It is not news that Italy’s population is aging and shrinking. Indeed, eight countries with more than 10 million inhabitants have seen their populations decline over the past decade according to Euro News. Most are European, but not exclusively so. China is among the Asian nations that is also facing this problem. Among the Western countries we find, Ukraine, Italy, Portugal, Poland, Romania and Greece.
What is news however, is that Italy’s population is shrinking at the fastest rate in the West, forcing the country to adapt to a booming population of elderly that puts it at the forefront of a global demographic trend that experts call the “silver tsunami.” What’s more, it faces a demographic double whammy, with a drastically sinking birthrate that is among the lowest in Europe. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has said Italy is “destined to disappear” unless it changes and the government has sprung into action to intervene.
This month, Ms. Meloni’s government approved a new “Pact for the Third Age,” which she said would lay a foundation for health and social overhauls for Italy’s exploding population of old people. “They represent the heart of society, and a patrimony of values, traditions and precious wisdom,” said Ms. Meloni, adding that the law would prevent marginalization and the “parking” of elderly in institutions.
“To care for the old is to care for all of us,” she said. The overhaul essentially adopted, experts say, nearly wholesale, a measure approved at the end of the previous administration of Prime Minister Mario Draghi. Critically, it followed Mr. Draghi’s lead in wrapping the legislation into the European Union recovery fund program, which ensures that it will be enacted.
“This is the acknowledgment that long-term care is a welfare policy,” said Cristiano Gori, who leads the Pact for a New Welfare on the Dependent, the umbrella organization that advocated the law.
The new law, he said, will fix a system that is “a mess,” streamlining and simplifying government health care and social services, and getting local and national government into the growing field of long-term care. At the same time, it seeks to keep aging Italians in their own homes and out of institutions. A key innovation, he said, depends on funding by the Meloni government, but would give Italians a choice between unconditional cash benefits or larger in-kind contributions to be used for public care.
“The main shortcoming is that there is no money,” Mr. Gori said. The hope, he said, is that Ms. Meloni’s government, which sold itself to voters as being “family, family, family,” will make the program a real priority and fund it. But without more young people to join the work force and pay into pension and welfare systems, the whole system is imperiled.