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The History of Social Security in Malta

Social Protection in Malta

The development of social security services in Malta could possibly be traced back to the rule of the Order of the Knights of St. John over the Maltese islands. Although by the time the Knights came to Malta in 1530 they had evolved into a military order, as hospitallers they still devoted themselves to the care of the sick and poor. Besides defensive fortifications, they built a large-sized hospital in the new capital city and were engaged in several charitable bodies. They were actively involved in humanitarian activities to assist in cash or assist the poor and other meritorious causes.

But it was not before the 19th century that the first-ever state sponsored social benefit was introduced in Malta. It took the form of a pension scheme launched in 1885 for police officers, and which a few years later, was extended to civil servants.

Legislative Initiatives

The first green shoots of a social policy network appeared in the twenties with the granting of self-rule by the British Government in 1921 in the aftermath of the First World War and the socio-economic hardship that came in its wake. The legislative programme included the granting in 1927 of pensions to widows and orphans of deceased public officers.

It was followed two years later by the first-ever social insurance scheme designed to compensate workers who suffered injuries on duty. Benefits were financed through a fund regulated by the Workmen’s Compensation Act. Contributions towards the fund were compulsory and equally shared by employers, employees and the State.

Political upheavals and the onset of the Second World War cut short the legislative programme, which, however, resumed in earnest with the restoration of self-government in 1947.

The first measure in August 1948 was the Old Age Pensions Act which provided for the payment of pensions to elderly persons who had never been in employment. Unlike the Workmen’s Compensation Act, the scheme was not funded through contributions, but claimants had to undergo a financial means test. It was followed a couple of years later with the scheme of financial assistance (colloquially known as Relief) for needy families whereby person responsible for household was unemployed.

Watershed Year

1956 was a watershed year for the social security system with the enactment of two major bills – the National Assistance Act and the National Insurance Act – and the concurrent creation of the Department of Social Security. Social and Medical Assistance were accorded to different categories of vulnerable people without having to pay any contributions. Heads of household – unemployed, in search of employment or unable to work because of ill-health – were granted social assistance. If beneficiaries were residing in a rented house their assistance was augmented by a Rent Allowance.

Persons suffering from a chronic disease became entitled to Medical Assistance, irrespective of their family’s financial resources. The legislation further introduced free institutional care for the senior citizens, free hospitalisation and treatment in all State-run institutions and hospitals.

The Workmen’s Compensation Act was repealed and replaced by a law providing for a comprehensive scheme of social insurance financed through contributions compulsorily paid by employees, employers and the State. The scheme covered a wide range of benefits, allowances and pensions, besides contingencies covering sickness, employment injuries/diseases, unemployment, widowhood, orphanhood and senior citizens.

A year later Government extended the provisions of the Old Age Pensions Act to visually impaired persons aged forty (40) years or over. The qualifying age in 1962 was lowered to fourteen (14) years to align it with the school-leaving age of that time.

The National Insurance Act was amended in 1965 to encompass self-employed persons and non-employed persons, thus bringing the scheme applicable to a broader spectrum of the Maltese population. In the same year Invalidity Pension was added to the string of social measures.

The Seventies

A host of innovative social measures were rolled out during the seventies. These comprised of:

  • The elimination of the distinction between men and women contributions and benefits. (1971)
  • The introduction of the payment of an annual Bonus to all Social Security pensioners and recipients of Social Assistance. (1972)
  • The establishment of Children’s Allowances from which thousands of households and children benefitted. (1974)
  • A non-contributory Disability Pension was launched in the same year. It also was eligible for persons suffering from a severe mental sub-normality or from cerebral palsy. In the following year the pension was extended to other categories of severely disabled persons.
  • Significantly, the Two-Thirds Pension came on stream in 1979, together with a pension scheme for widows calculated on their deceased husband’s earnings. The new schemes were supplemented by a reformed contributions system applicable to both employed persons and self-employed persons.
  • A National Minimum Pension was concurrently introduced to ensure persons claiming a contributory pension would not fall below the threshold pension rate provided they had a full contribution record to their credit.

