“So, these are the points on which to act, the levers on which to intervene,” he said. “We know what the cure is, we have, as I said before, fortunately, for the first time perhaps in 10 years, the opportunity to have some resources with which to buy the ‘medicine.’”
After Pope Francis and Draghi, Friday’s event will also feature company executives, journalists, actors, athletes, and Italy’s family and education ministers.
Elena Bonetti, Minister of the Family and Equal Opportunities, called the low fertility rate a “primary challenge for Italy and for Europe.”
She said “The General State of the Birth Rate initiative has come at the right time to put pro-family policies in place in the state, especially those which promote having children, education, and the participation of women in the workforce.”
Less than half of Italian women have work, even part-time, while the country’s salaries tend to be low, making it difficult for families to meet even basic monthly expenses on just one income.
The government’s latest effort at raising the fertility rate is the Family Act, which will be mostly funded by the EU recovery plan. The Family Act includes a long list of measures to incentivize families to have children and to help young couples get on their feet.
The legislation’s major policy is a monthly universal child benefit paid from two months before a child’s birth until age 21. It also includes funds to improve the scarcity of preschools in the country.
Putting the legislation into action is one of the priorities for Bonetti’s department in the coming months.
In Blangiardo’s estimation, Italy should aim to raise the birth rate by a very modest 0.6 at the end of 10 years, which would lead to roughly an additional 100,000 births per year.
“Obviously it’s not a radical transformation, it is not an absolute change,” he said, “however, it’s a contribution which is absolutely extremely important, because -- let’s not forget -- the alternative is the continued decrease in birth rate.”
A family policy expert told CNA last year that the Italian government’s past efforts at pro-birth policies, such as a “baby bonus” and subsidized leave, have had little success in raising the birth rate.
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According to Vincenzo Bassi, people do not decide to have more children because they will receive a financial bonus -- it requires something more drastic.
If we want to encourage people to take on the sacrifice of having children, the family needs to be valued by society at large, he said.
Philip Jenkins, a historian who published a book last year on fertility rates and religion around the world, said that pro-family policies can raise the birth rate, but they work very slowly and are very expensive.
With Italy’s $315 billion from the EU, “we have the resources” to put policies in place which will “resolve some of the problems blocking fertility,” Blangiardo said.
Pope Francis has described Europe’s low birth rate as a result of a “disregard for families” and “a sign of societies that struggle to face the challenges of the present.”
Da Palo said that he invited the pope to give a greeting at Friday’s meeting because he wanted someone “who would also speak about hope, because having a child today is also connected to having hope, desires, a sense of beauty for the future.”