SHARE
COPY LINK

MILAN

How Milan’s ‘new poor’ are struggling to afford food amid the pandemic

After a year of the coronavirus crisis, even the wealthiest parts of Italy are seeing a sharp rise in poverty rates.

How Milan's 'new poor' are struggling to afford food amid the pandemic
People queue at a food bank in Milan on March 8th, 2021. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Since coronavirus swept across Italy a year ago, the line outside Milan’s Pane Quotidiano charity has grown and grown.

READ ALSO: Poverty rises to 15-year high in Italy amid coronavirus crisis

“I’m ashamed to be here. But otherwise I would have nothing to eat,” said Giovanni Altieri, 60, who has been coming every day since the nightclub where he worked was shut under virus regulations.

“I had a good salary, but I’m at rock bottom here. I have no income and live off my savings,” he told AFP.

Every day, 3,500 people turn up at the two distribution points run in Milan by the charity, which hands out surplus food it receives from a range of organisations, as well as through individual donations.

People queue for bags of food at a charity food bank in Milan on March 8th, 2021. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Milan is the centre of Italy’s industrial north, and one of the richest cities in Europe. But as the pandemic has battered the country, poverty rates in the area have soared.

Some of those standing in line hide their faces with a scarf or bag, fearful of being recognised.

Many leave with several packages – one for each member of their family. Inside, there is milk, yoghurt, cheese, biscuits, sugar, tuna, a kiwi, a tiramisu and some bread.

Such sights were once rare on the streets of Milan, but across the wealthy north of Italy, more than 720,000 people have fallen below the poverty line in the last year.

Throughout Italy, the number of people in poverty jumped by one million in 2020 to 5.6 million, a 15-year high, according to national statistics agency Istat.

Italian non-profit association Pane Quotidiano (Daily bread) gives out food in Milan, on March 8th, 2021. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Poverty rates are higher in the south, which has long been poorer, but at 11.1 percent, compared to 9.4 percent in the north, the gap is narrowing.

“The queues have increased with Covid, there are more young people and more undeclared workers who have no right to social benefits,” said Claudio Falavigna, a 68-year-old volunteer at Pane Quotidiano, which has been running for 123 years.

“And there are also members of the middle classes, from the world of entertainment and events,” he said.

He recognises them “as they still dress well, they are elegant – it’s a question of dignity”.

Pre-pandemic, the region of Lombardy, which includes Milan, accounted for 22 percent of Italy’s GDP.

In 2019, the region had a per capita income of 39,700 euros (47,000 dollars) a year – well above the European average.

But it was also the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak last year that knocked Italy off its feet, and has so far left more than 100,000 people dead.

“The shock of the pandemic reduced to zero the revenues of many categories of workers, notably the self-employed, who number many in the towns of the north,” David Benassi, professor of sociology at the Bicocca University in Milan, told AFP.

READ ALSO: Why are so many women unemployed in Italy – and what’s being done about it?

And although a new citizenship income for the lowest paid came into effect in 2019 and is widespread in the south of Italy, many in the north often fall through the cracks of state support.

“Many families who fell into poverty in 2020 don’t fulfil the income and asset requirements,” said Benassi.

The worst hit are women and young people, who often have precarious jobs, noted Mario Calderini, professor of social innovation at Milan Polytechnic. 

“Women have paid a heavy price in this crisis, as have families with underage children,” he said.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

MONEY

EXPLAINED: Why people in Italy might have to carry more cash from now on

Italian retailers will no longer face fines for refusing card payments on amounts lower than €60, after the government put the brakes on a recent push towards electronic payments.

EXPLAINED: Why people in Italy might have to carry more cash from now on

Italy’s new budget bill is set to add yet another controversial chapter to the country’s long and troubled history of card payment laws.

Under Italy’s new budget law, retailers will no longer be fined for refusing card payments for smaller amounts – a controversial move that is expected to have a knock-on effect for shoppers.

READ ALSO: Key points: What Italy’s new budget law means for you 

Fines for retailers refusing card payments on amounts lower than €60 will now be suspended until at least June 2023, according to a clause included in the text of the 2023 budget law published to media on Wednesday.

As set out by the bill, the six-month suspension will allow the newly created Ministry of Enterprises and Made in Italy to “establish new exemption criteria” and “guarantee the proportionality of the given penalties”.

And, though it isn’t yet clear what new exemptions the government is currently considering nor what exactly is meant by “proportionality”, what’s certain is that residents who had started to make more purchases by card will now have to repopulate their pockets with some good old banknotes because businesses – from taxi drivers to cafes and bars – might not accept card payments for small amounts.

Fines for businesses caught refusing card payments had been introduced by Draghi’s administration back in June 2022, with retailers liable to pay “a €30 administrative fee plus four percent of the value of the transaction previously denied”, regardless of the amount owed by the customer. 

Euro banknotes in a wallet

Under Italy’s new budget law, retailers will no longer be forced to accept card payments for transactions under €60. Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

The measure angered retailers who lamented having to pay hefty bank commissions on every electronic transaction – some business owners even went as far as openly defying the law and organised themselves into a protest group (Comitato No Pos, roughly meaning ‘Anti-point-of-sale committee’). 

Given the government’s new legislation, it seems like their efforts might just have paid off. 

But, while many business owners will no doubt be happy with the suspension, others have already raised doubts about the potential ripple effects of the government’s move.

Aside from shoppers having to carry more cash than they’re currently used to, many political commentators are warning that the suspension might be a “gift to tax dodgers” in a country where, according to the latest available estimates, tax evasion costs state coffers nearly €90 billion a year.

The same was said about another of the government’s recent changes: raising the cash payment limit from 2,000 to 5,000 euros.

READ ALSO: What’s changing under Italy’s post-pandemic recovery plan? 

A previous government led by Giuseppe Conte had introduced several measures aimed at encouraging the use of electronic payments, most of which have since ended or been rolled back.

The introduction of fines for businesses refusing card payments was one of the financial objectives set out within Italy’s Recovery Plan (PNRR), which expressly refers to the fight against tax evasion as one of the country’s most urgent priorities. 

It is therefore likely that the new cabinet will at some point have to explain the latest U-turn on Recovery Plan policies in front of the EU Commission.

SHOW COMMENTS