In the economic recommendations it published Wednesday, the European Commission called for what the Conte government has failed to do in the “Relaunch Decree”: extending the so-called “citizenship income” in a structural manner.
Instead of an organic and universal system of protections, the Italian government has set up a chaotic system of temporary, category-based windfall bonuses that will end between June and July. And then, nothing at all, unless there will be new decrees extending the state of emergency; for now, this is what normal looks like.
Brussels could not have been more explicit in highlighting the need for universality for a measure that would be able to tackle a crisis that will last at least for the next ten years: income must be independent of employment status, it must be guaranteed—at least—to all precarious workers and vulnerable citizens, and generally to those who are outside the safeguards of a dysfunctional, family-based and inefficient welfare system.
To leave no room for doubt, we quote the original text of the recommendation: “Social safety nets should be strengthened to ensure adequate income replacement, irrespective of their employment status, including those facing gaps in access to social protection. Strengthening income replacement and support is particularly relevant for atypical workers and people in vulnerable situations.”
“The new minimum income scheme [editor’s note: improperly called a “citizenship income,” which excludes, in an unconstitutional and racist manner, non-EU citizens resident in Italy for less than 10 years], which provided over the past year benefits to more than one million households (€513, on average), may mitigate the effects of the crisis. However, its reach out to vulnerable groups could be improved.”
These assessments converge with those of the campaign to extend the “citizenship income” without constraints and conditions, on an individual basis, supported by the “Quarantine income” network (which will march in Rome before the headquarters of the Ministry of Economy on May 29) and the Basic Income Network. These campaigns hold that the “basic income” is the first recognition of the right to existence of individuals, as families can also become sites of violence, especially against women.
After cutting the sums promised, the “Relaunch Decree” created an “emergency income” for those excluded from the other bonuses and from the “citizenship income,” in an amount of up to €800, to be paid in two instalments, depending on the composition of the 867,600 families with an ISEE-certified income of up to €15,000 per year. They had announced the allocation of €3 billion in April, which have now become just €955 million.
Once again, many will be excluded from this measure. Faced with a political issue of universal scope, the government’s approach is programmatically minimalist and piecemeal. It lays the groundwork for a worsening of the emergency once this bonus runs out as well.
However, on Thursday, the public conversation in Italy made no mention of this issue, but was instead outraged by the “citizenship income” that had been paid to about 500 people deemed to be affiliated with organized crime groups: the cosche from Gioia Tauro or the ‘ndrine reggine in Tegano and Serraino. This concerns 101 families, or 0.14% out of the 69,000 who are receiving the subsidy in Calabria.
The same patchwork approach has also been highlighted by the ACTA freelancer association with regard to the €600 bonus renewed by the “relaunch decree” for 4.9 million freelancers with VAT numbers. For the month of May, this is expected to rise to €1,000, but the money will go to those who can demonstrate a drop in turnover of at least 33%. This could mean that a freelancer who has not collected anything in March and April because their customers have not paid their invoices until June 2019 will not receive any compensation.
And, in any case, the bonus will be unavailable starting from the summer. Not to mention the fact that—as highlighted by Andrea Dili of Confprofessioni Lazio—for the same amount of economic damage incurred, an entrepreneur will receive up to 17 times higher compensation than a freelancer with a VAT number. This is one of the outcomes of a measure that allocates €4 billion to subsidize the IRAP tax for companies of up to €250 million in turnover, and thus rewards companies that have continued to work during the months of the “lockdown.” As we know, the IRAP tax is one of the taxes that funds the healthcare system.
At the core of all the measures taken, at various scales and of different types, there is an idea that has emerged clearly from the “relaunch decree” and which has been underpinning the government’s actions on social and economic issues since the beginning of the pandemic. The selective sprinkling of compensation, such as tax rebates, is not a “universal” measure in any sense. It is not true to say that “no one will be left behind.”
The truth is quite the opposite: society remains frozen in its class divisions, and those who are left behind and survive will be worse off than before. The idea of emergency welfare based on bonuses is a classist measure, because it increases profits and rewards those who have lost nothing in the pandemic or have a large enough income that they can deal with its consequences in the long run, while penalizing and worsening the atrocious social condition of the have-nots with symbolic and populist measures.
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