Italy's “Citizen Income” scheme comes into effect today. The welfare measure guarantees a minimum monthly income to unemployed people and destitute families.
The measures were the centrepiece of the Five Star Movement's election campaign last year - and have been criticised for being too generous - not least by the European Commission - which has rejected Rome's budget proposals on several occasions.
The citizens’ income is expected to cost the state 7.1 billion euros this year, 7.8 billion in 2020 and 8.0 billion in 2021. The money will be loaded onto a digital card monthly and the money will vanish off the card at the end of the month if not spent. Claimants won’t be able to accrue their money as they go. Labour Minister Luigi Di Maio says this will ensure a boost to consumer spending and economic growth.
'Don't mistake it for UBI'
But those who were thinking that the ‘Citizen Income’ scheme would be a similar initiative to the often-touted ‘Universal Basic Income’ scheme would be wrong. Italian journalist Roberto Ciccarelli argued that the title in itself is misleading: “A real ‘citizenship income’ is not tied to an obligation to work and has nothing to do with the disciplining and punishment of beneficiaries which prominently feature in this M5S-Lega version of ‘workfare,’ which apes the worst features of the ‘Hartz IV’ German system,” he writes.
The controversial Hartz IV system was introduced in Germany in 2005 and saw the streamlining of welfare handouts across the country. It has been criticised for penalising claimants who don’t take any job offered. This is among the restrictions on offer in Italy – those receiving help must take one of the first three jobs offered.
Community service included
Further restrictions mean that all recipients who are physically able must undertake eight hours of community service every week and do any training courses proposed by the local authorities. Something which has been criticised by Economics Professor Filippo Tadei, from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He claims there is “no infrastructure for that training. So you’re basically telling people – I’ll give you some money but you have to train yourself but there is no training structure to take care of you.”
But with one-fifth of Italian citizens deemed "at risk of poverty" the Italian government insists that it will inspire millions of unemployed people to find a job.
Watch Claudio's report from a fiscal assistance centre in Italy in the player above