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POLITICS

Financial help: Italy plans new ‘universal single allowance’ for families from July

The Italian government is set to announce new measures to help families on Friday in a new decree.

Families will be able to access child benefit in the form of a universal allowance from July 1st, as indicated by Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month, according to newspaper La Repubblica.

The short-term plans are intended to cover groups of families that have so far been excluded from government family help, such as the disabled, unemployed and the self-employed.

The move is a temporary ‘bridge allowance’ for six months, after which it will become permanent, in a bid to help families and reverse the trend of falling birth rates.

READ ALSO: Fast trains and extended building bonus: How Italy’s EU recovery plan could affect you

Described as “era-changing” by the Italian Prime Minister and also praised by the pope, the universal single allowance forms part of the country’s wider strategy, its so-called Family Act.

The plans are to be presented to the Council of Ministers today in the form of a decree law and are expected to outline how much families will receive in state funds per child.

A minimum of €30 to a maximum of €217.80 will be made available per month for each child. This is the plan for the next few months, valid from July to December 2021 for those who don’t already receive family allowances.

Families eligible are those with an ISEE – the social and economic indicator of household income – of up to €50,000. How much a family can claim is also linked to the amount of children they have.

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The maximum monthly amount is €167.50 for the first and second child, which increases by 30% from the third child onwards.

Therefore, a family with two children can claim a maximum of €335 and it would rise to €653 for three children.

The figure decreases as the ISEE increases, going down to zero for a family with an ISEE of over €50,000.

In addition, an extra €50 will be provided for each disabled child.

The support will be on hand for dependent children up to the age of 21 and, from the age of 18, could be directly credited to the child if they are at university, enrolled in a vocational course, have a low-income job, are a trainee or doing community service.

Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

It’s expected €3 billion will be made to households overall, with over half of these funds going to groups currently ineligible to claim for family support. That also extends to employees who may be excluded due to overall family income.

For households who can currently access government family benefits, they too will receive a boost with an extra €37.50 per child up to two children and an extra €70 per child for those with three or more children.

For now, these funds will co-exist with other family bonuses, such as the baby bonuses.

Draghi stated during a speech at a conference in May that help is also coming in the form of “the construction of nurseries and kindergartens, the extension of full-time education and the strengthening of school infrastructure”.

“To parliament, I listed the measures for young people, women and families, present in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan,” he added.

Measures of around €21 billion are pledged in total, including incentives for companies “to hire more women and young people”.

Italy has long been experiencing a decline in birth rates, with just 404,000 children born in 2020, according to the national statistics body ISTAT.

READ ALSO: The real reasons young Italians aren’t having kids

That’s the lowest number since the unification of Italy and marks an almost 30 per cent drop compared to ten years ago.

Italy has long counted among one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, and the situation has only been made worse by the coronavirus crisis.

It’s expected the trend will continue this year, as Istat expects a further drop to 384,000-393,000 for 2021— largely due to an expected post-Covid baby bust across the world.

The universal single allowance can be accessed by anyone who pays taxes in Italy and has been resident in the country for at least two years.

Italian and EU citizens and holders of residence permits for work or research purposes for at least six months are eligible.

For those wishing to apply, Italy’s social security and welfare system, INPS, is expected to publish a form online by 30th June.

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TOURISM

Why Italian resorts are struggling to fill jobs this summer

Italy's tourist season is expected to be back in full swing this year - but will there be enough workers to meet the demand?

Why Italian resorts are struggling to fill jobs this summer

Italy’s tourist numbers are booming, sparking hopes that the industry could see a return to something not far off pre-pandemic levels by the summer.

There’s just one catch: there aren’t nearly enough workers signing up for seasonal jobs this year to supply all that demand.

READ ALSO: Will tourism in Italy return to pre-pandemic levels this year?

“There’s a 20 percent staff shortage, the situation is dramatic,” Fulvio Griffa, president of the Italian tourist operators federation Fiepet Confesercenti, told the Repubblica news daily.

Estimates for how many workers Italy is missing this season range from 70,000 (the figure given by the small and medium enterprise federation Conflavoro PMI) to 300-350,000 (the most recent estimate from Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia, who last month quoted 250,000).

