SAN Giovanni in Persiceto, a northern Italian town just 14 miles (22.5 kilometres) from Bologna in the wealthy industrial region of Emilia Romagna, never used to have many problems. When Lorenzo Sarti started working in social services there 20 years ago, he says the community was comfortably off and its welfare system easily able to take care of those who were in need.
Now, however, after five years of decline which has seen many nearby companies close and unemployment rise, Sarti says that even this most solid of towns is feeling the strain. “There are a lot of people who five years ago didn’t need social services but who now do,” he says. “They are the new poor.”
Sarti, who has lived all his 48 years in and around San Giovanni and now works in the welfare department of the town council, says numerous small and medium-sized companies in the area have gone under in the past few years, causing big problems for a community whose lifeblood has traditionally been manufacturing and industry.
Frustratingly for Sarti, the town council has not been able to respond to the increase in demand for its services as it once might have. In a double whammy familiar in many austerity-hit countries, its funds have been cut significantly just as its safety net has been needed the most by those who are out of work or on reduced hours.
Sarti also says the council has seen a significant rise in the number of young people needing treatment for mental health concerns.
He wants to see a government that will maintain social funding and that, most importantly, is led by a party that is “serious”. That, for him, means either the Democratic Party or the Union of the Centre, and, in keeping with the strongly left-wing traditions of the area, he has decided to cast his vote for the former. It categorically rules out not only Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom party but also Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement and the Civil Revolution party led by former anti-mafia prosecutor Antonio Ingroia. “They say a lot of things that I, a man who uses his mind, cannot believe,” he says. — The Guardian, London