The Eighties

The decade was marked by the approval of the Social Security Act by the House of Representatives to comprehensively encompass the provisions of three separate laws governing Old Age Pensions, National Assistance and National Insurance into one legislation.

The measures which were rolled out in the eighties included the introduction of maternity benefit for self-employed persons and for unemployed females. The benefit covers the eight (8) weeks prior to confinement and the first five (5) weeks after confinement. Maternity leave benefit is awarded to females opting for maternity leave through their employer and deciding to extend their maternity week by four (4) weeks. The weekly payable rate is at par with the national minimum wage.

Social assistance was extended in 1986 to single or widowed females single-handedly taking regular care of an elderly or disabled relative.

The Disabled Child Allowance was created in 1988. It is paid to parents of children with a disability.

The Nineties

The decade was fertile with new or enhanced social measures:

Introduction of a Widower’s Pension and an Orphan’s Supplementary Allowance. (1991)

  • Unmarried or widowed persons taking care of a bed-ridden or wheelchair bound parent were accorded a Carers’ Pension. (1992)
  • A Supplementary Allowance started being paid to citizens whose total income fell below a certain level. (1996)
  • The Children’s Allowance scheme was reviewed and entitlement became subject to a means-test of the income derived by members of the household. (1996)
  • The meaning of the term ‘Service Pension’ was fined tuned. As a result, a service pension for social security pension assessment was only considered if the original rate of such pension was over €466 per annum and had not been wholly commuted. If this was the case, the service pension was taken at its original rate, that is, when it was first received by the pensioner or the spouse in the case of a widows’ pension. (1997)
  • The discrimination hitherto existing between men and women that was provided to Widow’s Pension was eliminated. The amendments established that all contributory benefits applicable to a widow were to apply to widower mutatis mutandis. (1998)
  • The amendments further eliminated discrimination in the grant of sickness benefit. A married woman hitherto did not qualify to the Sickness Benefit rate applicable to a married man. With the new measures, both married men and women were put on the same footing if their spouse was not gainfully employed.
  • In the same year, after more than four decades, the responsibility for the collection and enforcement of Social Security Contributions passed from the Department of Social Security to the Inland Revenue Department.
  • The decade closed with a revision of the Social Security Contribution rate for employees. It was increased from 8.33% to 10%.

Early 21st Century

Since the turn of the century, social protection has been invigorated by the activation of social reforms and benefit enhancements aimed at keeping the social security system abreast of changing social needs and challenges.

Furthermore, in 2004 Malta’s accession to the European Union (EU), social benefits became available to all citizens from other EU member states and reciprocally Maltese residents became eligible to benefits from other EU states.

Pensions

Given Malta’s ageing population, priority has been given to measures devised to strengthen the sustainability and adequacy of pensions.

The reform got underway in 2006 with the raise of retirement age from sixty-one (61) years for men and sixty (60) years for women to sixty-five (65) years for both genders. Concurrently the contributory period has also been increased to forty (40) years while ten (10) years later it increased by another year for persons born in 1969 and onwards.

In terms of sustainability, since 2016 adopted measures have been primarily designed to incentivize pensioners to remain active in the labour market beyond statutory retirement age and to ensure that, over time, a fair balance would be kept between contributions and benefits across generations. Employees in the private sector opting to remain in employment, now have the option to defer their retirement pension. In doing so, they stand to gain annual percentage increases in their pension rate, depending on how long they remain in employment (a maximum of 23% if pension is deferred for 4 years). In 2019 the incentive was extended to employees in the public sector as well.

