In 2007 2.4 million Italians were living in a state of “absolute poverty”, a condition officially defined as "lacking the means to acquire the goods and services considered essential to a standard of living minimally necessary to subsist".
Between 2007 and 2012 the figure doubled, underlining the collapse of the Italian economy, as the global financial crisis bit deeper.
The latest report from Italy's national statistics office records further freefall last year. Meanwhile the country's new Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi blathers on about the imminent miracle round the corner when his still-to-be-enacted programme of reforms begin to take effect.
In one year an astonishing 1,200,000 more people —303,000 families! — have become victims of the crisis become part of the so-called “absolute poor”. So there are now six million or 9.9% of the population who do not have enough money to live on. Further, those described as living in "relative poverty" are 10 million or 16.6% of the population. The stark reality is that 17 millions — one in five families in the eighth richest country in the world have been condemned to a level of misery suffering and rejection.
This has to be seen as the latest indictment of the paralysis and impotence of the country's trade union movement and those who laughably describe themselves as “the radical left” (or the movement, autonomists etc).
As elsewhere in the world those who are bearing the brunt are the young, especially those with families — for whom platoons of politicians from the left and right have wept tears of pity and congratulated themselves on putative ameliorative anti-poverty measures. But as another recent report from one of the country's leading charities underlines these measures have merely scratched the surface, and at worst added to the numbers of poor.
The country's chronic ad hoc approach to matters of public and social welfare makes things worse. Along with Greece, Italy is the only other EU country without a program of universal minimal welfare provision. While the system remains unreformed, insult of insults!, its ramshackle edifice of occasional, badly designed and poorly directed palliatives falls under the axe of austerity.
The poverty figures are but the most extreme evidence of the state of things in the country. The buying power of the average salary is now that of 1988, and unlike other countries in the grip of the crisis, where a sharpening of social inequality between the social classes has occurred , Italy has seen a massive generalised decline of its working and middle classes along the spectrum of social strata.
All but the most obscenely, parasitically wealthy of the capitalist classes are significantly worse off. Among those I referred to as "the poor" are tens of thousands of people in employment, signaling graphically the capitalist success in eroding the power of labour, proof, again, of the abject surrender of the trade unions.
Ironically the poverty report highlights the fact that although the elderly toosaw the conditions of life further deteriorate, compared to the young it has been less. The regular pension afforded some sense of security. In fact the only counter-poverty measure in seven years of crisis turned out to be the indexation of the pensions of the lowest-paid elderly. That surely puts the cap on the argument about the crisis of the Italian working class movement.