The bitter Italian situation: no basic income and false protection for the poor
By: Sandro Gobetti
Basic income began to be debated in Italy from a diverse range of viewpoints about 4-5 years ago, when two law proposals were submitted to the Italian Parliament: one a part of the 5S Movement and the other the outcome of a popular initiative which had more than 50,000 signatures (the necessary threshold according to the Italian Constitution) collected by a pool of political and civil society associations. The role of Bin-Italy, which took part in the judicial extension of the latter text and played a consulting role for the 5S Movement, was particularly important. The two proposals have much in common (for example, that the financing burden falls on collective taxation, that the provision should be individual and not family-based, that the beneficiaries should have, at least at the beginning, an income below the threshold of relative poverty) but also have some differences, especially as to the degree conditionality is concerned.
For the 5S movement the possibility of refusing a job offer is a constrained to a maximum of three times and there is an obligation to work a number of weekly hours in community service. For the law of petition (BIN-Italy law), it introduced the concept of “fairness”, that it is possible to reject any job offer, which is considered “unfair”, since it is in line with the following three parameters: 1. the salary level is lower than previous jobs held or not in line with contractually stipulated pay rates (in the case of the young searching for their first job, without success); 2. the job is not in line with the qualifications and skills of the job-seeker; 3. the workplace is more than 70 km from the job-seekers residence.
Currently, these laws were discussed in the appropriate Labour Committees of the House and Senate but have not yet been put up for voting because the government chose other paths: in March, the new government approved the introduction of Reis (Social Inclusion Income) which presents very different characteristics from basic income and cannot also be considered a minimum income according to the parameters of the EU (PE Resolutions 2009, 2010, Charter of rights, the 1992 Commission Recommendation). Reis is only paid to families that have a total taxable income of less than € 3,000 a year (a ridiculously low amount), have a dependent or a disabled or at least two children and the breadwinner is over 55 years of age. Moreover, Reis includes an obligation to follow a path of integration to work, under penalty of revocation. The available financial resources amount to € 1.1 billion for 2017 and it is expected to increase to € 1,6 billion in 2018. The result is that only ¼ of households in absolute poverty can be helped. It is an expense of 0.1% of the national GDP in a country that already in social spending (net of pension) spends less than half of the average for European countries. The expense to cope with the two proposals for a real minimum income is between € 14 and 16 billion, according to different official statistical sources.
The current debate has given way to some experiments at the local level. Among these, the City of Livorno is testing (for a period of only 6 months), the introduction of a form of income support. To this purpose it has been allocated € 300 thousand. The municipality received 997 applications. Among the requirements was residency in the municipality for at least five years, unemployment status, registration at the employment center and a family income not exceeding € 6530 gross per year. In exchange for € 500 monthly, the municipality invited successful applicants to perform socially useful work.
Some Italian regions such as Puglia, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lombardy have anticipated the governmental model of income support for those in absolute poverty and dependent children or only for the long-term unemployed and often with the obligation to carry out community service: in any case these are not even remotely sufficient to restore decent living conditions. The governor of Apulia Mr. Emiliano even spoke about the cleanliness of the palm leaves on the Bari seafront!
Acceptance with the condition of performing “community work” has been extended to unemployed and workers temporary outside production because of restructuring. Most minimum income experiments at local level are thus more like workfare programs, if not just poverty benefits still tied to a purely assistance-concept, selective, and on a strictly family-oriented basis; this has little to do with a ‘idea’ of a basic minimum income which is also an instrument of freedom and personal self-determination. Further, they are not in line with the instruments already in place in more European countries of fighting social exclusion.
In conclusion, not only is there no actual testing of basic income in Italy, nor are there even forms of guaranteed minimum income consistent with EU parameters. Finally, there is a generalizing culture of coercive control on beneficiaries and induction to accept any kind of work. This is paradoxical in a country known to be free from the implementation of efficient active policies in the labor market and efficient employment services and training.
Last, but not least, in Italy we suffer from a cultural delay regarding the idea that basic income is mainly a primary income. It is a means of remuneration, and not only passive assistance, of all the lifetime that today is put to labor and to value but not yet certified as productive labor and, hence, paid. It is not even related to the fact that unpaid labor is sharply increasing.
Executive Committee Basic Income Network – Italy
Reviewed by Cameron McLeod