In the last chapter we saw that the Italian state has lost autonomy in economic policy-making in recent years. According to some scholars, the same can be said of policy-making in relation to welfare. The reason for this, it is argued, is that in common with the governments of many other advanced industrialised countries, the Italian authorities are facing changes, outside their sphere of control, in the international economy and in the age structure of the population:
On the one hand, it is said, growing world trade, along with increases in international capital flows, have placed governments under pressure to embark on a ‘race to the bottom’ in welfare by cutting taxes and spending – this being the price they must pay to remain internationally competitive.
On the other hand, with the OECD population over sixty-five having nearly doubled in the past four decades and set significantly to increase in the future, governments are also facing the opposite pressure on welfare budgets. The political difficulties this exposes them to are revealed by the protests that took place in France, Austria and Sweden in 2003 against proposals to reduce the generosity of existing old-age pensions schemes (Castles, 2004: 5).
The actual dimensions of these pressures in the Italian case, and how governments have responded to them, are matters we consider below. For now we need to define terms.
‘Welfare policy’ here means the predispositions of governments with regard to decisions concerning the provision of social services to individual citizens.