Italy: 5 Star Movement and the confusing proposal of a citizen's income
[by Sabrina Del Pico – BIN Italia]
In January 2013, a few weeks before general elections, Beppe Grillo, the colourful leader of Movimento 5 Stelle – M5S (5 Star Movement) declared: “The first thing we will do, after entering the Parliament, is to introduce a citizen’s income for those who lost their jobs or do not have a job”. During the campaign for the national Parliament M5S presented its agenda including 20 points, the second of which was what Beppe Grillo improperly called a citizen’s income.
That term is usually used synonymously with the term basic income for an unconditional income given to all without any means test or work requirement. Grillo instead used it essentially as a new name for unemployment insurance conditional on readiness to accept a job if one becomes available. Grillo himself said in a recent interview (in Italian), “the employment offices will offer people one, two, three jobs. If they don’t accept those jobs they will lose the benefit.” He did not even clarify whether the job offer must be appropriate for the individual’s skills.
M5S won an astonishing victory. It emerged as Italy’s biggest single party in the lower chamber with 8.7 million over, nearly a quarter of all votes cast. Its leader did not eat his words pronounced during the electoral campaign and went on talking about the introduction of a what he calls citizen’s income as one of the most important actions to be taken.
If on the one hand, it is unprecedented that Italian mainstream politicians put on their agenda measures addressing citizens’ economic conditions; on the other hand it added confusion to political language and therefore also to concepts and outcomes. See the link below for an article misunderstanding Grillo’s use of the term citizens income. M5S’ proposal considers a measure that provides unemployed with €1000 a month for 3 years. It is a quite vague proposal as regards the implementation process but as one point: the measure is entirely conditional to availability for work or some kind of commitment to a reintegration trajectory. It is clear, therefore, that what they call a citizen’s income is actually a kind of unemployment benefit, either contributory or non-contributory. This is not a mere linguistic issue. It actually hides – or reveals, according to the standpoint – an inadequate and shallow knowledge of welfare state policies by mainstream politics, which implies the risk to implement a workfare measure passed off as a basic income.
Nevertheless, this proposal opened a lively debate in the mainstream politics about the necessity to provide citizens facing economic problems with some kind of income support. Nearly all Italian political parties are now aware that the issue of introducing an income support scheme is an inescapable fact.
As a matter of fact, in July 2012, BIN Italia, along with many associations and grassroots organisations, already launched a campaign to propose a popular initiative bill on guaranteed minimum income in Italy. The campaign, which ended in December 2012, was a great success. It reached its target to collect 50,000 signatures, and therefore the popular initiative bill on guaranteed minimum income may not only represent an important contribution to the current debate but it may also help determine implementation and practical aspects of welfare reform in Italy.
The website, truthout.org, published a long article (in English) on M5S’s policy entirely under the misapprehension that M5S had endorsemed basic income: Ellen Brown, “QE for the People: Comedian Beppe Grillo’s Populist Plan for Italy,” Truthout, Thursday, 07 March 2013: http://truth-out.org/news/item/14953-qe-for-the-people-comedian-beppe-grillos-populist-plan-for-italy
An article (in Italian) by Roberto Ciccarelli appears in Il Manifesto briefly explaining the difference between a basic income and the unemployment benefit particularly in the light of the latest statements made by main mainstream politicians. He clarifies the positions of Bersani (Democratic Party), Vendola (SEL Sinistra Ecologia Libertà – Left Ecology Freedom), and Grillo (M5S) as well as those of some grassroots organizations such as BIN Italia and San Precario. Ciccarelli is one of the few in the mainstream media to highlight the haziness of Grillo’s proposal: http://www.ilmanifesto.it/area-abbonati/ricerca/nocache/1/manip2n1/20130302/manip2pg/06/manip2pz/336754/manip2r1/ciccarelli/