Experts of Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Welcome Italy’s Guaranteed Minimum Income Scheme

OHCHR

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its review of the sixth periodic report of Italy, with Committee Experts welcoming Italy’s guaranteed minimum income scheme and asking about initiatives to discourage informal work.

Committee Experts welcomed the introduction of the guaranteed minimum income scheme, which had allowed one and a half million people to gain access to social security. Had that measure had a positive impact on reducing poverty? Were there any loopholes that prevented certain groups from receiving social security benefits?

One Committee Expert said that off-the-books labour made up more than 50 per cent of the labour force. There were still high levels of forced labour and undocumented migrant workers. How did State inspectors identify forced labour and facilitate victims’ transfer into the formal sector?

Fabrizio Petri, President, Inter-Ministerial Committee for Human Rights, and head of the delegation, introducing the report, said that under the “National Recovery and Resilience Plan,” the Government was introducing policies to fight against undeclared work and strengthen access to work for the most vulnerable persons.

In response to questions, the delegation explained that businesses were required to submit data on the fiscal position of employees, which allowed the Government to check whether employees were being treated fairly. Only businesses with regular employment contracts could apply for public tender. Those measures had led to an increase in businesses operating in the formal sector.

On the guaranteed minimum income scheme, the delegation said that it was currently necessary for persons to have resided in Italy for 10 years in order to receive the benefit. However, the Government planned to change that to allow persons who had lived in Italy for two years to receive benefits. The minimum income threshold measure had allowed over one million persons to rise above the extreme poverty line.

In concluding remarks, Preeti Saran, Committee Expert and country rapporteur, thanked the delegation for its very sincere responses. Ms. Saran called on the State party to address the issues raised to the Committee under its individual complaints procedure. She wished the State party well in upholding the rights of the Covenant.

Mr. Petri, in his concluding remarks, thanked the Committee Experts for their comments and support. Much had changed globally and domestically over the past few years, and Italy was working to promote international human rights standards to better respond to new global and domestic challenges. The fruitful dialogue would contribute to improving economic, social and cultural rights in Italy, he said.

The delegation of Italy was comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Labour; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Sustainable Infrastructures and Mobility; Presidency of the Council of Ministers; National Institute for Statistics; Ministry of Education; Ministry of Interior; Inter-Ministerial Committee for Human Rights and the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Webcasts of the meetings of the session can be found here, and meetings summaries can be found here.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Monday, 3 October to begin its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Guatemala (E/C.12/GTM/4).

Report

The Committee has before it the sixth periodic report of Italy (E/C.12/ITA/6).

Presentation of Report

FABRIZIO PETRI, President, Inter-Ministerial Committee for Human Rights, and head of the delegation, said that economic, social and cultural rights were among the pillars of Italy’s Constitution, and had been placed at the core of relevant structural reforms and policies at the national and international levels. In the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in 2019, Italy had accepted the main recommendations concerning the promotion of economic development, social welfare and cultural growth, and implemented measures in response to those recommendations.

The State party’s major plan for promotion of those rights was the “National Recovery and Resilience Plan.” The Plan included a broad programme of reforms to modernise the country and attract investment. One of the key tenets of the Plan was employment support. Under that plan, the Government was introducing policies to fight against undeclared work and strengthen access to work for the most vulnerable persons. It was strengthening vocational training and investing in policies to assist vulnerable persons. The Government was also supporting women’s employment and working to decrease the gender pay gap.

Other key tenets of the Plan were in the fields of education and health. Regarding education, the Government aimed to support educational services and research institutions. The Plan included support for education of children with disabilities. Italy was the first country in Europe to abolish special schools and introduce completely inclusive education.

Regarding health, the Government planned to increase the number of professional health care services available across the country, improve technologies used in hospitals, digitise the National Health Service, and invest in training of healthcare personnel.

Total investments foreseen under the National Plan came to 222 billion euros. 40 per cent of investments were devoted to climate change mitigation investments and more than 10 per cent to social cohesion measures. 40 per cent would be invested in the south of the country.

The delegation looked forward to hearing the Committee Experts’ insights on the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights in Italy.

Questions by Committee Experts

PREETI SARAN, Committee Expert and country rapporteur, said the State party had taken several positive steps in fulfilling its treaty obligations, including ratifying in 2015 the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopting laws that expanded the application of the principle of non-refoulement, improving the quality of life of families with children, and protecting citizens’ income. Was the law on migrant workers still pending? What was the reason for its delay? What steps had been taken to incorporate the Covenant in the State party’s legal order? How many times had court decisions invoked the Covenant? What efforts had been made to raise awareness about the Covenant among members of the judiciary?