In terms of adequacy, manifold measures have been implemented since 2016 to increase pensions across the board, to improve the living standards of senior citizens and towards them off the risk of poverty such as the following:

  • As of 2018, pension rates have been yearly increased across board for both contributory and non-contributory pensioners, as illustrated in table.
Year Weekly Increase in Pension in € Weekly Increase in Cost of Living Allowance in € Weekly Increase in €
2018 2.00 1.75 3.75
2019 2.17 2.33 4.50
2020 3.51 3.49 7.00
2021 3.25 1.75 5.00
2022 3.25 1.75 5.00
2023 2.60 9.90 12.50
  • Pension income of those pensioners who are still in employment is exempt from tax up to a maximum of 40% in 2023. Exemption rates will continue to gradually increase until by 2026  all their pension income will be tax exempt.
  • A guaranteed national minimum level of pension was introduced in 2016 to provide a minimum level of pension income related to the at-risk-of-poverty level. It is yearly adjusted by cost-of-living increases and additional pension increases.
  • Employees are entitled to Child credits to compensate for periods spent raising and caring for their children, thus helping them to improve their pension coverage.
  • Study credits have been introduced for periods spent in education. The higher the levels of educational attainment the greater the credits awarded.
  • Survivors qualifying to a contributory pension are entitled to a pension of the higher between their own pension and the pension of their deceased spouse.
  • The gender gap in pensions was addressed in 2017 with females gaining increases in their weekly pension rates.
  • On reaching pensionable age persons with a disability are entitled to a pension equivalent to the Non-Contributory Retirement Pension.
  • Persons born between 1950 and 1956 in employment and short of Social Security Contributions, have been given the opportunity to pay for a maximum of five (5) years from their missing contributions to qualify for a pension.
  • Persons born before 1962 and who were in employment before reaching nineteen (19) years became eligible to a minimum retirement pension if they managed to reach the minimum contribution average through the endorsement of the social contributions paid whilst they were in employment before nineteen (19) years.
  • Service pensioners yearly benefit from higher income due to the grant of a €200 waiver in their service pension.
  • On reaching seventy-two (72) years of age, as from 2022, service pensioners became eligible to a full abatement of their commuted part of the service pension for the purpose of their social security pension.
  • Ex-uniformed personnel who on retirement from service take up another job in 2020 were granted the option to have their pensionable income assessed on the salaries earned when in the disciplined services, if more beneficial, instead of the last 11, 12 or 13 years of their employment as the case may be.
  • Through a process started in 2022 the pensions of widows, who in their own right are ineligible to a retirement pension, are being yearly adjusted to gradually reach the same level of pension entitlement as their deceased spouse. The process aims at redressing an anomaly which precludes widows from qualifying to the full pension due to their spouse.
  • Another process was launched in 2022 to gradually phase in a uniform cost of living bonus (CLBO) for pensioners who retired after 2008. The current mechanism engenders disparate rates of CLBO between retirees in 2008, or earlier, and retirees in subsequent years.  When completed, the readjustment will create a level playing field for all pensioners.
  • Contributions paid by pensioners who continued to work after reaching pensionable age are taken in consideration in the computation of their pension as from the age of 65 years.
  • In 2019 the applicability of the pension assessment for employees who benefitted from early retirement schemes was extended to employees who opted to such schemes prior to January 2008. Previously, entitlement was restricted to employees who took up early retirement after January 2008.
  • A concession was given in 2019 to persons who worked in Libya after January 1990, and who were adversely affected by changes in the social security bilateral agreement between Malta and Libya. Such persons were given the option to regularize their position by providing documented evidence of payment of contributions in Libya or by paying up to ten (10) years of missing contributions in Malta.
  • A typical worker with multiple part-time jobs can opt to pay social security contributions on more than one job up to a weekly maximum of forty (40) hours. The arrangement would enable them to qualify to a higher pension rate on their retirement.

Making Work Pay initiatives

A package of active labour market initiatives was rolled out in 2014 and 2015 to incentivise social beneficiaries and women to enter the labour market. It comprises the In-Work Benefit scheme and the Tapering of Benefits. Both have been a notable success in encouraging persons on social or unemployment assistance, predominately single parents, to find employment. Coupled with the free Child Care programme, they have contributed to push up the participation of women in the labour market.

