Economic crisis tests Italian family, Church opens doors
By Catherine Hornby
ROME (Reuters) - In happier times, ice-cream seller Antonio Siracusa would have considered turning to relatives for help when he lost his job in a cinema in Rome. But these are not happy times.
So Siracusa chooses to go to a free canteen run by Christians in the district of Trastevere for dinner, and picks up free food parcels for other meals.
"I have siblings, but I don't want anything from them," said Siracusa, as he stood in line at the Sant'Egidio charity's diner, adding that he didn't feel comfortable bothering them in such tough economic times. "The community here are my family."
A deep recession and rising unemployment has piled pressure on all Italians and may even be undermining Italy's most reliable social safety net in periods of financial difficulty - the family.
Christian charities say many Italians appear to be ashamed of turning to relatives already struggling in the economic crisis or are coping with the effects of divorce, the incidence of which has doubled in Italy since 1995.
Youth unemployment, at about 35 percent, is keeping sons and daughters at home even into their 30s and causing them to delay starting families of their own, while pension cuts have increased the additional support needed by the elderly.
"Social security in Italy has traditionally been the family. The problem is that families have become overloaded in the present crisis," said Augusto D'Angelo, who works at the Sant'Egidio diner.
The state has never offered a comprehensive jobless benefits system, and the debt crisis has forced it to further curb spending, limit pensions and hike taxes as part of austerity measures aimed at reining in strained public finances. Continued...