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EACEA National Policies Platform


4. Social Inclusion

4.1 General context

Last update: 13 March 2023
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  1. Key challenges to social inclusion
  2. Key concept

Key challenges to social inclusion

4.1 General context

The latest ISTAT report "Poverty in Italy 2021" published estimates of absolute and relative poverty, based on data from the household consumption expenditure survey.

The report underlines how, despite the increase in consumption and expenditures, high inflation levels prevented the improvement of the statistics on poverty, which remained almost unchanged since 2020.
In 2021, just over 1.9 million families were in conditions of absolute poverty (7.5% of the total from 7.7% in 2020) and around 5.6 million individuals (9.4% same as 2020).

Therefore, absolute poverty substantially confirms the historical highs reached in 2020, the year in which the Covid-19 pandemic began. Regarding relative poverty, the incidence even rises to 11.1% (from 10.1% in 2020) and there are around 2.9 million families below the threshold (2.6 million in 2020).

The intensity of absolute poverty - which measures in percentage points how much the monthly expenditure of poor households is below the poverty line (i.e. "how poor the poor are") - also remains substantially stable compared to the previous year (18.7%), with the only exceptions of the Central Regions of the country where it reaches 17.3% from 16.1% in 2020 and the North-West area (19.3% from 18.6%).

In 2021, the incidence of families in absolute poverty is confirmed to be higher in the South (10.0%, from 9.4% in 2020) while it drops significantly in the North (6.7% from 7.6%), especially in the North-West (6.7% from 7.9%). Among poor families, 42.2% reside in the South (38.6% in 2020), and 42.6% in the North (47.0% in 2020). The proportion recorded in 2019 is therefore restored, when poor families in our country were distributed almost equally between the North and the South.

Even in terms of individuals, the North recorded a marked improvement in the incidence of absolute poverty, which lowered from 9.3% to 8.2%, however with values ​​still far from those recorded in 2019 equal to 7.7%. Thus, there are over 2 million 200 thousand absolute poor residing in the Northern regions against 2 million 455 thousand in the South. In this area of the country, the incidence of individual poverty grew from 11.1% to 12.1% (13.2% in the South, 9.9% in the Islands); in the Center it rose from 6.6% to 7.3% in 2020.

With reference to age groups, the incidence of absolute poverty stands at 14.2% among minors (just under 1.4 million individuals); at 11.1% among young people aged 18-34 (equal to 1 million 86 thousand individuals) and remains at a high 9.1% also in the 35-64 age group (2 million 361 thousand individuals), while it remains below the national average for the people over 65 (5.3%, involving around 743,000 individuals).

In 2021, the incidence of absolute poverty is higher among families with a greater number of components: it reaches 22.6% among those with five or more components and 11.6% among those with four; signs of improvement come from families of three members (from 8.5% to 7.1%) and two members (from 5.7% to 5.0%). The hardship is more marked for families with children, for which the incidence passes from 8.1% of families with only one minor child to 22.8% of those with three or more children. High values of poverty ​​are also recorded among couples with three or more children (20.0%) and among families of other types, where several families live together (16.3%).

The incidence of poverty among families with at least one elderly person is lower (5.5%), and it remains at 3.6% among couples where the age of the reference person is over 64 (among single people over 64 years the incidence is equal to 5.1%). In general, family poverty shows a decreasing trend as the age of the reference person increases; indeed, generally young families have less spending power since they earn incomes lower than average and have fewer savings or inherited assets accumulated over the course of their lives.

Absolute poverty concerns 9.4% of families with a reference person between 18 and 34 years old and 5.2% of those with a reference person over 64 years old. The highest incidence values ​​are found among families with a reference person aged 35-44 (9.9%) and among those where the reference person is between 45 and 54 years old (9.7%). Data are stable compared to 2020.

