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CHILDREN

How Italy’s new ‘Family Act’ aims to increase the plunging birth rate

Italy's parliament approved a new bill on Thursday aimed at supporting parents. Here are the measures being introduced to help make starting a family in the country a more affordable and realistic prospect.

How Italy's new 'Family Act' aims to increase the plunging birth rate
Photo: AFP

“We have approved the Family Act to support parenting, combat the falling birth rate, encourage the growth of children and young people, and the help parents reconcile of family life with work, especially for women,” Premier Giuseppe Conte told reporters after parliament passed the bill.

Italy has suffered a declining birth rate for decades. Some 464,000 births were registered in Italy in 2018 – the lowest on record, ever.

Declining fertility rates, combined with longer life expectancy, has left Italy with a significantly older population. Its median age is now 45.9 years according to EU statistics, compared to the European median of 42.8, higher than in any other European country except Germany.

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The growing demographic crisis, with births falling and life expectancy rising, is thought to be both a symptom and a cause of Italy's chronically stagnant economy.

Italy's government announced last year it would be focusing on measures to curb its shrinking and ageing population. With the act now coming into force, here's what it provides.
 
 
Financial support for all under-18s
 
The Family Act's flagship policy is a “universal” monthly allowance, to be paid from the seventh month of pregnancy until a child reaches 18 years of age. This may be in the form of a direct payment or tax credit.
 
Despite being described as universal, the payments are means-tested and are on a sliding scale depending on a family's income. A maximum of €240 a month is available to parents of a child under the age of 18, with that payment increasing by up to 20 percent for each child born after that. There are also additional allowances for children with disabilites.
 

 
More paternity leave after birth
 
After the government initially said it would increase paternity leave to seven days, the final bill gives ten days of fully paid leave – and makes it mandatory.
 
Each parent can also choose to take a period of two months of additional leave (not transferable to the other parent) “granted regardless of the marital or family status of the working parent”, personal finance website QuiFinanza writes.
 
Ten days may not sound like a great deal to people from many other countries. Fully paid leave for new fathers was only introduced in Italy in 2012, and Italy is still lagging far behind Germany and Scandinavian countries, offering new dads weeks if not months of paternity leave.
 
But it is double the previous provision of five days, and meets the 10-day minimum the EU is trying to get member countries to abide by. 
 
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP
 
Salary supplements for mothers returning to work
 
The bill also includes payments intended to help mothers get back to work following the birth of a child.
 
The Family Act includes “a supplementary allowance paid to working mothers by INPS (the social security office), for the period in which they return to work after mandatory maternity leave”.
 
It's not yet clear how long this period will last or how much the supplement will be worth.

 
More money for childcare
 
The amount of money available to help with the cost of nursery of babysitting will triple – from the current €1,000 up to €3,000 per year, although the exact sum will be dependant on the applicants' income. 
 
The payments will be divided into three income-dependant brackets: €1,500, €2,500 and €3,000.
 
Average nursery fees in Italy are about €500 a month, but in big cities this figure can rise to €700.
 
 
When will these changes come into effect?
 
Disappointingly for anyone imminently becoming a parent, the funds won't be available straight away – in fact, the law gives the government two years to make the contents of the bill into a reality.
 
The flagship universal child allowance policy however may be introduced much sooner as this is being fast-tracked after being processed separately from the rest of the Family Act, in a bill presented to parliament several weeks ago. Italian media reports it could be processed by the end of 2020.
 
Will these measures work to increase the birth rate?
 
The northern region of Bolzano has a considerably higher average rate of children per couple than the rest of Italy – 1.67 compared to 1.3  – a figure that's higher even than the EU average of 1.6. 
 
Bolzano, which enjoys more autonomy than other regions of Italy when it comes to setting policies, has in recent years been offering double as much money in child benefits to its population to encourage them to have children. 
 
There are also special subsidies for Bolzano parents with low incomes and easier access to family-friendly services such as childcare (in the rest of Italy there are only enough nursery spots for one in every four newborns).
 
Womens' labour market participation and inclusion is seen as a major factor in trying to raise the country's low birth rate.
 
Up to 73 percent of women in Bolzano aged 20 to 64 work, compared to 53 percent in the rest of Italy. 

The payments will be divided into three income-dependant bracket – €1,500, €2,500 and €3,000.

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MONEY

REVEALED: Which are Italy’s cheapest supermarkets?

As the cost of living crisis hits household budgets in Italy as elsewhere, a new study says switching supermarkets could shave thousands of euros a year off your grocery shopping bill.

REVEALED: Which are Italy's cheapest supermarkets?

As the cost of living keeps rising amid soaring inflation – Italy’s inflation rate hit a 37-year high at the end of last month – many households across Italy, as elsewhere, are finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet.

READ ALSO: What is Italy doing to cut the rising cost of living?

The government’s recent suggestion of lowering or even scrapping IVA (VAT, or sales tax) on basic food products hasn’t materialised. But consumers could still find ways to save on their grocery shopping.

Many shoppers are now switching supermarkets to save money, or considering it.

And doing so could pay off. A new study from Italian consumer group Altroconsumo showed a family of four can save up to 3,350 euros a year by shopping at discount supermarkets such as Aldi and Eurospin.

Altroconsumo, savings on grocery shopping

Maximum possible savings by type of shopping and household size. Graphic courtesy of Altroconsumo.

For context, the study found Italian families with two children spend an average of 8,550 euros a year on groceries. 

While discount supermarkets do allow for considerable savings however they also generally offer lower-quality products which not all consumers will be satisfied with.

Shoppers can also reduce costs by switching to supermarket own-brand items (i.e. items carrying the supermarket logo), available in stores such as Carrefour and Iper-Coop. 

In particular, shopping at Carrefour, which is the most affordable supermarket in Italy when it comes to own-brand goods, can allow a family of four to save as much as 3,250 euros per year (savings can amount to 2000 euros for individual consumers). 

Consumers who do not wish to part ways with branded products (prodotti di marca) can still save on their shopping, though in this case savings are comparatively lower.

Shopping at Esselunga – the most cost-effective Italian supermarket for branded goods – allows for savings up to 350 euros for single individuals and up to 570 euros for families with two children.

Finally, potential savings are considerably reduced for consumers choosing to stick with a spesa mista, meaning that they generally fill up their shopping cart with a combination of branded items, distributor-brand goods and low-cost goods.

Regional differences 

While switching supermarket can mean savings on food bills, exactly how much you’ll save varies greatly by region.

In particular, Altroconsumo’s latest report highlighted once again the stark divide separating the north of the country from the centre and south. 

READ ALSO: From coffee to haircuts: How the cost of living varies around Italy

 Of the 15 cheapest Italian supermarkets, only two are located in the central or southern regions of the boot (Sesto Fiorentino’s Coop-Fi and Spesa 365 in Bari).

More importantly, consumers living in the north and shopping at the cheapest supermarket or hypermarket available in their city can save as much as 18 percent on a branded-goods-only food bill.

In equal circumstances (i.e. buying only branded items at the cheapest local store), consumers living in most central or southern cities can only save between two and three percent. 

Convenience map by Altroconsumo

The “convenience map”, with the cheaper cities shown in green and the more expensive cities shown in red. Graphic courtesy of Altroconsumo.
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