The In-Work Benefit scheme is targeted to improve the situation of low-to-medium income households where married couples (both or one of them) or single parents are in employment and have dependent children up to twenty-three (23) years of age. Benefits are calculated on net income from employment.

The rates and thresholds have been repeatedly upgraded.  The ceilings are now capped at €50,000 for working couples; and €35,000 for employed single parents and couples one of whom is in employment. The payable rate for eligible beneficiaries in the extended income brackets stands at €200 per child. The rates applicable to beneficiaries below the old thresholds in 2022 were increased across board by €100 per child .

A new benefit was added to the scheme in 2022 in the form of a yearly payment of €150 applicable to private sector workers, who are engaged in atypical job and earn less than €20,000 annually.

The Tapering of Benefits scheme job is designed to wean off persons from unemployment and social benefits and provide them with greater security when they take up a job. Besides eliminating the risk of persons falling into the dependency trap, the initiative paves the way for a beneficiary to invest in a future contributory pension through the payment of Social Security Contributions.

Under the scheme, beneficiaries are allowed to retain part of their social benefits when they take up a job. In the first year of employment, they retain 65% of a benefit, and 45% and 25% in the following two years. Over the same period, their employers are assigned 25% of the benefit. The tapering rates were increased in 2023 by 10% and now stand at 75% in the first year of employment, 55% in the second year and 35% in the third year.

Persons with a disability

  • Even persons with a disability have found it easier to find a job. Their employment was facilitated through fiscal incentives offered to employers and through the enforcement of a law enacted in 1969 to reserve 2% of the manpower of companies with more than twenty (20) employees to persons with a disability.
  • At the same time, persons with disability in employment and earning more than the minimum wage have been given the right to retain their Disability Pension.
  • The Disability Pension has been reformed primarily to assist persons who because of their disability could never be able to be gainfully occupied and have the opportunity to supplement their pension with income from employment. These persons are now entitled to the Increased Severe Disability Allowance which is equivalent to the annual net National Minimum Wage.
  • The same reform removed the bar to a Disability Pension for persons who, although missing one arm or leg, were not considered eligible at law.
  • Besides the Barthel Index, which applies to persons with mobility problems, an Impairment Rating Evaluation was introduced in 2019 to widen the eligibility parameters to other forms of severe disability.
  • The eligibility criteria to qualify for Disability Assistance were broadened in 2020 to embrace persons who are permanently deaf or permanently mute. An applicant who is medically certified to be totally and permanently mute or deaf to a degree of no less than 70 decibels, and who qualify for the Disabled Child Allowance, would qualify to the Disability Assistance on reaching 16 years.
  • In the following year persons certified to be suffering from severe disabilities and intellectual impairment became eligible to the Increased Severe Disability Allowance if they could not be gainfully employed.
  • The means test criteria to qualify for all disability assistance was dropped in 2022.
  • A Carer’s Grant was introduced in 2021 for parents who have to stay at home to take care of a child with a severe disability over sixteen (16) years of age. The grant was originally set at €300 annually and increased to €500 in 2022.  As from 2023 the grant is pegged to  half the annual net National Minimum Wage.

