Academic journal article German Policy Studies

Italy's Third Sector on Consolidation Course

Academic journal article German Policy Studies

Italy's Third Sector on Consolidation Course

Article excerpt

Abstract

Until a few years ago, the organizations belonging to the third sector were relatively unknown to a large share of the population, to the media and probably also to the legislator. This is not the case anymore; in fact, nonprofit organizations have gained wider public attention; they are playing a more significant and increasingly autonomous role in the Italian welfare state.

Introduction

Over the last decade, the Italian society devoted a great amount of attention to the so called Third Sector. Until a few years ago, the organizations belonging to this sector were relatively unknown to a large share of the population, to the media and probably to the legislator himself. This is not the case anymore; in fact, nonprofit organizations have gained wider public attention and now play a more significant (and increasingly autonomous) role in the Italian welfare state. Although statistical data are still missing, a common feeling is that nonprofit organizations are growing in number and strength, therefore gaining a more significant role in the Italian economic and social landscape.

Several factors explain this new attitude toward nonprofit organizations: first of all, changes in the demographic, social, economic and legal environment have to be mentioned. Thanks to a significant increase in the average life expectancy and because of a rapidly declining birth rate, the Italian population is growing older. Moreover, while the country is still confronted with a very high unemployment rate, the number of women with a full-time job is now significantly higher than just a few years ago, especially in northern higher than just a few years ago, especially in northern Italy. These changes in the age structure of the population and in women's access to the labor market generated a whole set of new needs (from children's care to care of the elderly) that the public welfare system has not been able to tackle rapidly. These needs are now generating (although to a quite limited level) demand for new services that are provided neither by the 'state' nor the 'market'. Moreover, private (and public) demand for services is also growing in areas not closely related to the traditional welfare sector, such as the cultural and the recreational areas.

Furthermore, the traditional structure of the Italian welfare state has been under attack because of its failure in providing services of good quality and because of its high costs; while criticism concentrated particularly on the pension and the health systems, public provision in the fields of social and educational services has not been immune against difficulties. These challenges to the Italian system of welfare service provision generated two different trends. The first one is a reduction of direct public expenditure in the welfare area (more relevant in the pension system, but quite evident in health and social services as well) and a tendency to decentralize service provision by transferring it onto the local authorities. The second one can be seen in a heavier reliance on private provision of services as a cost-effective way of serving social needs.

These are some of the reasons why quite a lot of people, as well as many public authorities, started looking at nonprofit organizations as a possible cost-effective answer to new needs emerging in the sector of social and health services. Therefore quite a few new organizations (associations and especially social cooperatives) have been created to answer this new demand coming from local public authorities and, although to a far more limited extent, from private citizens. Scholars agree that the number of Italian nonprofit organizations is growing, that older organizations learn to deal with new markets and behave more and more as economic entities rather than as missionary's clubs.

This attention has been accompanied by new legislation that deals with the Third Sector. A law passed in 1997 (d. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.