Commentary. There were 5.6 million absolute poor as early as 2021, but only a little more than 3 million were receiving the citizenship income. This is an example of the very serious social crisis in which this country finds itself, and which no one has been able to improve so far.

Italians slip deeper into poverty without any justice in sight

According to an ISTAT report published on Tuesday, in 2021, the Italian “absolute poor” (households and people who cannot afford to meet basic needs to lead a dignified life) were 5.6 million people distributed among 1.9 million households. This figure needs to be seen in its historical context. After the first 12 months of the pandemic, declared from February-March 2020, the number of the absolute poor has remained the same as in 2020, at least statistically. As we wait for the data for 2022 – which will be released next year, and will presumably record an increase in poverty due to the new crisis and skyrocketing inflation – the report shows that 2021 saw around the same number of absolute poor as the all-time high reached the previous year.

This means that the so-called “citizenship income” – and its ephemeral twin called the “emergency income,” passed by the “Conte 2” government to avoid the extension of the main benefit and its transformation into an unconditional basic income – has failed to decrease the poverty rate. Not to mention the fact that, ever since it was passed, the “citizenship income” has been unable to reach all the absolute poor officially counted in Italy.

In 2021, this measure reached its maximum extent, with 1.8 million households and 3.9 million total recipients. As of April 2022, at the time of the country’s relapse into another crisis, the number of recipients had decreased: 1,522,879 households and 3,362,180 recipients. The average amount was €558.17 (INPS data).

The question is: if there were 5.6 million absolute poor as early as 2021, why are there only a little more than 3 million still receiving a benefit that will only become increasingly restricted, especially for those who are deemed “able to work” (roughly 1.1 million)? This is what the Draghi government decided in the latest budget law. All this is happening because of the income and asset limitations for eligibility (including an ISEE yearly income threshold of below €9,360 and real estate assets not exceeding €30,000, excluding the first house) imposed by the law advocated by the “Conte 1” government (Five Stars + Lega) that instituted the measure in 2019.

This is without even considering that there are also the “relative poor,” i.e., people who are de facto excluded from common activities and ways of life and only have low quality jobs and intermittent paid activities. According to ISTAT, these are 11.1% of the working population, and by 2021 the proportion had already increased from 10.1% in 2020. Relatively poor households were about 2.9 million (2.6 million in 2020).

We highlight this data to give an example of the very serious social crisis in which this country finds itself, and which no one has been able to improve so far. On the contrary, the data says that the crisis had already worsened among the “relative poor” in the first year of the pandemic, despite the “aid” provided through the occasional and random cash benefits and incentives typical of the neoliberal-“compassionate” welfare state adopted by the last two Italian governments.

One example is sufficient to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the populist measures adopted: it concerns the benefit for self-employed workers called ISCRO. According to a report by CGIL and the Apiqa association, the measure, celebrated two years ago under the “Conte 2” government, turned out to be, as was widely predicted, a complete failure. In the 2021, the first year of the “experiment,” the number of successful applications was much lower than expected: 3,471 out of a total of 9,443. 43,500 applications had been expected. We are talking about the self-employment of the poor, devastated by the crisis triggered by the measures taken to contain the spread of the pandemic. This measure would have also needed much larger funds (70.4 million for 2021, going down to only 3.9 million for 2024), for a far larger recipient pool. Despite the emergency, it was a political disaster.

This is the reality being swept under the rug by the violent and surreal clash between those who want to keep the “citizenship income” because it would serve to curb poverty (not true, since in 2021 it remained at the 2020 level) and those who want to abolish it in order to give the resources away to companies that exploit poor labor, starting with seasonal labor. Via ludicrous spin, the need for a universal and unconditional extension of the welfare state, and thus also of the “citizenship income,” is denied.

And we should not forget the racist scandal on which the “citizenship income” is built. This was denounced by Roberto Rossini of the Alliance Against Poverty: “The 10 years [of residence] still required for non-EU foreigners to apply for access to the measure is a scandal.” No justice for them. No justice for the “one in three workers who have a gross annual salary of less than €10,000,” recalled the CGIL union. Quite the opposite: the welfare state will only become more conditional while inequality will continue to grow.

An upside-down world – and one that should be turned upside down.

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