ROME (Reuters) – The number of Italian families living in absolute poverty decreased in 2019 after four straight years of growth, though there is still a significant problem in the underdeveloped south, data showed on Tuesday.
About 4.6 million people, or 7.7% of the population, live in absolute poverty, defined as those unable to buy goods and services essential to avoid grave forms of social exclusion, according to data from national statistics bureau ISTAT.
In terms of families, the number was 1.7 million, slightly down from 1.8 million in 2018.
Around one million families benefited from a “citizens’ income” scheme for the poor championed by the ruling anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. ISTAT said in 2019 the poor increased their spending following this welfare reform.
However, the COVID-19 crisis will have an inevitable impact on poverty in 2020. The epidemic brought Italy to its knees, forcing the government to impose a nationwide lockdown on business to curb infections.
The Bank of Italy said the euro zone’s third-largest economy would contract by around 9.2% in 2020, forecasting a partial rebound next year.
In May, after two months of rigid lockdown, the government approved spending measures to help families and companies, including new subsidies for people who have no income or pension.
ISTAT said 8.6% of families in the south were living in absolute poverty last year, down from 10% in 2018. That compared to 5.8% in the north and 4.5% in the central regions, including the capital, Rome.
Italians living in “relative poverty” – those whose disposable income is less than around half the national average – held steady, edging down to around 14.7% of the population from 15% in 2018.
(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Nick Macfie)