A draft law to create a national human rights institute was currently under consideration by Parliament. Why was it taking so long to establish that institution? What efforts were planned to raise public awareness and confidence in such a mechanism, and to increase cooperation with civil society?

The Committee had previously expressed concerns over the decline in the level of the State party’s official development assistance. In 2021, it was 0.28 per cent of gross national product, well below the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. What measures would the State party take to increase official development assistance, and to pursue a human rights-based approach to development cooperation?

There had been a decrease in corporation taxes, and inheritance taxes also remained low. Austerity policies adopted by the State party adversely affected access to health care, particularly by disadvantaged groups. What measures had the State party taken to increase public revenue?

Italy had suffered badly due to climate change. Were Italy’s climate change mitigation policies compatible with its obligations under the Paris Agreement and the Covenant? What measures had the State party taken to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and address the current and future impact of climate change? Ms. Saran called for greater participation from the scientific community in drafting climate change policies.

There were concerns that State legislation did not cover all corporate abuses of human rights and that it provided for exemptions from liability. The United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights had highlighted serious and persistent human rights abuses relating to business activities in Italy, including inhumane work and living conditions for migrant workers, serious occupational health and safety concerns, and environmental pollution. What steps had the State party taken to ensure that businesses followed a human rights-based approach and provided decent working conditions?

Corruption continued to remain an area of concern. What efforts had been made in recent years to combat corruption in public institutions? How did the State guarantee the transparency and independence of its anti-corruption institutions and investigate all allegations of corruption?

The Committee had previously recommended that the State party take steps to adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. Discriminatory rhetoric, articulated by political leaders during the recent election campaigns, was concerning. What recent measures had been taken to denounce reported cases of hate crimes and discrimination, including by political leaders? Had any data been collected on statelessness? What steps had the State party taken to reduce growing regional disparities in economic standing?

The Committee in 2015 had expressed concern about the limited enjoyment of the Covenant rights by migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Italy. The situation had reportedly worsened due to new legislation, such as recent social welfare measures with very strict requirements for migrants. What concrete steps had been taken to guarantee the human rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees? Why did the State party deny asylum seekers registration in the civil registry of the resident population, restricting their access to basic services? What measures had the State party taken to promote the social inclusion of migrants, and to make screening and assessment procedures gender-appropriate?

Concerns remained about the persistence of gender role stereotypes, gender pay gaps, and low female representation in public institutions. What measures had the State party taken to enhance women’s participation in all areas of public life, particularly for Roma women and women from the south?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said the State party had developed a plan to promote migrant workers’ integration and transition into the formal labour sector. The Government aimed to identify migrant workers in the agricultural sector who had been exploited, and provide those persons with assistance. Civil society was involved in that initiative. Emphasis was placed on supporting women and persons with disabilities.

The Italian Constitution was in line with the content of the Covenant, and Italian legislation protected the various rights granted by the Covenant. An amendment had been made to the Constitution which allowed judges to apply international treaties such as the Covenant, as long as those treaties were not in conflict with Italian legislation.

FABRIZIO PETRI, President, Inter-Ministerial Committee for Human Rights, and head of the delegation, said that he would disseminate domestically the Committee’s call for the creation of a national human rights institute.

More than half of Italy’s official development assistance was devoted to humanitarian assistance. Italy had committed to providing 0.7 per cent of gross national income to official development assistance by 2030.

The National Recovery and Resilience Plan included measures supporting social inclusion. The Ministry of Labour had adopted measures to promote vulnerable persons’ access to the labour market. Housing assistance would be provided to persons who were not self-sufficient. The Government intended to facilitate access to the labour market for three million people. Temporary housing projects had been launched to support persons without access to housing. The Ministry of the Economy had developed a public platform that offered up-to-date statistics related to social inclusion.

Measures for protecting the environment had improved. Sustainable agricultural practices were more common, ammonia and other emissions had been reduced and renewable energy production had increased.

The National Recovery and Resilience Plan included regulations on due diligence for businesses. The Government had developed a national action plan on business and human rights. The Ministry of Justice had set up a working group to measure the effectiveness of policies to prevent and punish corruption. The Ministry planned to release data on the performance of anti-mafia and anti-corruption measures in benchmarking reports.

