Social welfare as a basic benefit provides people with financial support when needed.

GD/AD – 05/2019

A subsistence benefit for financially disadvantaged persons in Italy began in April with obligatory registration with various government agencies such as post offices or tax advice centres for low-income workers (CAF). The initiative has been the subject of considerable political discussion. People who otherwise have no income of their own will receive around €280 a month from the state treasury.

The National Bureau of Statistics puts the number of people affected at around 5.1 million as of 2017.  This is based on a standard with relatively realistic definitions. A person is defined as ‘officially poor’ when their income is not sufficient to purchase a basic basket of goods, including food, hygiene articles and clothing, as well as basic services.

Unlike almost all other EU industrialised countries, needs-tested social welfare as a basic benefit was unheard of in Italy until now. As a result, many people, including those who could barely keep their heads above water by doing undeclared work due a lack of skills, illness or other reasons, descended into a level of poverty that does not exist elsewhere, at least not in Western countries.

The response to the new social income, whose non-Italian designation occasionally led to confusion with the ‘unconditional’ basic income or citizen’s income discussed elsewhere, should help the new government to win more votes in upcoming elections. Previous Italian governments had started timid attempts to establish an income benefit for the needy, but these were never completed and, with an annual figure of two billion euros, was considered to be insufficient by social economists

The budgetary strain of billions of euros for social assistance was the subject of clashes between the Italian government and the EU Commission until the latter gave in, partly in light of escalating new debt in France as a result of Macron’s concessions to the Yellow Vest movement

In Brussels, many experts were and are of the opinion that the private wealth available in Italy, which is on average higher per citizen than in Germany, leaves much more scope for national redistribution of financing welfare services without having to increase national debt.