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How Italy’s growing rich-poor divide could impact the election result

Italy's status as the ninth largest global economic power has masked an increasingly alarming rich-poor divide that is spreading resentment and could have a decisive effect on Sunday's general election.

How Italy's growing rich-poor divide could impact the election result
Two dogs lie under a blanket alongside a note asking for money. Photo: AFP

Wealth distribution has been at the heart of debates on the economy during the campaign, with the main parties promising to wage a war on poverty in one of Europe's most unequal societies.

Their proposed measures range from a universal basic income put forward by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, to promises of an official minimum wage by the country's ruling centre-left Democratic Party.

“In Italy, a small number of Italians earn a lot of money whereas the majority are poorly paid for their work,” said Pier Giorgio Ardeni, a political economy professor at the University of Bologna. “And while skilled workers' wages have risen over the last years, pay for unskilled work has decreased.”

In December, Eurostat said Italy had the highest number of people living in poverty in Europe — 10.4 million.

Italy's elite

Massimiliano Signifredi, from the Catholic charity Sant' Egidio, which has been working with Italy's poorest for 50 years, said he had seen a steady increase in the number of people coming to its soup kitchens.

“There is a worrying trend where the age at which people are able to leave home and start a family is getting later and later, often exceeding 30 years of age.

“In Italy it is now the country's elderly who are propping up the younger generations financially, a grandfather will support his grandson,” Signifredi said.


A volunteer carries meals at a Rome soup kitchen. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Traditionally, one of Italians' main defences against the scourge of poverty has been their asset wealth — a culture of investing in real estate which means that today 77 percent of families own their homes.

“Homeowners in Italy benefit from an advantageous inheritance tax system, which means that some families have seen their real estate assets grow from generation to generation,” said Marco Montemauri, a real estate agent in a well-to-do area of central Rome.

“Even if the crisis hits even here, I have clients whose income from rent reaches 650,000 euros ($793,000) a year.”

Recent surveys show that over the past decades, income from property has increased far more than income from work, a trend also present in other European countries.

A study carried out by the Bank of Italy in the central region of Tuscany showed that of the five families with the highest incomes in 2014, four were already part of the richest three percent of Tuscans in the 15th century.

“There is a concentration of wealth and as this wealth is passed down, it is logical that the successor will likely accumulate more and more,” said Ardeni.

“A worker's child often remains a worker while rich kids can set their sights much higher,” he said.

READ ALSO: The Local's complete guide to the Italian election

By Franck Iovene

COVID-19 RULES

Italy eases Covid measures ahead of new government

Italy's outgoing government is easing measures against coronavirus from Saturday despite an increase in cases, weeks before handing over to a far-right administration that has criticised the tough restrictions.

Italy eases Covid measures ahead of new government

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government said it would not renew regulations requiring FFP2 face masks to be worn on public transport – these expired on Friday.

However, it has extended for another month the requirement to wear face masks in hospitals and other healthcare settings, as well as residential facilities for the elderly.

READ ALSO:  Why are so many Italians still wearing face masks in shops?

By the time that rule expires on October 31, a new government led by far-right leader Giorgia Meloni is expected to be in place — with a very different attitude to Covid-19 restrictions than Draghi’s.

Italy was the first European country to face the full force of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, and has had some of the toughest restrictions.

Last winter, it required certain categories of workers to be vaccinated and demanded proof of a negative test, recent recovery from the virus or vaccination — the so-called Green pass — to enter public places.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s Covid vaccination plan this autumn?

The pass was strongly criticised by Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which swept to a historic victory in elections on Sunday.

“We are against this certificate, full stop,” the party’s head of health policy, Marcello Gemmato, La Repubblica newspaper on Friday.

He said it gave “false security” because even after vaccination, people could get and spread coronavirus.

Gemmato said vaccines should be targeted at older people and those with health problems, but not be obligatory, adding that the requirement for healthcare workers to be vaccinated would not be renewed when it expires at
the end of the year.

READ ALSO: Italy gives green light to new dual-strain Covid vaccines

Cases of coronavirus are rising slightly again in Italy, likely due to the return of schools and universities.

More than 177,000 people with coronavirus have died in Italy since the start of the pandemic.

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