in Italy, the end of citizenship income enacted by the far right raises fears of a rise in poverty

The government of Georgia Meloni, head of the list of her far-right party in the European elections, removed this anti-poverty measure introduced in 2019. Franceinfo went to Naples at the start of the year, on the front line in this reform.

Near the imposing port of Naples this February morning, around fifteen volunteers are busy in the kitchen of the Santa Maria del Carmine Maggiore basilica. Every lunchtime for almost forty years, this canteen has offered meals to the most deprived. Upstairs, Davide Ricigliano and Lorenza Milano prepares shopping bags for other families in difficulty. At the start of the year, the demand is such that each beneficiary must commit to taking only one bag per month, from a single church.

“We have problems managing poverty at the moment”, slips Davide, his cigarette in hand. With the announcement of the end of city ​​redditor “citizenship income”, the Italian equivalent of active solidarity income (RSA), “fear has spread”. Beneficiaries losing their rights or waiting knock on the canteen doors. There are 30% more since this measure was stopped, according to Davide. “And it will increase.”

Poster sostegno al reddito per gli exclusive adi

At the end of December, the right-wing and far-right government led by Giorgia Meloni, head of her party’s list in the European elections, put a definitive end to this aid. It had come into force five years earlier for low-income Italians. Last year, this support has benefited more than two million people, particularly in the poorer regions of the Mezzogiorno, the Italian South.

Households caring for a child, a person with a disability or a senior must receive similar new assistance: the inclusion check. However, at the beginning of February, many of these families had not yet received anything. Others had just lost almost 600 euros per month on average.

At 46, Stefania Musto has always preferred to avoid food banks. A question of dignity, of modesty too. “I always thought that as a single woman, I would need less help”, discreetly underlines this Neapolitan woman, her green, dark-rimmed eyes. However, the forty-year-old is one of the most affected by the reform: without children and of working age, she received her last citizenship income in December.

These last 500 euros “saved my skin”, says Stefania from the studio she occupies in the historic center of Naples. The windows close poorly and only an old auxiliary heater cools the place. His building, occupied by residents waiting for social housing, is nicknamed “the palace of citizenship income”. A poster in favor of the measure is stuck on a decrepit wall in the hallway. “Everyone here was a beneficiary”relates the resident, who arrived with her mother when it became impossible to pay the rent. “With the citizenship income and the occupation, we all had a roof over our heads and dignity. It was little, but it was wealth.”

The occupied building where Stefania Musto lives, on February 5, 2024 in Naples (Italy).  (VALENTINE PASQUESOONE / FRANCEINFO)

At the start of February, Stefania estimates that she has between 150 and 200 euros left in her account. The craftswoman, used to odd jobs when she had to take care of her sick mother, was able to earn money by selling creations at Christmas markets. The Neapolitan woman stocked up on food for herself and her cats, enough to last a few weeks.

“I eat legumes, recipes that are nourishing. A friend gave me organic eggs, I also look at old recipes, ‘poor’ dishes from the past. I adapt.”

Stefania Musto, former recipient of citizenship income

at franceinfo

A few months later, contacted again by franceinfo, the Italian says she found an internship of twenty hours per week, paid 500 euros per month. Its only financial resource, in the absence of state aid.

The previous summer, in the Naples region, a little more than 20,000 people learned by text message that they, like Stefania, would lose their citizenship income. “We don’t want to make people who are already poor poorer”promises Giorgio Longobardi, elected to the Naples city council, member of Fratelli d’Italia, the far-right party of Giorgia Meloni. In his eyes, citizenship income was “an instrument that created unemployment. Many workers preferred to no longer work.”

At his side in his office, regional advisor Marco Nonno is full of comments: he cites cases of work refusals and fraud in obtaining aid. These represented 500 million euros in total between 2019 and 2023, out of an envelope of 31.5 billion euros devoted to citizenship income, according to the Italian financial police. “In my opinion, it’s much more,” assures Marco Nonno.

With the reform, their party wanted “differentiate between those who are able to work and those who are not”. Former beneficiaries can register for training paid 350 euros per month, lasting a maximum of one year. Giorgio Longobardi agrees: these courses “could work better”, And “We can’t live on this money.” Above all, “there is not enough work” in Naples: 21% of 15-64 year olds are unemployed, and undeclared work is omnipresent.

