Soup kitchen struggles to provide for Milanese poor ()

di Rachel Sanderson, del 13 gennaio 2015

Opzione zero

il virus che tiene in ostaggio l'Italia

Da Financial Times del 12 gennaio

A little girl, no more than two years old, sits in her pink pushchair at the front of the queue at Pane Quotidiano, a volunteer soup kitchen in Milan, where Italy's decade-old economic decline is seen in sharp relief. At eight o'clock on a cold winter morning, the girl, without gloves or hat, her nose red with cold, holds out a plastic bag for volunteers to drop in oranges, yoghurt, bread, cheese and dry biscuits. Close behind the child and her young mother stands a headscarfed woman. She asks if she can have extra milk as she is six months pregnant. But the answer is no as there is not enough milk to go round so they only give it to children. Thousands of people gather every day on the outskirts of Milan, one of Italy's wealthiest cities in one of Europe's richest regions, to queue for free food. "The hardest part is saying no," says Jean Pierre Bichard, 51, a Frenchman who is one of Pane Quotidiano's 100 volunteers. "But we have limited supplies and many, many more people coming to queue for them in the past year." The dozen or more children and families in the queue is a new phenomenon, he says. Queues have doubled in size in the past year, says Luigi Rossi, chief executive of Pane Quotidiano, as Italy's decline accelerated following the eurozone crisis. Some days there can be as many as 4,000 people there. "We used to have 70 per cent of those queueing were immigrants, today it is 50 per cent Italians," he says.
While the south has long suffered from joblessness and is heavily reliant on state support, Italy's industrial north has been hard hit by the eurozone crisis and many thousands of businesses have failed. The Italian state has traditionally relied on the Catholic church and the extended family to help people in need. Francesco Galietti, a political risk analyst at Policy Sonar in Rome, says intra-family solidarity has provided a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of workers, "but even these safety nets are wearing thin as the cash withers away". About 6.2m people in Italy live in absolute poverty, about 10 per cent of the Italian population, a figure that has almost doubled in the past two years, according to the country's national statistics agency Istat. About 4m people are considered to suffer from hunger, of which 10 per cent of these are children under five and 14 per cent are older than 65.
Real incomes are now lower than 15 years ago. Economists say Italy may well pull out of its triple-dip recession in 2015 but even the most positive forecasts estimate shallow growth. In real terms, Italy's economy has shrunk over the past 10 years. According to data released last week Italy's joblessness rate has hit an all-time high of 13.4 per cent. More startling perhaps as an indication of the national mood, is a survey released last month by Censis, an Italian think-tank, in which 60 per cent of those interviewed feared ending up in poverty as the economy withered.
Organisers at Pane Quotidiano suggest its popularity is partly because the newly poor can come here without fear of their neighbours or family finding out. Anonymity underpins the charity, whose slogan is that no one will ask your name, opinion or why you are in need. Those in need duck through a narrow hole in a highway layby to reach the unheated shed where they get their handouts.
The struggle to cope with diminished circumstances is increasingly reflected in Italian popular culture. On state broadcaster Rai one of the most popular new daytime television shows is A Conti Fatti, a morning broadcast aimed at housewives. Elisa Isoardi, the glamorous presenter, shows viewers how to use the cheapest cuts of meat to make traditional dishes. She says: "The period we are living in is difficult. We are a public service programme and our job here is not to speak of crisis in a negative way but to show people how they can adapt."
As people struggle, support for extremists and anti-establishment parties is rising. Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-euro, anti-immigration Northern League, which has its headquarters in Milan, is now the second most popular politician in Italy.
There are fears of growing unrest, but more than rage, it is resignation that is dangerous, says Francesco Delzio, author of the newly published Opzione Zero, a book about the crisis and its impact on young people. Five million Italians under 35 are not studying and are not in work.
"We are navigating in the dark, we are all waiting for a recovery that never comes. This is a profound problem that has immobilised Italy, it is a virus that the whole country has caught. Italians cannot shake a feeling that they are alone and there are zero options to improve their situation," he says.
At Pane Quotidiano, Mr Bichard points to a girl who he says "must be seven years old now". She has been queueing for daily rations with her mother since she was a newborn. "These children who live through this, who grow up seeing their parents are unable to feed them, what we see is that it is very difficult for them to get out of the situation themselves," he says.

di Rachel Sanderson

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