Home » At Christmas with basic income – Annalisa Camilli

At Christmas with basic income – Annalisa Camilli

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At Christmas with basic income – Annalisa Camilli

Shame is the word he says most often when thinking about his condition. “I had to overcome the shame to come here to ask for a food package, I had to put aside the shame to ask for the basic income,” says Ida Friouichen in a faint voice, as she sits at the back of Nonna’s solidarity emporium Rome, a basement warehouse in the Quarticciolo district, on the eastern outskirts of Rome.

The woman has been coming to this basement every week since 2020 to get a food parcel, but also to volunteer. “Lending a hand helps me psychologically, it seems to me that I partially give back what I receive with the subsidy”. She obtained the citizen’s income six months ago and was helped to present the application by Nonna Roma, an association that brings together two hundred volunteers. “During the pandemic, I came to get food parcels every week and they suggested I apply for income, I didn’t even know I was entitled to it”, says the woman who worked for thirty years as a psychologist and cultural mediator.

When she lost her son in a car accident she fell into a deep depression which prevented her from continuing to work. “I had it all: a job, a house, a family. But I lost everything,” she says. “Life has confronted me with the truth: if you lose a piece of your heart, you lose everything else. After my son’s death I couldn’t do anything anymore, it was all dark for me. I spent my days in bed, only getting up to eat,” she recalls. For four years she did not work because depression was disabling. She slowly used up all her savings, then due to the pandemic her husband also lost his job in a clothing store.

The Meloni government has introduced limitations on basic income in the budget law

They could no longer pay the rent and so they were evicted: in a very short time they found themselves without money, without a home and without a job. “When you fall into poverty after experiencing well-being, it’s even worse,” he says. “For years I took care of the needy at Caritas, of foreigners who needed help, then I too ended up in this condition”.

Ida Friouichen is around sixty, her hair is gathered at the nape of her neck, she adjusts the green scarf around her neck, she speaks in a serious tone, but occasionally allows herself to interject. “Bella mia,” she says, to underline the difficulties she had to face. The basic income, which she has been receiving since July, has allowed her to buy the medicines she needs, not all covered by the national health system, and to always have something to eat on the table. She does not sleep at the thought that she now she could be taken from her.

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“I’m at an age where I can no longer place myself on the labor market and I have various illnesses that prevent me from doing certain jobs, so I’m waiting until I can retire, but in the meantime this benefit allows me to live and take care of myself , otherwise I would already be in the hospital, who knows”.

On 21 December, the Meloni government introduced some limitations on basic income (RDC) into the budget law which will come into force from January 2023, in view of the definitive revocation that was announced starting from 2024. Among the limitations introduced there is the obligation for those receiving the subsidy to accept any job offer, even if it is not suitable.

“I can’t understand why Giorgia Meloni is raging so much against the poor, against those who can’t make it. Her hard fist against poverty leaves me stone. There must be greater controls on citizen’s income, of course. But there are many people who are struggling, who are sick and only in Italy there is no subsidy for them. Dozens of people arrive in this emporium every day who have nothing to put at the table”.

According to INPS, in the first eleven months of 2022, there were 1,518,802 households benefitting from basic income, for a total of 3,464,080 people involved and an average monthly amount disbursed at national level of 582.26 euros (its amount varies according to the characteristics of the family nucleus). Most of them are Italian citizens, foreigners with European residence permits number 226,000, while 88,000 are European citizens. Most of the beneficiaries reside in the south and on the islands.

Ida Friouichen at the headquarters of the nonna Roma solidarity emporium, 20 December 2022.

(Annalisa Camilli)

“The government wants to eliminate a measure that has proved to be indispensable for the economic support of people in poverty”, explains the president of Nonna Roma, Alberto Campailla. “A measure that should instead be defended and reformed to make it more inclusive: in its current design, the basic income excludes 56 percent of poor households in Italy”.

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Marina De Angelis, INAPP researcher explains it: “Even if the media now blame the beneficiaries, the RDC was not a measure of job inclusion, but to combat poverty”. In that sense it worked: it eased the effects of poverty during the health crisis.

“However, not all the poor have been reached,” continues De Angelis. “According to a survey, there are still three million families in a state of poverty who have been excluded from the measure for various reasons. Moving from the inclusion income, introduced in 2017, to the citizen’s income, more money has been allocated, but the catchment area has been restricted, setting access conditions that disadvantage some categories. Foreigners, large families, for example, or those who do not have or cannot prove residence are penalised. And finally there is always a fact of information asymmetry: in fact, many do not access the subsidy because they do not know they are entitled to it. The most vulnerable, the most marginal do not know what basic income is, so much so that we should ask ourselves if the poorest of the poor have been reached by this measure”, underlines De Angelis.

On a weekday in the week before Christmas at the Quarticciolo solidarity emporium there is a coming and going of people, they arrive with trolleys and bags to pick up a food parcel or do the shopping: pasta, tomato puree, baby food for the children, biscuits, canned legumes.

Fruit can be taken without limits, even games and clothes for children are free. “Every month we record a significant increase in requests for a food package, we started in 2020 during the pandemic and we haven’t stopped since. In the east area of ​​Rome alone, we distribute more than 2,200 food parcels a month,” explains the branch manager, Massimiliano Larosa.

Nonna Roma’s analysis coincides with the general one made by Istat: in 2021 more than 1.9 million families (7.5 percent of the total) were in conditions of absolute poverty. In 2020, the peak of 7.7 percent of families in absolute poverty was reached, more than double the 3.5 in 2007. The novelty of the last fifteen years is the emergence of the so-called working poorthose who, despite working (or receiving a pension) are unable to make ends meet due to the low level of wages (and pensions) and the precariousness of employment contracts.

“The issue of basic income also confronts us with the question of work: there are many who, despite having a job, find themselves at risk of poverty due to too low a salary and precariousness”, continues Campailla, who a three-day seminar on the subject was organized in Rome, with politicians and experts. “One of the problems of the RDC is that it is a measure both against poverty and to encourage active labor market policies, but this combination doesn’t work”.

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Jessica Leccese, for example, is thirty years old, she is from breaking latest news, she has been working in the tourism sector of her city since she was sixteen: she has been a waitress, a warehouse worker, a bartender. “I didn’t back down from anything,” she says. Always precarious and underpaid contracts: “They even offered me a thousand euros or so to work twelve hours a day,” she says.

Debts and lack of work drove him into poverty

“I’ve always worked, but I had a baby five years ago and I’m raising him alone. Honestly, I couldn’t do it without my mother’s help to pay the rent.” She too has been receiving the basic income since September, because she could not find a job that could be reconciled with the time taken to care for her son. “But I receive an income of five hundred euros and it’s too low, so I’m looking for a job that allows me to no longer depend on my mother and also to be with my son”, she continues.

Francisco Fonseca, 62, worked for a lifetime in shipyards in Liguria. “A backbreaking job, but well paid,” he says. Then he decided to change his job to be closer to his family and set up on his own, carrying out transport with a pickup truck, but during the pandemic the work decreased and he had to pay exorbitant tax bills.

“I had to pay 35,000 euros in arrears”, says the man who came to get the package which also included a panettone for Christmas lunch. “Debts and lack of work have thrown me on the pavement: my wife is a housewife and she is older than me, she is 67 years old. If we didn’t have the basic income and the help of my daughter who is a cashier, we wouldn’t be able to live. If they were to take away our income we wouldn’t really know what to do, how to pay the bills. We are too old to work and we are still a few years away from being able to retire ”, he concludes.

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