Italy had been working on implementing a European Union directive to adopt a law on whistle-blowing. The Council of Ministers had adopted a decree implementing legislation that provided harsher penalties for the crime of corruption, including fines and the removal of contracts and business licences.

The Constitution stated that all citizens were equal before the law regardless of gender, age, race or other characteristics. The Government had adopted a new national strategy on promoting the rights of Roma citizens, and would soon release national strategies on the promotion of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, and the rights of migrants.

In the last eight years, there had been over 400 applications for Italian citizenship by stateless persons, of which 27 had been accepted.

The national fund for self-sufficiency aided persons with disabilities. 900 million euros would be invested in the fund by 2025. Funds to support children with disabilities’ autonomy in schools had been doubled. The Government was working on improving governance to reduce regional disparities in terms of education. Teachers were employed in over 100 regional centres to provide aid to schools in their region.

Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert said that judicial procedures were lengthy in Italy, which had low numbers of judges per capita. What would be done to improve that situation? What measures were in place to train judges on the Covenant? How would the State protect journalists and human rights defenders, who reportedly faced harassment?

PREETI SARAN, Committee Expert and country rapporteur, welcomed that the State party involved civil society in efforts to prevent discrimination.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that there were a number of potential issues regarding access to social benefits for members of the migrant population. Migrants needed to reside in Italy for a certain number of years to receive social benefits. Asylum seekers were guaranteed the right to education, access to the labour market, and the right to be registered for social benefits.

A national strategy for gender equality had been adopted. Within that strategy, there were measures to reduce the gender pay gap, including an incentive for employing disadvantaged women.

The Ministry of Interior provided guidance to ensure that protections were provided for journalists and human rights defenders, particularly those investigating organized crime.

Recently, reforms of the judiciary had been adopted to increase the efficiency of trials. Those reforms included maximum time limits for investigations, the introduction of digital processes and restorative justice processes to encourage settlement of conflicts outside of courts.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert said the COVID-19 pandemic had particularly affected vulnerable groups in Italy. What new plans had been adopted regarding prevention of the spread of COVID-19?

Off-the-books labour made up more than 50 per cent of the labour force. There were still high levels of forced labour and undocumented migrant workers. How did State inspectors identify forced labour and facilitate victims’ transfer into the formal sector? The percentage of females working in the formal sector was very low for a European country. When looking for jobs, women were often subjected to questions about marital status, and women had been burdened with the majority of housework during the COVID-19 pandemic. What was being done to counter those issues?

How would the State support persons with disabilities’ access to labour markets, particularly in the private sector? Roma persons and undocumented migrants’ access to the labour market was also limited. What measures were in place to address that? The programme established to support undocumented migrants’ access to labour markets reportedly excluded migrants working in the agricultural sector. What was the Government’s response to that?

There was extensive legislation on social security benefits. One and a half million people had gained access to social security through the introduction of the guaranteed minimum income scheme. Had that measure had a positive impact on reducing poverty? Were there any loopholes that prevented certain groups from receiving social security benefits?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that during the pandemic, several businesses had been closed and the informal sector had grown. To mitigate the effects of that trend, the Government had implemented measures to promote formal employment, particularly in the construction sector. Businesses were required to submit data on the fiscal position of employees, which allowed the Government to check whether employees were being treated fairly. Only businesses with regular employment contracts could apply for public tender. Those measures had led to an increase in businesses operating in the formal sector. The Government aimed to employ 2,000 new labour inspectors in the next year to uncover and prevent forced labour.

Progress had been made in reducing the gender gap in employment. As a result of supportive policies, the female employment rate had risen to 51.4 per cent.

Decentralised employment centres provided tutors and resources to support unemployed persons’ access to the labour market. The law on disabilities included a requirement for reasonable accommodation of persons with disabilities in the workplace. Under that law, persons with disabilities were given more say on the jobs that they took. Stringent measures had been introduced for businesses that did not employ persons with disabilities, and incentives were provided to businesses which employed higher-than-average numbers of persons with disabilities.

There were legal constraints concerning data collection on ethnic origin. A working group had been established to tackle that problem and collect data on the Roma community’s access to employment and housing. The Government involved Roma persons in the development and mainstreaming of employment support policies. A specific project had been launched supporting employment of Roma persons.