Elderly

  • A Senior Citizen Grant of €300 was introduced in 2012 for elderly persons, aged eighty (80) years and over, residing in their own residence or with relatives. The eligibility age was lowered to seventy-five (75) in the following year. In 2020 the grant was increased by €50 to €350 for persons aged eighty (80) years and over. It was further increased to €400 in 2022. In the same year, the grant was extended to elderly persons in private residential care homes.
  • An annual grant is paid to persons with a deficient record of Social Security Contributions. Thousands of persons, mostly married women, have benefitted from the bonus introduced in 2015. Over the years the bonus rates have been gradually upgraded and from initial annual payments of €100 and €200 they now stand at €450 and €550, depending on the contribution record of the beneficiary. Beneficiaries are entitled to retain the  bonus on reaching 75 years.
  • To encourage elderly persons to continue living in their own homes and community, a reform was undertaken in the Carer’s Pension and the Carer’s Allowance. The Pension is now known as the Increased Carer’s Allowance and is payable to carers, including spouses, taking care of persons with a high level of dependency. The Carer’s Allowance is intended for carers of persons with medium level of dependence. In both cases, payable rates have been considerably enhanced, and the means test is no longer applicable in the award of the Increased Carer’s Allowance. If a married beneficiary of this allowance forfeits the right to entitlement to another social benefit an additional weekly allowance is allowed to every other member in the family. (2017 – 2018)
  • The conditions were further enhanced in 2019 to exempt applicants for both allowances from undergoing a means test. Married persons living in the same house with an elderly person became eligible to receive the Carer’s Allowance until they reached their pensionable age.
  • In 2021 the eligibility criteria were widened to allow persons in retirement or in receipt of a pension to qualify for both allowances, subject they undergo periodical medical examination to assess their physical and mental suitability to impart care. Spouses, however, remain excluded.
  • The Social Security legislation amended in 2023 to recognize spouses in a civil union or cohabitation applying for a Carer’s Allowance or an Increased Carer’s Allowance.
  • Persons who for a time, quit their jobs to take care of their parents at home, as from 2023 became eligible to an accreditation of four (4) years of social security contributions. Furthermore, as beneficiaries of the carer’s allowances they have been given the option to pay up to five (5) years of missing contributions on reaching fifty-nine (59) years of age.
  • A subsidy is payable to elderly persons, residing at home, to employ a carer of their choice on a full-time or part-time basis. The subsidy, introduced in 2017, was increased in 2022 by €1000 to €7,000.
  • Elderly persons also have the option to engage a helper of their choice for a number of hours on a weekly basis to assist them with household chores and to run errands.  The subsidized hourly rate was set at €7 in 2022.
  • The Supplementary Assistance has been enhanced since 2017 to boost the incomes of low-income claimants. The assessment mechanism was revised in 2021 and again in 2022 to increase the rates applicable to married and single persons. At the same time, the yearly additional allowance payable to beneficiaries over sixty-five (65) years old, became applicable irrespective of whether they are at risk of poverty or not.
  • Supplementary Assistance beneficiaries aged eighy (80) years and over as from 2022 became automatically entitled to free medical aid (Pink Card) without the need to undergo a means test.

Widows

  • Widows in employment and in receipt of a contributory pension have been extended the right to benefit from Sickness Benefits. (2018)
  • Widowed pensioners with children under the age of eighteen (18) years in 2020 became eligible to an increased rate of allowance per child, irrespective of whether they are in employment or not. The weekly allowance was increased by €5.46 to €10.
  • The Social Security Act amended in 2021 to update the interpretation of a widow to validate the right of the surviving spouse in a civil union or cohabitation to be recognized as a widow/widower if it is proven that the civil union or cohabitation could not be contracted and registered because one of the partners passed away between 1st January 2017 and 31st December 2020.

