Significant steps are globally being taken in poverty reduction, but the social inequality issue continues being very relevant, especially due to pandemic and economical crisis that has engulfed Europe.
What is social inequality?
The term “inequality” refers to all differences in the possession of resources that generate different, more or less advantageous life opportunities.
When we talk about inequalities we’ve to precise the distinction between the economical and social inequalities: the first ones depend on the economical situation of a person; the second ones are caused by gender, age, ethnic group, sexual orientation or geographical location.
Each one influences the other and vice versa, affecting the freedom and growth possibilities of a country, a city or a person, such as limiting access to proper health care or education.
Types of social inequality
Social inequalities are divided into many subcategories. Thanks to the data of an Ipsos survey we analyse some of them in detail, comparing inequality figures in Italy and worldwide:
- Geographical inequality is found among the areas most in need of growth and development, one of the most serious inequalities in the 28 countries surveyed. In Italy, the perception of this inequality is average at 42%, while it is much lower in Japan and Germany (27 and 22%);
- Ethnic inequality depends on nationality: the most worried people are from Sud Africa (65%) and USA (55%) with an increased awareness of the issue among the under-35s globally;
- Generational inequality, understood as the difference between older and younger citizens, is felt in Italy at 25% with higher peaks in Japan (39%) and lower peaks in, for example, Brazil or Germany (26%); it is an inequality that affects wages, the level of job security, employment, unemployment and the difficulty in finding housing;
- Gender inequality is perceived as a serious issue by less than half of the respondents, although in our country, Mexico and Spain it reaches 40%, 45% and 42% respectively.
Social inequalities distinction is nothing but the result of a sharp social stratification in which the main resources are distributed differently among people: a share of the population possesses more income, education, land ownership, political power, personal prestige or intellectual influence than other shares of the same population. This unequal distribution of resources generates poverty.
The “new poor”
2020 has been named as the year of the “new poor”: people with a home, a job and a family, but fell into poverty and who don’t have the essentials to lead a decent daily life, not least because of the pandemic: according to the 2020 Caritas Italiana report on poverty and social exclusion in Italy, the absolute poor were 1 million more than before the pandemic, reaching a record 5.6 million (equivalent to 2 million households), with peaks in the South (9.4%), although the largest year-on-year growth was in the northern regions (from 5.8% to 7.6%). The 2020 report also revealed important age-related differences, reporting an increase in disadvantages for children and young people under 34.
The Caritas 2022 report titled “The weak link” presented the 17th of October during the International Day for the Fight Against Poverty, reiterates that there is not just one poverty: there are many, aggravated in the post-pandemic and due to the repercussions of the war in Ukraine.
227,566 people turned to Caritas in 2021, an increase of 7.7%. Among those assisted, with an average age of 45, were both men (50.9%) and women (49.1%).
From one year to the next, the incidence of foreigners increased standing at 55%, in the regions of the Centre-North, while in the South and the Islands, Italian nationals prevailed, at 68.3% and 74.2% respectively.
More than half of the deprived (54.5%) suffer from “multidimensional” poverty, i.e. linked to two or more areas of need.
The prevailing weaknesses are:
- 80% economic poverty (insufficient income);
- 48% employment problems;
- they are followed by family problems (separations, divorces, conflicts), health problems or problems related to migration processes.
The most innovative part of the Caritas report concerns the intergenerational transmission of poverty: in Italy and internationally, being poor as a child is highly predictive of being poor as an adult.
Italy comes last among the most industrialised European countries in terms of social mobility. For those born into families at the bottom of the social ladder, the opportunities to move up diminish and, among them, 28.9% will remain trapped in the same social position as their parents, hence the expression sticky floor. It takes five generations to break free from the shackles of poverty.
Almost six out of ten people live in a condition of economic precariousness in continuity with their family of origin, albeit with a different incidence at territorial level: hereditary poverty, which is passed on "from father to son", is more frequent in the islands and central regions, less so in the North-East and the South where the incidence of first-generation poor is higher.
Two factors characterise this type of poverty:
- determinants, such as economic, educational and working poverty in the family of origin;
- psychological factors, including low self-esteem, lack of hope and planning and distrust in institutions.
Absolute poverty at an all-time high
The recent ISTAT statistics on poverty also substantially confirm the historic highs reached in 2020, with the absolute poor in Italy reaching 5.6 million. Families in absolute poverty are 1.9 million (7.5% of the total), or 5,571,000 people, and of these 1.4 million are children and young people under the age of 18 (14.2%), the hardest hit.
Geographically, the South remains the area with the highest incidence of poor people (10%), while the figure decreases significantly in the North, particularly in the North-West (from 7.9% in 2020 to 6.7%), but there is a worsening in the condition of households with the highest number of members: the incidence of absolute poverty reaches 22.6% among those with five and more members and 11.6% among those with four members; signs of improvement come from families of three (from 8.5% to 7.1%) and of two members (from 5.7% to 5.0%).
Looking at Europe, Eurostat's analysis shows inequality by gender and nationality: those outside the EU are 25.2% likely to be workers living in poverty, that of an Italian is 8.8% and that of an immigrant from EU countries is 18.6%. As regards inequality between men and women, in Italy 14.8% of men are at risk of poverty compared to 18.4% of women (the highest percentage after Spain and Cyprus). If we then talk about a non-EU working woman, the figure rises to 25.1%, while a single mother with dependent children risks at 20.8% not making ends meet.
How to fight social inequalities?
It is one of the goals of the UN 2030 Agenda, SDG 10 “Reducing Inequality within and among Nations” which aims, among other things, to:
- progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the poorest 40% of the population at a higher rate than the national average;
- strengthen and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all without distinction;
- elimination of discriminatory policies, ensuring equal opportunities for all, and adoption of policies to progressively achieve greater equality;
- protect each worker by guaranteeing a decent and fair wage for women and men;
- ensuring a better representation for developing countries in global decision-making forums;
- take special measures for developing countries, supporting them concretely.
As an Onlus, we stand alongside third sector organisations by supporting assistance and reception projects aimed at overcoming social exclusion and creating inclusion to ensure a dignified life for all people.
These include Varcare la Soglia, the national programme of L'Albero della Vita Foundation to reduce the poverty of families in many Italian suburbs, CRI per il Sociale, the Croce Rossa Italiana project to support the most fragile and combat new poverty, the support to Caritas Ambrosiana for the day centre for the homeless in Milan, or the Nel Cuore del Sud call, promoted together with Con il Sud Foundation, to activate in the inland areas of Southern Italy paths of autonomy for people with fragility or at risk of marginality, and create opportunities for local development.
Education is also a fundamental tool against educational and cultural poverty: in this field we support initiatives such as Base Camp: Presidi Educativi Territoriali together with Impresa sociale Con i Bambini, within the framework of the Fondo per il contrasto della povertà educativa minorile, the project Casa di Quartiere San Bao in Brindisi or Fare scuola with Fondazione Reggio Children.
We are also particularly attentive to gender conditions, supporting initiatives such as A Vele Spiegate, to increase the working autonomy of women who are facing pathways out of violence, or Casa Marzia, where we want to give mothers in distress and fragile conditions the chance to look to their future as independent women.