Whatever the exact number is, everyone agrees: it’s a big problem.

READ ALSO: Dining outdoors and hiking: How visitors plan to holiday in Italy this summer

Italy isn’t the only European country facing this issue. France is also short an estimated 300,000 seasonal workers this year. Spain is down 50,000 waiters, and Austria is missing 15,000 hired hands across its food and tourism sectors.

Italy’s economy, however, is particularly dependent on tourism. If the job vacancies can’t be filled and resorts are unable to meet the demand anticipated this summer, the country stands to lose an estimated  €6.5 billion.

Italy's tourism businesses are missing an estimated 20 percent of workers.
Italy’s tourism businesses are missing an estimated 20 percent of workers. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

“After two years of pandemic, it would be a sensational joke to miss out on a summer season that is expected to recover strongly due to the absence of workers,” said Vittorio Messina, president of the Assoturismo Confesercenti tourist association.

Different political factions disagree as to exactly what (and who) is to blame for the lack of interest from applicants.

READ ALSO: Travel in Italy and Covid rules this summer: what to expect

Italy’s tourism minister Massimo Garavaglia, a member of the right wing League party, has singled out the reddito di cittadinanza, or ‘citizen’s income’ social security benefit introduced by the populist Five Star Movement in 2019 for making unemployment preferable to insecure, underpaid seasonal work.

Bernabò Bocca, the president of the hoteliers association Federalberghi, agrees with him – along with large numbers of small business owners.

“What’s going to make an unemployed person come to me for 1,300 euros a month if he can stay sprawled on the beach and live off the damned citizenship income?” complained an anonymous restauranteur interviewed by the Corriere della Sera news daily.

“Before Covid, I had a stack of resumes this high on my desk in April. Now I’m forced to check emails every ten minutes hoping someone will come forward. Nothing like this had ever happened to me.” 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

Italy is experiencing a dire shortage of workers this tourist season.
Italy is experiencing a dire shortage of workers this tourist season. Photo: Andrea Pattaro / AFP.

Five Star MPs, however, argue that the focus on the unemployment benefit is a distraction from the real issues of job insecurity and irregular contracts.

There appears to be some merit to that theory. A recent survey of 1,650 seasonal workers found that only 3 percent of the people who didn’t work in the 2021 tourist season opted out due to the reddito di cittadinza.

In fact the majority (75 percent) of respondents who ended up not working over the 2021 season said they had searched for jobs but couldn’t find any openings because the Covid situation had made it too uncertain for companies to hire in advance.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

Others said the most of jobs that were advertised were only for a 2-3 month duration, half the length of the season (again, due to Covid uncertainty), making it not worth their while to relocate.

Giancarlo Banchieri, a hotelier who is also president of the Confesercenti business federation, agrees that Covid has been the main factor in pushing workers away from the industry, highlighting “the sense of precariousness that this job has taken on in the last two years: many people have abandoned it for fear of the uncertainty of a sector that has experienced a terrible time.”

The instability brought about by two years of Covid restrictions has pushed many workers away from the tourism sector.
The instability brought about by two years of Covid restrictions has pushed many workers away from the tourism sector. Photo: Andrea Pattaro / AFP.

“I said goodbye to at least seven employees, and none of them are sitting at home on the citizen’s income,” Banchieri told Repubblica. “They have all reinvented themselves elsewhere; some are plumbers, others work in the municipality.”

READ ALSO: OPINION: Mass tourism is back in Italy – but the way we travel is changing

To counteract the problem, Garavaglia has proposed three measures: increasing the numbers of visas available for seasonal workers coming from abroad; allowing people to work in summer jobs while continuing to receive 50 percent of their citizen’s income; and reintroducing a voucher system that allows casual workers to receive the same kinds of welfare and social security benefits as those on more formal contracts.

Whether these will be enough to save Italy’s 2022 tourist season remains to be seen, but at this stage industry operators will take whatever fixes are offered.

“The sector is in such a dire situation that any common sense proposals much be welcomed,” the Federalberghi president Bocca told journalists.

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