Families and children

  • The Maternity Benefit rate increased to the equivalent of the National Minimum Wage for self-employed women. Maternity Leave entitlement has been extended by a further two (2) weeks to eighteen (18) (2013)
  • Adoptive parents became eligible in 2015 to Maternity Benefit and Maternity Leave Benefit on the same lines as Maternity Leave.
  • A grant of €10,000 introduced to support adoptive parents to defray the expenses in their quest to adopt children from abroad. (2018). The grant was extended in 2021 with a maximum capping of €1,000 to couples adopting Maltese children.
  • The minimum annual rate of Children’s Allowance increased from €350 to €450 for each child. At the same time heads of families on minimum wage became eligible to the highest rate of Children’s Allowance. (2013)
  • Children’s Allowances payable to means tested families were increased in 2019. The highest payable rate went up by €96 to €1,252. This was the first such increase since 2008.
  • The Children’s Allowance scheme was enhanced in 2021 with the introduction of an additional supplement for all children under sixteen (16) Means tested families received a supplement of €70 per child.  For families above the means test threshold the supplement amounted to €50 per child.  In 2023 the supplement was increased by €90 to €140 and €160 per child.
  • A Child Bonus of €300 was introduced in 2020 for families of new-born babies or adopted children. The bonus was increased to €400 in 2022.
  • Parents who are constrained to cease work to care for children suffering from rare ailments qualify up to eight (8) years of credits in their National Insurance contributions. The concession which became effective in 2020 is intended to ward them off gaps in their contribution record and thus minimize the prospect of having a reduced retirement pension.
  • The weekly Foster Care Allowance was further increased in 2010 and 2018 to reach €100 per child. It was again increased in 2021 by €20 weekly. Foster parents are now eligible to an annual allowance of €5,720 per child in their care.
  • With effect from 2023, foster care parents who choose to adopt children in their care became eligible to retain the Foster Care Allowance but at a scaled down rate over a period of 4 years, or until the child reaches twenty-one (21) years, whichever comes first. In the first year of adoption the payment will be 80% of the allowance, 60% in the second year, 40%, in the third year and 20% in the fourth year.
  • Orphan’s Allowance extended to orphans in employment. (2018)
  • The Disabled Child Allowance payable to parents of children suffering from some form of physical or mental disability was increased in 2014 from €16.31 to €20 per week. The weekly allowance was further increased to €25 in 2019 and €30 in 2022.
  • Single parents are given the opportunity to concurrently benefit from the payment of Social Assistance and a stipend when they take up post-secondary studies. The payable amount of social assistance and the stipend however cannot exceed the national minimum wage. In 2019 this concession was extended to social assistance beneficiaries over the age of twenty-three (23) who decide to take up studies at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) or the University of Malta.

Other measures

  • Drug Addicts Allowance increased in 2016 and 2018 to help affected persons pursuing a rehabilitation programme for drug or alcohol abuse.
  • In 2019 self-employed persons were historically extended the right to receive unemployment benefits if they ceased their activity and registered for work, putting them on the same footing as employed persons.
  • Means test mechanism reformed to create a single threshold for all Non-Contributory Assistance, including the Pink Card. (2017)
  • Elimination of discrimination between males and females in the benefit rates payable under the Social Security Act. (2016)
  • The Social Security Act provides for the payment of Medical Assistance to the head of household subject to a means test. An amendment in the legislation in 2019 gave recognition as heads of household to children caring for their parent/s and in receipt of the Increased Carer’s Allowance or the Carer’s Allowance if they applied for medical assistance.
  • In the same year, married couples suffering from chronic illness and in receipt of the non-contributory Medical Assistance became eligible to a weekly increase of €5.14.
  • Also, in 2019 all persons suffering from bipolar, depression by psychosis and terminal illnesses were granted the right to medical assistance if they satisfy the means test criteria.
  • In 2020 ME and Fibromyalgia were added to the list of medical conditions eligible for Sickness Benefit, subject to applicants satisfying a means test and undergoing a medical assessment by a multi-disciplinary board.
  • Persons undergoing continual treatment for certain medical conditions, such as cancer, in 2020 became qualified to Sickness Benefit from the first day of their repeat claim for the benefit.
  • Disablement pensioners qualify to full entitlement to injury, sickness or unemployment benefits without any deduction being made in their pension. (2022)
  • Social assistance beneficiaries as from 2022 became eligible to the full annual COLA increase, instead of two thirds of the increase.

Social Security Department Logo

The logo for the Social Security Department was unveiled on the 30th of May 2016 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of social security in Malta.

The logo designed by Andreas Azzopardi is inspired by a wish for Children to come first, and for equality between adults.

Previous Social Security Logo