Health and jobs and sausages in Italy

Italy's health system comes top of the league table for cancer recovery rates. NHS supporters should take note. But it is close to bottom when it comes to nepotism, and the brightest and best are emigrating. As ever, it's a mixed bag in Italy

A beautiful life, but complicated
Tim Hedges
On 30 October 2015 07:48

Italians love to talk about their country, and to hear what the outside world is saying about it: whether the news is good or bad, whether they have made a bella figura or a brutta figura.

There is plenty of grumbling and I have occasionally made the mistake of agreeing that some things are not as good as they might be: Italians love their homeland despite what they say about it and reserve the exclusive right to run it down.

On the bella figura side there is much nodding of the head at the news that Italy had come top of the European league table for recovery rates from cancer. This requires early detection as well as the right equipment in the right quantities and of course the expert staff. Italians are critical of the health service as well as of everything else (if only they knew what it was like elsewhere!) but this is a triumph for a country continually strapped for cash.

Another international report was less good news, however. The annual investigation into European social justice by the Bertelsmann Foundation ranked Italy 25th out of 28. Social justice is not the sort of thing you might expect Italy to be bad at, until you see Bertelsmann's constituent definitions. Italy did all right at poverty prevention and equitable education, less well at most of the other categories, but where it really fell down was intergenerational justice.

What this is about is what sort of life the younger generation is offered, and it is a serious problem for Italy. Until recently, it was thought that 70 percent of all jobs went on the principle of 'raccomandazione' where a relative or family friend marked your card and even if there was an interview procedure you got the job.

Sons inherit their fathers' jobs. We saw such things in the pre-Murdoch print industry in England but in Italy it is still prevalent. People without contacts get nowhere.

Another problem relates to Italy's industrial model. In the prosperous north at least, it is characterised by small family firms which for generations have guarded their independence, whilst in other major economies there has been consolidation by merger and takeover. Larger companies can afford research and development departments, apprenticeships and management trainees.

These things are woefully lacking in Italy. The result is that unless they are going to work for the state, young people feel there is nothing for them here. Even working for the state, the wages are low. Bertelsmann says 'the chances of getting into the world of work, strongly limited by the ever growing number of young people with lack of training and experience in the labour market, hide a real social time bomb'.

The outcome, as has happened several times in Italy' history, is a rush to emigrate.

A friend who has taught in an Italian university says it is the brightest and best who succeed in getting away, to further their studies in British or American universities. They won't come back until there are real prospects here, or until they are old.

Italy has already started to lose its next generation of leaders. Mr. Renzi has dabbled at changing things, but the last budget did nothing for business and was more like a pre-election giveaway. He needs to make it easier for foreigners to invest, but there seems to be little appetite for it.

A third report to trouble Italy's amour propre comes from the World Health Organisation, to the effect that processed meats are in the highest risk category for being carcinogenic, along with asbestos and cigarettes. The Italian papers carried pictures of American hamburgers, British bacon and German sausages.

There has been little discussion of prosciutto ham and salami, except from producers' associations, who regard the report as an outrage perpetrated by the ignorant. The view of the average Italian? Una stupidaggine (which translates itself).

But there again they are more likely to survive, aren't they?

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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