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Italian Experiences of Programmes to Fight Poverty: What Can We Learn?
After the second World War, Italy has shown a remarkable persistence of high poverty rates. We review the main national and regional programmes aimed at contrasting poverty in the last fifteen years, starting from the Reddito minimo di inserimento, a national two-year pilot of the late ’90s. We consider two national programmes and five regional ones: two of them took place in the North of Italy, two other programmes in the definitely less developed South, the remaining one in the region around Rome.
A trait of the paper consists of the fact that it carries out the review with a distinct rationale. We revisit the various programmes with the purpose of gaining useful indications for the design of a new, credible anti-poverty programme. We argue that such a programme should summon some consistent features. It should be national; it should rest on the criterion of “selective universalism”, that is, with eligibility based just on means testing; it should provide eligible households with a monetary transfer that brings their equivalent income to a poverty threshold sufficient for buying a basic basket of goods and services; it should complement the monetary transfer with policies of social integration and activation to work, based on the principle of mutual obligations. To that purpose, we move from two sets of policy questions, one pertaining to the basic features of a programme to combat poverty, the other to some aspects crucial for its sensible implementation and evaluation.
The review documents a remarkable heterogeneity of the programmes examined. Besides, most of them suffer from severe deficiencies in their design and/or implementation and/or evaluation. Nonetheless, the inspection of these experiences sheds extensive, clear-cut evidence. Based on that, we sketch and discuss the basic lines of an ambitious, yet feasible, project for a national anti-poverty programme.