“The covid has destroyed my life.” Paolo begs for alms on the street of a residential neighborhood in Rome in front of a sign informing passers-by that he is willing to accept any kind of job. «I was shooting with little jobs. I spent a few months as a waiter, others as a bricklayer and, sometimes, I was unemployed for some time. But I’ve never seen myself like this. With confinement I stopped working, I spent my savings and, in the end, I have been forced to beg on the street to get ahead “, explains this man in his 40s who, despite the setbacks that life has repaired these last months, do not lose hope. “Let’s see if things improve and I can find a job this summer.”
Paolo is one of the million new poor left by the coronavirus pandemic in Italy. According to the report presented this Wednesday by the Official Statistics Institute (Istat), in 2020 there were 5.6 million people in the country living in absolute poverty: they represent 9.4% of the total population, an increase compared to 7 , 7% from the previous year. It is the highest figure since 2005, when the Istat began these studies, in which it is considered that absolute poverty is marked by the inability to buy a series of essential goods and services in a minimally acceptable lifestyle. The threshold varies depending on where you live and the number of family members. For an adult living alone, for example, it varies from 840 euros a month in a northern metropolitan area to 570 in a rural southern municipality.
Although the percentage of families with economic difficulties remains higher in the south than in the north, where the richest and most industrialized regions are located, the growth of poverty during 2020 has been higher in the northern part of the country. “We see that measures such as the minimum income for citizenship, emergency income and other aid have worked well in the southern regions, while in the north, where unemployment benefits have had to be used more due to motivated stoppages due to the covid, the same effects have not been registered, ”explains Federico Polidoro, leader of the Istat. “The public aid offered during 2020 to face the consequences of the pandemic has allowed the situation to be even worse, although there remains a level of structural poverty aggravated by the COVID crisis.”
The worsening of the economic situation has been clearly perceived by Caritas, which has registered a significant increase in requests for help since the coronavirus broke out. “Between March 2020 and March 2021 we have offered some kind of support to some two million people. One in four had never come to our centers, ”explains Nunzia De Capite, a sociologist at Caritas Italia. “These are families with small children in which only one member worked, family nuclei with a single adult or single people under 45 years of age. They all have in common that they suffered from job insecurity or had black contracts. With the confinement and the pandemic, they have seen a situation that was previously difficult rapidly worsen, ”says De Capite.
The Istat report shows that the higher the level of education, the lower the spread of poverty. This affects only 4.4% of those who finished high school, while it increases to 10.9% among those who left school at 14 years of age. Children who grow up in these families are much more likely to end up in misery themselves when they become adults. «The level of absolute poverty recorded by the study also takes into account energy consumption and those linked to education. It is a situation that should concern us, because there is a transmission of poverty from one generation to another, “warns Polidoro. The Istat registers 2.6 million families under the absolute poverty threshold in 2020 and 1.3 million minors in this situation.
De Capita considers that the initiative of the Government of Mario Draghi to keep some schools open during the summer can have a positive effect in breaking the family chain of poverty. In this way, children and adolescents will be able to recover the contents and social relationships lost during the months of confinement. “The hours of classes and recreational activities to which children have not had access due to the pandemic can have tremendous consequences when they are adults in their income level. Recovery activities must be promoted in schools because they are vital especially for poor families, ”warns the Caritas sociologist.