Most of us know Italy as a beautiful holiday destination and a country rich in culture and history. Only a few months ago, in March 2020, we heard a lot about Italy as the European Corona-hotspot. Overloaded hospitals, increasing death rates and desperate health personnel. But do we really know much about Italy? What about it’s social security system, pension payments or poverty rate? Didn’t Italy implement a “Reddito di Base”, a basic income a few years ago? Let’s take a closer look.
Sepp Kusstatscher, former politician and teacher from South Tyrol, answered our questions and helps us to get a deeper insight in the existing challenges of the Italians.
Sepp, how is the situation regarding social benefits in your country? Why would Italy need the UBI?
Sepp: The poverty line developed from 3,7% in 2008 up to 7,7% in 2019. This increase was connected to the impact of the financial crisis and the austerity measures taken by our government. Around one fifth of the entire population is consistently at risk of poverty. One of the most vulnerable group are women because they get lower wages, are often working part-time and loose insurance periods while raising children. In many cases they get only minimum pension, which is even lower than the Reddito di Cittadinanza. Also bigger families with more than 2 children are a risk group.
Now 5 Millions of Italians live below the poverty line. These are unacceptable numbers for a developed European country!
In the 1990s under right wing leader cancelled many social benefits. The distribution of money was delegated to the regional governments, so there is no nationwide handling of these payments and there is legal uncertainty in a complex social legacy. Furthermore, the regions are handling these issue very different.
Only in Bozen (South Tyrol) and Trentino exists a “minimo di vita” (minimum for living) since the 1970’s.
In 2018 our populist government, led by Luigi Di Maio (Cinque Stelle) and Matteo Salvini (Lega Nord) implemented something they called “Reddito di Citadinanza” (Citizens’ Income). It was tied to many conditions: financial situation, for families only, job offers must be accepted, determined for 18 months. So in reality this “income” was a social benefit for only a small group of people. It has to be stated, that these measures are far from being an Unconcitional Basic Income. This is a minimum social benefit, a kind of Hartz IV all’Italiana.
So it is just a social benefit of € 780 and far from being an unconditional payment. The aim was to bring people back into employment, which did not work out, and furthermore it was misused due to administrative failures and chaotic organisation.
More than 3.5 million people currently purchase this Reddito di Cittadinanza. Italy has around 60 million inhabitants; so a little more than 5%. That is little if, according to the official Statistics of 2020, around 20% of the population are at risk of poverty.
How do people feel about the idea of a unconditional basic income? Is there a broad knowledge regarding UBI among the population?
Sepp: The idea of the unconditional basic income is not really widely known in Italy. There are some groups of activists, but far too less for a country with more than 60 millions inhabitants. The media and the press are not really talking about basic income, at least not the unconditional basic income. The idea is getting stronger attention now during the pandemic, but there are so many different terms like emergency income, basic income, citizen income, etc. It is all very confusing.
The strongest group promoting UBI in Italy is an association that was founded in Rome in 2008: BIN Italia. It is a network of scientists and researchers, such as sociologists, psychologists, economists, finance, political and social scientists. What is missing are official representatives from the world of business and labour and representatives of larger social associations. But outside the capital, e.g. in Milano, Bologna or Torino, no active organisations can be found.
Are political parties supporting the real UBI? If yes, which ones and what is their motivation? (liberal/left wing)
Sepp: The motivation of liberal politicians is always to get unemployed people back into work. But this will not work because there is not sufficient wage labour in Italy! Young people with academic diplomas are leaving their home country because they cannot find jobs, which is a terrible situation and a real brain-drain for our economy!
The leader of the former grass-root movement Five Stars (Cinque Stelle), Beppe Grillo, is very much in favour for the unconditional basic income! He promotes it in every possible moment and writes about the idea in his blog. So he is the most popular UBI advocate in Italy with media attention and he also strongly supports the ECI.
There are also some other parliamentarians who speak out openly for a UBI and for signing the ECI, especially representatives of the left, the pirate party and the Rifondazione Comunista.
How are you involved in projects and activities promoting ubi?
Sepp: I promote the UBI since more than 20 years now. At the beginning of the pandemic, in April 2020, I wrote an open letter to Arno Kompatscher, the governor of South-Tyrol, in which I suggested to implement UBI to start a system change which is urgently needed to tackle all upcoming challenges. “Many creative minds, …, see the crisis as an opportunity for change, for a radical change in culture and lifestyle towards an eco-social and sustainable policy.” And one of the measures must be the UBI.
And, of course, as one of 28 national coordinators I am engaged in the organisation team for the European Citizens’ Initiative ECI.
Do you have one core sentence that explains your motivation or conviction?
Sepp: I strongly hope that perhaps the corona crisis is now an occasion to see that the social security of all people must be guaranteed, more than support for the poorest and those willing to work, away from alms and towards the right to a life in dignity for all people.
Thank you very much, Sepp, for this interview and the details about the development in Italy!
Here are some more details about Sepp himself:
Article by: Roswitha Minardi