New law reforms social services

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In October 2000, the Italian parliament approved a new framework law reforming the national system of social service provision. The new law provides for an integrated network of all types of provision (including social, healthcare, labour market measures), with new responsibilities for regional and local authorities, based on a three-year National Social Plan. Of particular interest from an industrial relations perspective is the major role given to trade unions - and especially pensioners' organisations - in consultation and negotiations over regional and local social services.

On 18 October 2000, the Italian parliament approved a framework law (No. 238/2000) "for the realisation of an integrated system of social interventions and services" (Legge quadro per la realizzazione del sistema integrato di interventi e servizi sociali). The new law replaces legislation dating from 1890 and will considerably update Italy's social services system. It redefines the role of the institutions involved and gives greater planning and management responsibilities to the regions and local bodies. The new law also corrects partially the existing structural imbalance in the allocation of public resources between "social assistance" (assistenza) and "social insurance" (previdenza). It establishes a system of social assistance which aims to help people in need throughout their lives, and which is the main basis of all social policies. The legislation also provides for the compulsory establishment of local networks to provide social assistance, and promotes the role of the not-for-profit sector.

Main aims of the law

The main objective of the new law is to guarantee to every person and family resident in Italy, including immigrant families, an integrated system of social services and "interventions" aimed at preventing, reducing or eliminating all situations of privation, poverty and deficiency, by means of assistance actions coordinated with active labour market, training and healthcare policies. The new law ends the state monopoly in the provision of social assistance services, and private and not-for-profit organisations can compete with public bodies to manage these services. Under the reform, the planning of the provision of social services will take place at local level through concertation procedures involving the public authorities, social assistance bodies and trade union organisations.

Furthermore, the law reorganises the tasks of the central state and the regions. The state will define social policy principles and objectives while regions will plan, target and coordinate social interventions and the integration of the various social, health and labour market services, besides controlling the quality and the financial aspects of the services provided. Municipalities, together with provinces, will take part in planning and will be responsible for the administration and management of social services at local level.

Integrated service network and social services provided

The social services and actions provided for by the new law will aim to help people become, in an active and responsible way, an integral part of society. With this aim, social services will adopt integrated strategies - including labour market insertion, vocational training, healthcare services and social support measures - which should contribute to improve living conditions and guarantee citizens' rights.

This integrated service network will offer all disadvantaged people appropriate support, so that they can remain independent. Among the services that the network will be obliged to provide are: home-help services; family centres; "family communities" (see below); day centres for people with disabilities; rehabilitation centres; day centres for elderly people; residential and semi-residential care facilities; and "remote assistance" services (telesoccorso).

Under the new law, income support measures targeted at disadvantaged families, which were previously administered directly by the state, will be managed by the integrated services network. These measures include benefits aimed at relieving poverty and tax reductions.

The aim of the new legislation is that citizens and families will be able to count on real help to overcome difficulties and improve the quality of their lives. The law extends home-help services and economic support for those families who look after non-self sufficient people. People with disabilities will have greater opportunities for social assistance and social inclusion thanks to the creation of "family communities" which will support them and help them to enter the labour market. Abandoned children will be hosted temporarily in foster families rather than in orphanages.

Entitlement criteria

All citizens and families regularly resident in Italy are entitled to benefit from social services, states the new legislation. Priority is given to: people living in poverty conditions or with limited incomes; people with a partial or total incapacity to provide for their own needs through physical or psychological disability; people who face difficulties in entering active life or the labour market; and prisoners' families.

Operation of the integrated network

Social assistance policy will be laid down in a National Social Plan (Piano Sociale Nazionale) that central government and the regions must draw up every three years. This plan will specify the actions that the integrated service network must carry out over the three-year period in order to guarantee standard services nationwide, avoiding geographical imbalances and inequality of access for citizens. The plan will also define: the distribution of the costs of the services among the various institutions; the criteria on which users may have to pay some of the costs; and guidelines for personnel training and professional updating.

The National Social Plan will lay down service standards regarding: the integration of older non-self sufficient people and people with disabilities; supporting families and children; the integration of immigrants; and combating alcoholism and other forms of addiction.

All regions will now have to formulate regional social plans, through concertation among the social partners, while all municipalities must draw up a local social plan, including both social assistance and health care initiatives. Despite the approval of law 238/2000, the reform of the social assistance system is thus not yet complete.

The role assigned by the new law to voluntary and not-for-profit organisations is very important and innovative. These organisations will be able to provide services and combine with the network of public structures. Private social service providers will have to be accredited and will have to guarantee quality standards in their activities.

The reactions of the social partners

The new law follows sustained pressure exerted over four years by the Cgil, Cisl and Uil trade union confederations and in particular by their affiliated pensioners' organisations (IT0009272F), on members of parliament and the government. Melino Pellittieri, general secretary of Cisl's National Federation of Pensioners (Federazione Nazionale Pensionati) has expressed his satisfaction with the approval of the law: "thanks to this law it will be possible to redesign a new social assistance system. The success of the new system will deeply depend upon regions and municipalities, which will have to develop an efficient system to monitor people's needs. Regional bodies and municipalities will have to collaborate with local trade unions."

Savino Pezzotta, the Cisl general secretary, considers the reform of the social assistance system to be "a historic event, given the inadequacy of the previous law in force". According to Mr Pezzotta, the "framework law will become a tool which will be able to transform social assistance policies into a system of individualised services to citizens and families. This law fulfils, albeit a little late, our joint commitment with the government in the 1997 agreement on welfare" (IT9711315F). Lastly, Betty Leone, the confederal secretary of Cgil, stressed the important role the law has given to trade unions in the process of negotiating with local bodies over the resources and services to be provided.

Commentary

The approval of the law reforming the Italian social assistance system can be considered a historic event, representing the first step towards the reform of the Italian welfare state (IT9703303F).

The percentage of public expenditure allocated for welfare in Italy is similar to that in other European Union countries. However its distribution differs considerably. Most of the resources are allocated to the pensions system, which is burdened not only by social insurance expenditures (ie for employees) but also by social assistance (ie for all citizens). The pensions system absorbs more than 70% of the resources allocated to the welfare system. The healthcare system absorbs 22% of these resources and social assistance, which includes social pensions and benefits, only 7.2%.

The inefficiency of Italy's public administration and the tendency to centralise the management of welfare policies has led the establishment of a social assistance policy based essentially on income support - that is, the distribution of pensions and benefits rather than the creation of services addressed to individuals and families in need. The management of a pension system hindered by such inappropriate charges has led to an increase in contributions from employees and employers. This situation has become unsustainable due to the ageing of the population and the reduction of the relative size of the working population which, despite the high level of contributions, is no longer able to finance the whole system. The possibility of reviewing the whole pension system - which is considered particularly generous and expensive in comparison with other EU systems – depends upon: the financial separation of social insurance and social assistance; the existence of other income-support measures; and the existence of social services for the disadvantaged levels of society, whose costs are sustained by the tax system and not by the pension system.

The new law addresses these needs and improves the conditions for social dialogue over the reform of the pensions system. The new law gives a new important role to trade unions and in particular to the pensioners' organisations. The latter are gaining importance within the union confederations (more than 50% of the members of the three main confederations are retired workers - IT0009272F) and are destined to play an important role in the implementation of the new welfare reform, which is based on concertation between relevant institutions and local trade unions. (Domenico Paparella, Cesos).

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