Writer: Gorana Panić, PhD student in Social Work, Kokkola University Consortium Chydenius
Last week I took part at the 4th European Conference for Social Work Research (ECSWR), Free University of Bolzano, Italy. Researchers, scholars and practitioners in social work challenged diverse private troubles and/or public issues caused by the undermined welfare state.
At the same time in Italy, outside of the conference world, two titles occupied my thoughts – Silvio Berlusconi given community service for taxfraud by The Guardian, and protesters in Rome denouncing austerity measures and economic reforms in Mobilizing for the common: some lessons from Italy by Roar Magazine. What is the relationship between social work and these two events?
Silvio Berlusconi a 77-year-old billionaire, the former Italian prime minister and Forza Italia (FI) center-right leader who has dominated Italian politics for two decades is going to serve his year-long sentence for tax fraud through part-time community service in a care home for elderly people.
Surprised? Find it amusing? Humiliating maybe? Sentenced or awarded? A just verdict?
Berlusconi's lawyers welcomed the verdict as "balanced and satisfactory". According to their statement he is too old for jail but he could have been placed under house arrest. Yet, house arrest would have limited his campaigning for the European elections in May.
He has been banned from holding public office for two years and was expelled from the Italian senate. Still as FI leader, he has influence over the Italian political scene and is a reform partner for the prime minister, Matteo Renzi.
This brings us to another remarkable event of the last week. Tens of thousands of protesters marched on Rome on Saturday to denounce the austerity measures and economic reforms of Matteo Renzi’s new government and to reclaim income and housing as common good and dignity for all.
No surprise that protesters addressed the issue of housing and income since “40% of Italy’s youth are now out of work and in 2013 alone some68.000 families received eviction notices, 90% of them had failed to pay their rent or mortgages as a result of insufficient income”.
Back to the 4th ECSWR conference, it is not likely that 40% of Italy's unemployed youth or 68.000 families with insufficient income is a result of private failures. Instead, it should be re-addressed as structural issue.
Actually, Berlusconi's sentence in a funny manner reflects some of the current European problems and trends, such as prolonged working life and labor precarity.
For example, he was found to be too old for jail but not to old for work. The 77-year-old Berlusconi will be working in a home run by the Sacred Family Foundation, where "once a week and no less than four consecutive hours will accompany the patients as they move around, help with entertainment-related activities and during the meals." It seems to me kind of a peer-support. Thus, as care worker he could probably recruit new voters among elderly population.
Being part-time care worker Berlusconi's sentence also reflects the current economic crisis and labor precarity in Italy. That's the reason why he got only part-time job (joking). Full-time and decent paid jobs are an illusion for many of his fellows EU citizens (not joking). Maybe his second part-time job could be in Taxation Office. Lots of things to learn about taxes and how taxes can enrich community life and welfare services.
So, a billionaire makes tax fraud and gets community service as “sentence”. It is not a sentence. It is award. It is not enough to serve meals. The transformative potential of that sentence is limited to micro-level, whereas his political decisions and influence has greater impact on everyday life of all Italian citizens. Also, big banks which created the financial and debt crisis were saved by the State while austerity measures were imposed over its citizens. Activists and protesters engaged in anti-austerity movements across Europe are the one who get arrested during the clashes and convicted to jail. What can we hope for? At least, that community service as “sentence” for tax frauds will become very trendy among other politicians and influential figures?
According to Jerome Roos, Saturday's protest was remarkable for two reasons. “First, the Italian movements had been fairly lackluster in responding to the European debt crisis when it first broke in 2010-’11. Second, Saturday’s protest occurred against a backdrop of relative demobilization across the rest of Europe and North America. Right when anti-austerity movements elsewhere appear to be on the retreat, the Italian movements are gradually stepping up their resistance.”
Reclaiming Community, Agency and Social Movements: The Social WorkPerspective is the title of the next European Conference for Social Work Research which will take place at Faculty of social work, Ljubljana, Slovenia, between 22 and 24 April 2015.
The common struggle for social justice and critical project of re-formation of welfare services continues through joint efforts of the global social justice movement and social work researchers, scholars, practitioners and service users.