The national plan for the integration of recipients of social benefits included measures to support access to housing, education and health care. A working group assessed the effectiveness of integration measures. It was important to identify sections of the population which were exposed to discrimination, and to provide those groups with tailored support.

It was currently necessary for persons to have resided in Italy for 10 years in order to receive social benefits. However, the Government planned to change that to allow persons who had lived in Italy for two years to receive benefits. The minimum income threshold measure had allowed over one million persons to rise above the extreme poverty line.

A national plan on preventing violence against women had been released. As part of that plan, the Government had introduced policy tools that supported women’s economic freedom. Female victims of violence were provided with micro-credit and other financial support to enable their economic independence.

Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked what were the major obstacles to promoting employment of persons with disabilities?

What were the rules for exclusion from the minimum income threshold scheme?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said the Government was using a range of tools to support female employment. One of them was education. The State was working with schools to encourage more women and girls to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The State had also made 3,000 new places available in kindergartens and invested in after-school childcare services to support working mothers.

The Government subsidised 75 per cent of the salaries of persons with disabilities employed by private sector entities. The Government aimed to raise awareness about persons with disabilities among private businesses to demonstrate the benefits that such persons could provide.

There were no provisions that excluded certain categories of citizens from the minimum income benefit scheme. There were barriers for certain persons to access that benefit scheme, however, particularly persons who did not have residence permits.

In recent years, studies had been undertaken on methods of fighting corruption. The national anti-corruption unit was mandated to investigate corruption in businesses. Italy had shared best practices in fighting corruption at recent G-7 and G-20 summits.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert said that the south of Italy was disproportionately affected by poverty. What measures were in place to reduce poverty in the south?

Environmental pollution disproportionately affected vulnerable portions of the population. Had plans to tackle climate change considered their impact on women and children?

Efforts had been made to introduce nutritional labels on food products and to encourage breastfeeding, but child obesity had continued to increase in Italy in recent years. What additional measures had been implemented to reverse that trend?

How did the State regulate the health sector? There were concerns about its commodification. What plans were in place to provide support to young persons with mental health issues? The Expert called for information on measures taken to address cultural and linguistic barriers to accessing health services for migrants and asylum seekers.

In some regions, restrictions were imposed on abortion services. In many cases, women had needed to travel to other cities or regions to receive abortion services. Seven out of 10 doctors reportedly conscientiously objected to performing abortions. How did the Government ensure that doctors’ objections were not a barrier to accessing abortion services?

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex persons were categorised by State legislation as having a medical condition. The Expert called on the State to reconsider that definition and to recognise the self-determination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

What policy measures, beyond fines, were in place to prevent illicit drug use?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said Italy’s national social plan aimed to strengthen social services by hiring more social workers, and had allocated 390 million euros for that purpose. The State was trying to reduce inequalities by implementing essential assistance payments at the regional level. Southern regional authorities had also developed specific plans to combat poverty.

A pilot European Union project had been launched to support vulnerable children’s access to State services. The Government was making sure that vulnerable families had access to rent subsidies and other social benefits. The Government had allocated financial resources to create new public housing units for vulnerable populations. Laws such as the national plan for social housing had been enacted to reduce urban disparities, and a national fund to facilitate access to social housing services had been established. The Government aimed to create more than 1,700 new social housing units, and had introduced rent support subsidies.

Italy’s social service system was decentralised. To prevent regional disparities, the Government had established minimum standards for services that applied nationally. The law on disability services established minimum standards of social services for persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Health worked closely with the Ministry of the Environment to develop health-related services related to environmental pollution. 570 million euros had been invested in measures to tackle environmental pollution and protect the health of the most vulnerable populations.

15 billion euros had been invested in innovating and modernising the health system. The Government aimed to improve the performance of regional health services. All migrants, including asylum seekers, were registered in the health system and issued with health cards.

Italy had closed psychiatric hospitals 40 years ago. Community-based, human rights-centred mental health services were provided in all regions. 25 million euros had been allocated for supporting youth mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Initiatives were implemented to reduce hospitalisations due to mental illness.

The Ministry of Health collected data on voluntary terminations of pregnancy in all hospitals. 64 per cent of gynaecologists did not carry out abortions. Data significantly differed by region. In regions where the objection rate was high, the Ministry of Health supported women moving to hospitals where they could receive an abortion. Detailed data was collected on illegal abortions and contraception use. No prescription was needed to access emergency contraception. Voluntary termination of pregnancy without hospitalisation was possible up to the ninth week of pregnancy. The State took care of all costs for abortion.

