Social Quality in Italy

Article excerpt

Introduction

Within Europe, Italy exhibits one of the highest levels of internal and regional heterogeneity. This includes difference is may social indicators: e.g., PIL per capita, per capita income, incidence and intensity of poverty, unemployment rates, women's activity and employment rates, age structure of the population, fertility patterns, marriage patterns (age at marriage, marriage rates), marriage instability rates, presence and size of volunteer activities and of non profit enterprises, coverage rates in services for very young children, incidence of full day schools and of after school activities and so forth.

This heterogeneity has been long standing (so much so that a research tradition has developed looking at regional diversities as veritable social formations--see e.g. Bagnasco 1977) and at the same time not fixed. Thus, 'the South' is not an homogeneous social formation anymore, given the growing differences which may be found between, for instance, Sicily and Puglia. Even the so called 'third Italy'--using a fortunate and famous expression introduced by Bagnasco (1977) to indicate those central/north-east regions where 'industrial districts' developed in the 1970s, linking local communities that were contiguous at the productive and economic level on the basis of consolidated patterns of family culture, land ownership, professional history, political traditions--has become more diverse and possibly also less successful than when it was first identified.

However, the persistence of these diversities indicate that there are institutional, economic and cultural path dependencies which influence the understanding of priorities as well as the development of their solution. From this point of view, there are quite different objective and subjective social quality circumstances across Italy, as there are different local political and socio-economic societies.

The lack of a national framework law in social policies has for many years further added to these diversities, overlapping with political traditions. The result was that local welfare regimes might be as different across Italy as they were at the national level across Europe, offering, but also testifying to, different degrees and understandings of what citizenship is about. Differences (and inequalities) in local societies interact with 'standard' differences (and inequalities) such as those deriving from social class, gender, ethnicity and autochthonous or migrant status--sometime strengthening and sometimes weakening them.

The tardiness with which a national law was eventually introduced (law n. 328/2000) did not add to its success. In addition, this law was overly complex and not clearly funded. Later it was weakened by, first, the approval of a constitutional reform which limited the role of the central government in setting standards and, second, the little interest of the new government coalition in implementing it, together with the presence of high budget constraint. All these factors have not helped in reducing the range of variation at least in basic items and rights, while to some degree putting pressure on 'best practice local governments' and/or local education, health or social services, to lower their standards in the face of reduced resources.

These differences show--but also render problematic--how social quality is constructed and understood at the national level. They also show to a large degree whether and how shared understandings develop at the national level with regard to policy priorities and policy solutions. Thus, for instance, the high concentration of poverty in the South, with its tradition of local social policy and on average a less professional administrative bureaucracy, renders the great economic inequalities in Italy more evident. But it also makes the absence of a national anti-poverty policy and the lack of a minimum income guarantee seem less problematic: it may be perceived as 'just a southern problem'. …