Family – “I fight for the family, not for equal opportunities”
Support for families and the promotion of the birth rate are central themes in the centre-right’s program and public narrative. This is confirmed by the indication of a robust growth in public spending destined for households with children in order to bring it from the current value (1.4% of GDP) to the European average (2.3%); no commitment to increase spending, is found, for example, in health care. The “Ministry for Equal Opportunities and the Family”, on the other hand, has been renamed “Ministry for the Family, Birth Rate and Equal Opportunities”. The lexical changes, with the inclusion of the term “birth rate” and the displacement of “family” before “equal opportunities”, reflect the substantial priorities of the new government coalition.
It is therefore of particular interest to understand which family the Executive has in mind: the answer is rooted in its culture of reference. The family is considered the primary cell of society, an aspect constantly claimed with pride; its fate prevails over that of the individual members and the public body must support it without interfering in the existence it leads. The cultural cornerstones are the prominence of the nucleus over its components and the request for public support without interference.
The limiting example of this approach concerns the protection of those minors who, falling into situations of serious risk, are removed from the nucleus of origin by order of the Judicial Authority and entrusted to another family or community. The right intends to minimize the application of the provision even in particularly critical cases, promoting the “zero removal” approach, based on the two points mentioned above: first, the family is superordinate with respect to the protection of the minor; second, the state must not get in the way.
From here the conception of the role of the woman also descends in a linear way, considered mostly as a mother within the family and not as a person objectively disadvantaged by the burdens of care; equal opportunities, consequently, lose importance. This approach determines the proposals of the centre-right with respect to the various instruments of policies for families with children, ie economic support, services and leave. Economic support: rather than on services, attention is focused on monetary aid, which does not question the traditional subdivision of care loads within the nucleus but, on the contrary, reinforces it. Services: nursery schools are present, albeit in the background, and are seen as a means of allowing women to reconcile work and care commitments, again without going into the merits of distributing tasks between the parents. Leave: they are potentially the most useful measure to promote the redistribution of care tasks, above all through the increase in paternity leave, which is now much reduced (10 days for employees). It is no coincidence that in many European countries leave is at the center of the debate but neither in the program nor in any public intervention has the new majority expressed the intention to deal with it.
School – “The false equality of the progressives has disadvantaged the less well-off. Now it’s changing”
The renaming of the Ministry of Education into “Ministry of Education and Merit” takes up the constitutional provision: “the capable and deserving, even if without means, have the right to reach the highest levels of studies” (art. 34) . The core of the reasoning below, however, even before the merits is the reference to children “without means”. The reasons were illustrated by the Premier in the speech on trust and are found in the well-known volume “The school damage”, by Paola Mastrocola and Luca Ricolfi. The subtitle already says a lot: “The progressive school as a machine of inequality”.
According to those who support this position, since the 1960s – and even more so with the long wave of 1968 – a specific meaning of equality has progressively established itself in Italian schools: to help those who cannot make it, the overall level must be lowered. of education, so that everyone is included. This would be equality according to the progressive (or democratic) school.
It is, however – so the argument continues – a formal equality which concretely translates into substantial inequality. What happens with a low level public education? Those coming from higher social classes, thanks to everything that their social and family context can make available to them, will find outside the school the stimuli and knowledge that are not offered there (private lessons, opportunities of various kinds, networks of relationships and so on) Others, on the other hand, will miss these possibilities. Therefore, what was initially conceived as a system to protect the weaker social classes ends up benefiting the stronger ones: this is Mastrocola and Ricolfi’s “inequality machine”.
In the words pronounced by Meloni in his inauguration speech: “those who live in a wealthy family have one more chance to make up for the scholastic gaps of a downward-flattening system, while students with fewer resources are damaged by teaching that does not reward the merit, because those gaps are not filled by anyone”.
To tackle inequality, therefore, it is necessary to raise the level of public education. At the same time, the authority of teachers must be recovered, whose weakening has inevitably gone hand in hand with the lowering of quality. Indeed, debasing that authority is another way of creating inequality. As Mastrocola writes: “a boy of humble origins cannot go on if we [docenti] we do not teach him some things and then demand and demand that he know these things.”
