It is all well and good to cut costs and allow for flexibility amongst your personnel, I appreciate that ‘Times They Are a-Changin’, but surely a system where an employee is granted permanent and pensionable employment after a reasonable probationary period is in everyone’s interests, especially the patients, their families, employer and of course the employee themselves.

Many of the Moorish Castle residents have incredible views over the town area and beyond. The way in which the skyline has changed over the years must certainly be leaving quite an impression on these residents. One resident proudly commented on how they had lived there since they were built. One can only help but wonder how they must feel to see the many modern and luxurious apartment and office blocks which have hastily begun to encroach on their breath-taking sunsets.  I can only help but wonder whether this progress has meant that many of these residents have been left behind and forgotten. This GSD visit has certainly highlighted the need to not allow the sun to set on many of these residents’ needs.  

I often hear many Gibraltarians comment on the fact that many residents living in government rented properties are somehow living it up and rolling in it. The abused system, currently in place, allows some to benefit from what the government permits. It isn’t their fault. They are only doing what they have been given and are looking out for themselves and their best interests. The GSD has repeatedly pushed for the residents of these properties to be means tested but the historical apathy towards resolving this delicate issue remains unsolved. The excuse that a system of means testing will be abused anyway is nothing but sheer lethargy.  

It is quite remarkable that this GSLP Government has not had the vision to build more government rental properties. Indeed, the last government to do so was under the GSD (Mid Harbour Estate). 

One of the Moorish Castle residents was very concerned for her son, who was finding it impossible to get on the property ladder. How could a young man, earning £18,000 a year ever afford a deposit on a house? These fears are real and affect many of our young citizens today.  

The cost-of-living crisis is certainly hitting everyone hard. I know this as I too pay my bills at supermarkets in Gibraltar or Spain. When I fill the petrol tank or do my shopping on Main Street. I am sure my family is not alone at gasping at the extent to which the bills have gone up, but our salaries have remained the same. We are fortunate to have some disposable income which allows us to make ends meet. However, one of the mothers at the Moorish Castle Estate works seven days a week. Yes, seven days a week! The bags under her eyes showed me that her despair was sincere. When she returns home her second job awaits. This is the reality for many within our community; many of whom are too proud to say they are struggling; many of whom knock on the housing departments’ doors asking for a reduction in their rent because they are finding it hard to pay their rent, which in the eyes of many is too low anyway. Such is their despair. Such is their hardship.  

John F Kennedy’s quote at the start of this piece was preceded by ‘It's hard for me to talk about a legacy or a mystique. It's my family.’ Sadly, this government’s legacy will be its debt.

We need a change, a change that will give us and our families hope, a change that will bring a new dawn of shared social responsibility and respect.

Robert Azopardi is a member of the GSD Executive.

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