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Caritas: the “new poor” are young and unemployed

Caritas Italy’s 2016 Report on Poverty and Social Exclusion shows that for the first time in Italy young people are most direly hit by extreme poverty, owing to the lack of job opportunities. Out of 4.6 million of those living in conditions of absolute poverty 10.2% are aged 18-34. This figure represents a reverse trend compared to the past, when the elderly were experiencing the greatest difficulties. The degree of poverty of refugees and asylum-seekers is equally serious, constituting the largest group (57.2%) among those who ask for help in Caritas centres because they are without a home, a job and lacking social integration. The year 2015 experienced the most serious migration crisis in terms of the number of refugees arrived by sea, four times as many compared to the previous year.

For the first time in Italy young people in search of a job and adults left without employment are the population brackets most seriously affected by absolute poverty, with the highest levels in the past ten years. Figures decrease with age. Out of 4.6 million people living in conditions of absolute poverty 10.2% are aged 18-34.

Owing to the economic and job crisis, Italy is now experiencing a reverse trend compared to the past, when old people were those most direly hit by severe poverty.

Moreover, refugees and asylum-seekers represent the most numerous group of poor people turning to Caritas centres for help because they are homeless, without a job and lacking social integration. These are some of the most alarming figures emerging from the 2016 Caritas Italy Report on Poverty and Social Exclusion titled “Communicating vessels”, published today on the occasion of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The title is an invitation “to reflect on the often neglected aspects linking poverty, international emergencies, wars, and migration.”

The Report describes the year 2015 as the “annus horribilis” owing to migration flows, not only “for the high number of refugees, displaced or dead persons” but also because of the “unprecedented weakness and egoism” of some European countries facing the ongoing humanitarian emergency.

The number of refugees arriving to Europe by sea, recalls the Report, “was four times higher compared to the previous year.” At this critical historical moment “full of pitfalls, when the fear of diversity is surfacing throughout the continent” Caritas Italy addresses the issue of poverty by extending its vision beyond national borders. In the concluding remarks the document sets out a series of proposals aimed at finding solutions, in Italy and in the rest of Europe alike. Many are already known, including one addressed to the Italian government of “a multi-year plan for the eradication of poverty” that may lead to the gradual adoption of a “universalist measure”; labour policies to combat youth unemployment along with targeted education and vocational training for youths. Caritas Italy’s requests include, inter alia, the opening of safe and legal channels for entry into the EU with “the introduction of humanitarian visas” in countries of origin and transit and “visa-exemption for humanitarian reasons”, along with increased solidarity among European countries in the implementation of resettlement programs, which have been largely “ineffective” so far.

The young are the “new poor.” According to Italy’s National Statistics Institute (ISTAT) 4.6% of the overall population lives in conditions of absolute poverty, amounting to 1 million 582 thousand families. The most serious situations were registered in the south of Italy: families of non-Italian nationals, households with two or more children, or whose head is unemployed, young, or labourer. This last detail reveals a reverse trend in a Country where grandparents and parents support their children and where young people have become the “new poor.” In fact those aged 18-34 represent the highest percentage of poor people (10.2%) followed by those aged 35-44 (8.1%), 45-54 (7.5%), 55-64 (5.1%), while 4% are over 65 years old.

57.2% of those who seek help in Caritas centres are foreigners. The Report contains data collected in diocesan Caritas Centres, constituting a reliable gauge of poverty at local level. Figures refer to data from 1 649 Caritas Centres in 173 dioceses that answered the request for help of 190.465 people. At national level, 57.2% are migrants, although proportions are reversed in the south of the country, where Italians represent 66.6%. In 2015 as many as 7 770 refugees and asylum-seekers fleeing from wars sought help in Caritas centres, 92.4% were men from African countries or from central and southern Asia. Figures show that their cultural level is very low: 26% are illiterate, 16.5% only completed primary school and 22.8% only middle school. Most of them lamented situations of extreme poverty and lack of housing facilities (55.8%). They asked for “meals in soup-kitchens, clothing items, personal hygiene products along with first reception services.”

A further reverse trend was registered in the year 2015: for the first time the same number of men and women turned for help in Caritas centres, while previously men represented the largest group.

The mean age is 44; 60.8% are unemployed. They have material needs: notably, 76.9% are cases of economic poverty and situations of unemployment (57.7%). Problems related to housing (25%) and the family (13%) are equally prevalent.

Twenty thousand refugees in ecclesial structures and the fight on human exploitation. A dedicated chapter of the Report focuses on the response of the Italian Church to Pope Francis’ appeal to host a family of refugees. According to Caritas estimates referring to the period until March 9 2016, approximately 20 thousand people found hospitality thanks to the commitment of 164 dioceses. Twelve thousand have been hosted in structures that have an agreement with the Prefecture’s Extraordinary Reception Centres (Cas- with Interior Ministry funds); 4 thousand in the Protection System for Asylum Applicants and Refugees (SPRAR) structures (with Interior Ministry funds); 3.000 in parishes (with diocesan funds) and 400 in families or in other facilities (with private or diocesan funds). Caritas Italy has equally activated a “Local territories project” in regions with migrant seasonal workers. The commitment of 18 centres set up at local level has brought to light the illegal exploitation of 3 901 workers.

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