The Budget 2024 unveiled yesterday under the theme ‘Malta Ġusta’ (A Fair Malta) has two main objectives. On the one hand, it aims to help counter the present challenges of families and businesses. On the other, the Budget highlights measures to ensure that our country will be able to seize the opportunities of the future and build a new prosperity.
1. The most pressing immediate challenge faced by households and firms is undoubtedly that of the cost of living. Government’s main anti-inflation measure is the strategic decision to protect families and businesses from international increases in the cost of energy and fuel. This €350 million support is removing a burden of at least €2,000 on the average household in terms of outlays on electricity bills and on petrol and diesel.
2. For those households with incomes below the national average, the Government has reinvigorated the additional cost-of-living mechanism that it had introduced in the previous Budget. While all workers and those on benefits benefit from the standard COLA increase, which will be almost €13 per week, those on below-average incomes are given an additional benefit paid by the Government. This support will benefit 95,000 families and amounts to between €100 and €1,500 depending on family income and members. For example, a couple with two children where one earner is on the minimum wage qualifies for a benefit of €760, or nearly €15 per week, while the same family but on the average wage are eligible for half of this amount.
3. Workers on the minimum wage will benefit from the biggest increase ever granted, reaching up to €18 a week over the next four years on top of the annual COLA. Next year a worker on the minimum wage will see an increase inclusive of COLA of €21 per week. This is equivalent to a 10 per cent increase or about 40 days more pay at the current rate.
The government also concluded several collective agreements with essential workers, including those covering nurses, midwives, and police officers. These workers will benefit from pay increases of around €70 million. This while negotiations with other public sector workers are progressing.
4. Workers on low incomes with children will be given an increase of €50 per child in the in-work benefit. This follows the widening of eligibility legislated last year. The increase granted next year will be the first of four that will benefit these workers in this legislature.
5. All parents will receive the biggest increase ever in children’s allowance, exactly on the 50-year anniversary of the establishment of this benefit. This increase will be of €250 per child, or almost three times the increase granted in the previous Budget.
6. For pensioners the increase will also be the best ever granted. All pensioners will get an increase of at least €15 per week, while various sub-groups of pensioners will benefit from additional increases. For instance widow/ers will on average get an increase of €17 per week. Furthermore, Government will start to address the anomaly created by a Nationalist administration in the maximum pension between those born before and after 1962. Those born before 1962 had a frozen maximum pension, which now will be gradually increased to reach that of pensioners born after 1962.
7. The Budget attaches particular importance to programmes to improve skills. For this purpose, the Government will introduce a special allowance for parents whose children continue to study after the compulsory age. They will now benefit from a grant of €500 per year for three years. Government will also improve stipends again, especially for those who train in courses deemed to be in line with the country’s economic and social priorities.
8. Another important election promise that will start to be fulfilled will be that of enacting a socio-economic regeneration plan. While Malta has progressed greatly in the last decade, there are a number of localities that have not benefitted fully from this progress or have had to bear more than others the associated burdens of economic activity. To this end, these localities will be given priority in relation to environmental, urban greening and infrastructural projects. Moreover there will be special incentives for firms operating in these localities.
9. The Budget also includes the largest public investment programme in history, with an allocation of more than one billion euros. Around half of this investment will be on environmental projects, the strengthening of the energy sector, industrial infrastructure as well as the national airline. Another third will be for the purposes of health, education, and physical infrastructure. Gozo will also be given the largest allocation it has ever received, especially through funds for sustainable urban development. To lessen the burden of development on Gozo, the lower stamp duty incentive for those purchasing a property will be removed and instead the incentive to purchase UCA, vacant or traditional properties will be strengthened.
10. Finally, the Budget includes twice as many open and green spaces projects as the previous one. These projects will create new or regenerated spaces of around 80,000 square metres, or eleven and a half times the national stadium. The focus will be on projects in the centre of the community, so to help achieve the election promise that everyone can walk to an open or green space in a matter of ten minutes.