In 2021, absolute poverty reached 7.5%, among the highest level since this indicator started being measured. Between 2018 and 2019, the increase in the number of poor families led to the introduction of various measures to combat poverty: inclusion income (2018) and citizen's income (2019). The impact of these measures can be seen at least in part in the drop in families in absolute poverty observed in 2019, with an incidence of 6.4%, a value close to that of the four-year period 2013-2016. In 2020, the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic favoured the growth of absolute poverty, also leading to some structural changes in absolute poor households.

The trends in relative poverty indicators are instead the result of the dynamics of household consumption expenditure according to the various expenditure classes. In 2021, the relatively limited increase in spending by less well-off households and the more substantial growth for households with high levels of consumption (which, on the contrary, had recorded more marked reductions in 2020) favoured a generalised increase in the incidence of relative poverty, widening the gap between households that spend the most and those that spend the least.

Poverty also decreases with the increase in education. The incidence is equal to 4.4% if the reference person has obtained at least a high secondary school diploma, while it stands at 10.9% in case of a middle school diploma.

Citizenship plays an important role in determining the socio-economic status of the family. Foreigners in absolute poverty are over one million and 600 thousand, with an incidence equal to 32.4%, more than four times higher than among Italians (7.2%).

In Italy, the school dropout rate is higher than in most EU member States.  In 2021, Italy recorded the third highest dropout rate (12.7%), after Romania (15.3%) and Spain (13.3).

In view of 2030, a European Council Resolution of February 2021 lowered of one point the target of the European dropout rate to 9%. To achieve this target, Italy must reduce the wide territorial gaps between the North and the South. Indeed, in Sicily 21.2% of the age group 18-24 are early school leaver, followed by Puglia (17.6%) and Campania (16.4%).     

(source Istat and Eurostat data elaborated by Openpolis for #conibambini)

In 2021, NEETs were 23.1% of the population aged between 15 and 29, showing a decrease after the peak recorded in 2020 due to the negative impact of the pandemic from COVID-19 on employment. In the South, the incidence is double compared to the Centre-North.

The presence of unaccompanied foreign minors (MSNA) is a structural element of the phenomenon of migration to Europe and, in particular, to Italy. This phenomenon presents various problems related to the condition of lonely children, along with the often traumatic migratory experiences, and the difficulties of accessing training opportunities and job placement when becoming adults. The Directorate General of Immigration and Integration Policies of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies is responsible for monitoring the condition of MSNA in Italy and, for this purpose, periodically publishesstatistical reports and monitoring on the presence and main characteristics of MSNA in the country. According to thereport published in August 2022, the war in and refugee flow from Ukraine led to a sharp increase in the number of unaccompanied minors arriving in Italy, which nearly doubled in comparison with the previous year. As of 30 June 2022, there were 15,595 unaccompanied minors in Italy (an increase of 99.9%).

The report shows that these unaccompanied minors are mostly male (80.1%) and mostly 17 years old (44.8%). They arrived primarily from Ukraine (5,932), Egypt (2,497), Albania (1,302), Bangladesh (1,239) and Tunisia (1,145). The increase in minors fleeing Ukraine influenced the age and gender distribution of the overall group in comparison with previous years: there was a percentage decrease among those aged 17 and an increase among those aged 15, as well as an increase in the number of girls (3,098 as of 30 June, accounting for 19.9% of the total number of unaccompanied minors in Italy).

Key concepts

The Italian Constitution, in Article 31, stipulates that "The Republic facilitates with economic measures and other provisions the formation of the family and the fulfilment of related tasks, with particular regard to large families. It protects motherhood, childhood and youth, fostering the institutions needed for this purpose." This article must be coordinated with Article 37, according to which "The working woman has the same rights and, for the same work, the same wages as the [male] worker. Working conditions must enable the fulfilment of its essential family function and ensure that the mother and child are properly protected. The law sets the minimum age limit for paid work. The Republic protects the work of children with special rules and guarantees them, for equal work, the right to equal pay." Finally, according to Article 3, paragraph 2: "It is the task of the Republic to remove economic and social obstacles, which, by effectively limiting the freedom and equality of citizens, prevent the full development of the human person and the effective participation of all workers in the political, economic and social organisation of the country".