An observatory on gender medicine had been established, along with a website with information on gender identity and services for transgender persons. The Government aimed to enhance treatment for transgender persons and increase the knowledge of medical staff on gender identity through online training.

A national plan had been established for prevention of drug use, tackling both illicit drug use and alcohol addiction. A programme for educating students about the dangers of drug abuse had been implemented in schools. A network connecting addicts with support and rehabilitation services had been established.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked if there were specific programmes to address the mental health of health service providers. Did women have a way of registering complaints regarding rejection of requests for abortion services? How did the State intend to combat stigma against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons? A non-governmental organization had said homosexuality was considered a “disease” in some sections of society.

PREETI SARAN, Committee Expert and country rapporteur, asked what was done to ensure food security in the poorest regions of the country? Farmers were going bankrupt due to climate change and overuse of pesticides. What was being done to support farmers? How had the COVID-19 pandemic affected health care workers? What had been done to address the backlog of normal health care services which had developed during the pandemic? What could the international community learn from Italy’s experience?

A Committee Expert said that Italy had one of the highest rates of HIV among people who injected drugs. There was a large disparity among regions regarding the availability of harm-reduction programmes. What was done to address that? The Government threatened drug users with sanctions, including up to one year’s imprisonment. Was the Government considering removing those sanctions, which did not serve to reduce drug use?

Another Committee Expert asked how the Government intended to support the aging population?

A Committee Expert asked how the State determined who was prioritised for health care services. What adaption policies had been developed related to natural disasters? Were there regulations on the amount of sugar used in food products, and measures encouraging children to exercise?

Another Committee Expert noted that the Committee had received many individual communications from Italians dealing with the right to housing. Had the State identified a structural issue in the housing sector? What measures were in place to provide temporary housing to persons who had been evicted? What was the legal status of the Committee’s Views?

Responses by the Delegation

Italy had decriminalised homosexuality 130 years ago, yet there remained room to improve the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, the delegation said. The Government had elaborated its strategy on supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in collaboration with 80 non-governmental organizations.

Mental health centres providing psychosocial support had been established in various regions. The Government had devoted additional funds to strengthening the activity of its mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff numbers in those units had been increased, and mental health practitioners had received additional training. The Government had abolished fees for non-hospital examinations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The national prevention plan on drug use supported the provision of counselling to drug users to prevent HIV and other infections.

Women could lodge complaints regarding the provision of abortion with the Ministry of Health and regional authorities.

Provisions had been introduced to improve work-life balance for women. Paternity leave was mandatory for 10 days, and the Government provided financial support to parents taking maternity leave.

The Government was investing in distributing housing units to women victims of violence. The Government had recently created an inter-ministerial unit on examining housing conditions and evictions.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked which measures were in place to support refugees and asylum seekers wishing to enrol in higher education? Which measures were in place to ensure the non-discriminatory recognition of all religious denominations, and to establish agreements between the State and the various major religious denominations regarding that recognition?

A law had been introduced in 2004 to regulate artificial reproductive technologies. A complaint regarding that law had been registered by the Committee, and the Committee had found that the State party had failed to uphold Covenant rights. What measures had the State party taken to review that law and remove sanctions that prohibited research on embryos?

What measures had the State party taken to promote digital technology education for vulnerable members of society?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said the Government, through awareness campaigns, encouraged a change in mentality regarding persons with disabilities in schools, promoting their positive contributions. Italy’s dropout rate was around 4 per cent. Data suggesting that the dropout rate was 14 per cent incorporated tertiary and vocational education statistics. In the last ten years, there had been an improvement in the school attendance rate of migrant students. 70 million euros had been invested in strengthening migrant students’ knowledge of Italian language. The Government cooperated with cultural associations to encourage cultural exchanges between local and migrant students.

More than 60 per cent of secondary schools had made use of virtual education in 2020. In 2022, 99 per cent of students were able to participate in online lessons thanks to the Government’s distribution of tablet- and laptop computers. The Government had also provided financial support to disadvantaged students to obtain SIM cards, allowing them to participate in online education, and had provided additional technology support for children with disabilities.

The Italian State guaranteed religious plurality. All religious entities could self-regulate in terms of religious activities. Religious institutions could now apply to be recognised by the State, and the State was currently in the process of recognising several religious entities.

Questions by Committee Experts

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