Poverty in Italy Fell Slightly Before Populist Income Support
(Bloomberg) -- The number of Italians living in poverty stagnated after rising for three years ahead of the introduction of a new income-support tool.
Slightly more than 5 million Italians lived in absolute poverty last year, 18,000 fewer than 2017, statistics agency Istat said in a report Tuesday. That represents 8.4% of Italy’s total population of 60 million.
Still, the number of Italians living in absolute poverty remains three times higher than 2006, before the country went through a double-dip, record-long recession.
A person is classified as living in absolute poverty when he or she cannot afford the basket of goods and services necessary for an acceptable standard of living. The number of Italian households living in absolute poverty increased by 44,000 to over 1.8 million last year, the report said.
A government program backed by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement to distribute cash to the country’s poorest citizens started in April with almost a third of applications coming from Campania and Sicily, two of Italy’s poorest regions. Istat confirmed that poverty rates are higher in the South, and in larger cities.
The Five Star governing partner, Matteo Salvini’s League, has so far been skeptical about the measure. Salvini has said that it remains to be seen if the measure will actually prove a useful remedy for poverty and joblessness, calling it “a bet.”
Many business leaders agree. Business lobby Confindustria said in March that the program could, for example, discourage an unmarried Italian in his or her twenties from seeking employment.
Monthly citizens’ income benefits of up to 780 euros ($893) are aimed at people of working age below the absolute poverty line. Recipients must be willing to accept a job offer or they lose their benefits.
--With assistance from Alessandro Speciale.
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