With regard to inclusion problems, the Italian Constitution identifies certain categories of people who, for different reasons, must be considered disadvantaged and/or must receive support throughout their lives. The Constitution lists those in social and/or economic difficulties as follows:

  • Art. 10: "The foreigner, who is prevented in his country from the effective exercise of democratic freedoms guaranteed by the Italian Constitution, has the right to asylum in the territory of the Republic, according to the conditions established by the law"
  • Art. 24: "The low-income subjects are insured, with special institutions, the means to act and defend themselves before every jurisdiction"
  • Art. 32: "The Republic protects health as a fundamental right of the individual and as a collective interest and guarantees free care to the destitute."
  • Art. 34: "The school is open to all. [...] The capable and deserving, even if lacking in means, have the right to reach the highest grades of study. The Republic makes this right effective with grants, family allowances and other provisions, which must be awarded by competition."
  • Art. 38: "Every citizen who is unable to work and lacks the means to live has the right to maintenance and social assistance. [...] Disabled people have the right to education and professional start-up"

Article 10 of decree-law 460/1997 (relative to the tax treatment of third sector entities) refers to disadvantaged people "due to physical, mental, economic, social or family conditions", in line with constitutional provisions.

With regard to ordinary legislation, Article 414 of the Civil Code states that "The one of majority age and the emancipated child, who are in a habitual infirmity of mind that renders them unable to provide for their own interests, are prohibited when this is necessary to ensure their proper protection."

With regard to labour legislation, law 68/99 "Rules for the Right to Work of people with disabilities" allows the "targeted" inclusion and work integration of people with disabilities. Other beneficiaries are the protected categories: orphans and surviving spouses of those who have died from work, war or service, or as a result of the worsening disability reported for these causes, as well as of spouses and children who have been declared to be disabled by war, service and employment and Italian refugees who have been repatriated.

With specific reference to the conditions of physical or mental disadvantage, law 104/1992 sets out a broad and articulated discipline on the care, social integration and rights of disabled people. A person with disabilities is defined as "the person who has a physical, mental or sensory impairment, stabilised or progressive, which causes learning difficulties, relationship or work integration or such as to result in a process of social disadvantage or marginalisation".

Law 381/1991 (relative to social cooperatives), art. 4, states that "the physically, psychological and sensory disabled, the former patients of psychiatric hospitals [...] persons in psychiatric treatment, drug addicts, alcoholics, working minors in difficult family situations, persons detained or interned in prisons, convicts and inmates admitted to alternative measures to detention and work outside must be considered disadvantaged."

Decree-law 112/2017 (revision of the discipline in the field of social enterprise), art. 2 paragraph 4 letter b), identifies "the beneficiaries of international protection under decree-law 251/2007, among the disadvantaged categories employable in a social enterprise.

According to art. 2, law 47/2017, an unaccompanied foreign minor is defined as the "minor who does not have Italian or European Union citizenship who is for any cause in the territory of the state or who is otherwise subject to Italian jurisdiction, without assistance and representation by parents or other adults legally responsible under the state’s laws".

Law 47/2017 defines the various measures to protect MSNA in line with the regulatory framework for minors. In particular, protections for the right to health and education of children are strengthened, with simpler procedures for enrolment in the National Health Service and the school system.

On 21 December 2019, the Council of Ministers approved in preliminary consideration the "Regulation with amendments to the Presidential Decree (D.P.R.) of 31 August 1999, No. 394, in implementation of Article 22 of Law 7 April 2017, No. 47, which provides measures to protect unaccompanied foreign minors." The new regulation changes and integrates the existing regulatory discipline, with particular reference to the issuance of residence permits and the conversion of them upon reaching the age of majority.