Photograph of a food aid aisle Poster sostegno al reddito per gli exclusive adi

The popular district of Secondigliano, in the north of Naples, is on the front line. It’s a very difficult area, a lot of people received citizenship income here.”testifies Andrea, agent of a local tax assistance center (CAF). With his colleagues, he supports requests for inclusion checks. Up to 50 people came every day in January, in confusion and worry. “There have been too many requests, and clearly delays [de traitement].

Raffaella, mother of two children, comes from another CAF in Secondigliano. She asked for an inclusion check in January, but was still waiting for a response a month later. “We eat at my parents’ house. They also help me pay for gas,” she depicts.

After dropping the children off at school, Maria Caputo checks her inclusion check application online again. The answer, on February 6, is long overdue. The resident of Secondigliano, mother of six children, is anxious: her account shows a balance of 23 cents. Only part-time work is possible for her, but in Secondigliano, “They are looking for undeclared workers”.

Maria Caputo takes her children to school on February 6, 2024, in the Secondigliano district of Naples (Italy).  (VALENTINE PASQUESOONE / FRANCEINFO)

Thanks to the citizenship income, the family could “live better”. This support allowed her to pay the rent, buy school supplies and clothes for the children. In December, the forty-year-old received it one last time, accompanied by universal aid for each child. A total of 1,300 euros for a household of seven people, describes the Italian. The following month, the family was able to survive with universal aid, after three months without receiving it in the fall.

Like Stefania, Maria stocks cans of canned beans, lentils and tomatoes, in a city where food inflation reached 8% in a year in the fall. At the beginning of February, the rent on the family apartment has not yet been paid. The heating doesn’t work, it would cost too much anyway. “I only use gas for cooking”she illustrates. The paint is crumbling and the humidity leaves deep marks on the walls. “I’m afraid of losing this apartment if they don’t accept my request”breathes this mother, whose youngest child is 4 years old.

“I don’t know how to live. It’s a mess, a life of survival.”

Maria Caputo, resident of Naples

at franceinfo

Maria finally received a first inclusion check in March, worth 1,200 euros, she assures. A “breath of fresh air” who helped pay the bills and rent owed. Since then, the amount of the check and universal aid have declined, with one of his daughters now an adult. The family now lives on 1,500 euros, according to Maria.

In the streets of Secondigliano, posters invite residents to demonstrate to defend the old income. Mario Avoletto, figure of the defense committees of the redditsaw “real improvement” permitted by the measure. “Especially during Covid-19, he remarks. When everything stopped, hundreds of thousands of people were able to live through the period and the aftermath with peace of mind.” Giorgio Longobardi readily recognizes this: “It saved us during the pandemic. It calmed souls and crime fell.” Along with other emergency aid, the citizenship income protected a million people from poverty, according to the National Institute of Statistics (Istat).

A street near the port of Naples (Italy), February 7, 2024. (VALENTINE PASQUESOONE / FRANCEINFO)

This safety net has even been a resource “essential” Or “fundamental” for 77% of beneficiaries, according to the National Institute for the Analysis of Public Policies (Inapp). “People were able to improve their housing conditions and the education of their children, they were able to breathe”, underlines sociologist Enrica Morlicchio, teacher at the Federico II University of Naples.

“All the research on the effects of the measure, in terms of the living conditions of the beneficiaries, has demonstrated a positive impact.”

Enrica Morlicchio, specialist in social inequalities and poverty

at franceinfo

The measure worked less well on returning to work. “The quantity and quality of jobs in the south of the country were too low”, continues the sociologist. She notes that people have refused temporary jobs, for fear of losing their benefits. Across the country, only 40% of unemployed or inactive beneficiaries were able to sign an “employment pact”, and among them, only half received a job offer.

Mario Avoletto has only one fear, that these people helped by the reddit plunge back into undeclared work or crime. In Naples, “they have lost the minimum of serenity that had been conquered”.

This report was produced with the help of Silvia Caracciolo, journalist in Italy, for preparation and translation.

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