Here, as anticipated, I won’t go into the merits of the validity of the various positions mentioned (on school, however, I don’t have the skills) but I will only try to understand them. From this perspective, I note that the orientation illustrated does not conform to the widespread opinion which sees underfunding as the main problem of schools but points the finger at the logic that governs it. Furthermore, he shows that he wants to take away from progressives the flag of defenders of the weaker classes, but not only that: he even claims that this flag was used, on balance, to protect the more affluent.
Elderly – “Priority to 64-year-olds in good health. 88-year-olds with dementia come later”
The diffusion of the ongoing political and media debate on what to do about pensions can be misleading. Here we are witnessing, in fact, a typical example of an information barrier to public confrontation. Countless hypotheses are circulating on the transition from the current level 102 to level 104, but perhaps level 103 could be a reasonable compromise, and so on about terms and numbers that are incomprehensible to most. The consequence is that only those who have a direct interest in it grasp the implications of the discussion, while the others (that is, the vast majority of public opinion) do not. But, when in matters of political choices one does not quite understand what one is talking about, it becomes impossible both to get an idea and to exercise a control function.
Simply put, there are two criteria for retiring. One concerns the contributions and has remained unchanged (those who have paid them for at least 42 years and 10 months, one less for women, can withdraw at any age): here instead we are referring to the other, concerning the minimum age. In 2019 the Five Star-Lega Government introduced the so-called 100 quota, a mechanism – admittedly temporary – which allowed for retirement earlier than the provisions of the reviled Fornero law, at the age of 67. For this year, quota 100 has become quota 102, which allows you to leave your job at 64 while from the next – if nothing happens – you will return to 67 years. To avert it, the Government is putting various options on the table: in any case, to implement them, it will be necessary to spend a few hundred million. The discussion – technically complex – ultimately boils down to a simple question: “Are you ready to spend a few hundred million euros to prevent the retirement age from going back to 67 from the current 64?”. To date, the Government’s answer is yes.
Following the public debate, it might seem that pensions are the only welfare policy aimed at the elderly, while this is not the case: there is also assistance for those who are no longer self-sufficient. The latter, although of great importance, suffers from a different information barrier: simply, the mass media and politics do not talk about it. Mind you, it’s not from today. This welfare sector has by now become the quintessential case study of the distance between the vastness of a social issue – which, counting the interested parties, family members and workers, involves around 10 million people – and the paucity of political awareness on the matter .
As far as the coalition government is concerned, the issue has never been addressed either in the electoral campaign, or in the inauguration speech of the Premier or on other occasions; the programs contain limited proposals in this area. At present it is as if for the new Executive, assistance for non self-sufficient elderly people did not exist.
Yet there is no shortage of things to do. It is necessary to approve by March 2023 the reform of the sector envisaged by the PNRR, desired and influenced by civil society through the Pact for a New Welfare on Non-Self-sufficiency. A reform, however, for which funds have not yet been identified: now they must be gradually recovered, not only to build a better welfare for tomorrow, but also to begin to respond to the many needs that remain unsatisfied today.
We pull the strings. Welfare for the elderly includes the areas of pensions and non-self-sufficiency. Since resources are never infinite – least of all in the next Budget law, due to the energy crisis – giving something to someone always inevitably means choosing not to give it to someone else. It’s not particularly pleasant, but the reality is this. Politics – as it should be – regularly tries to hide this hard truth, to avoid criticism concerning the “losers” of the decision-making process, ie those who have not been answered. Therefore, it is natural to ask those who lead the country the following question: “Do you consider it a priority to allow 64-year-olds in good health to retire immediately or to strengthen assistance for 88-year-olds with dementia?” At the moment, the Government shows that it is inclined towards the first hypothesis.
This is what I seem to have understood so far regarding the guidelines of the new government on welfare. As always, then, the facts will say the decisive word.