Universal child allowance: the first step of tax reform. Interview with the Minister for Equal Opportunities and the Family, Elena Bonetti

The universal child benefit is the first step of significant tax reform. Like the French family quotient, it will have a positive effect on family budgets. Some elements characterise this measure as a fundamental reform within an integrated set of reforms such as the Family Act. The first characteristic is its universality, and the second is that it is a structural measure, and the third is its simplification. These are the words of the Minister for Equal Opportunities and the Family, Elena Bonetti, in the video interview released to the online magazine of the Eurispes Institute.
In addition to the issues of taxation and youth difficulties, the right to citizenship and demographic decline, the presence of women in political and social leadership and violence against minors was discussed, among other topics, a phenomenon exacerbated by the Internet.

 

Minister Bonetti, the universal child allowance for children up to the age of 21 is one of the successes of this complex legislature that has already had three governments. You have defined it as “good debt”, the kind of debt that Draghi likes. Basically, what is different between the old family allowances and the “flood” of bonuses?

Some elements characterise this measure as a real reform within an integrated package of reforms that is the Family Act. The first element is its universality: it is a measure to support parenthood, but one that is addressed to children – to each child from the seventh month of pregnancy up to the age of 21 – and is the recognition of a universal value that these citizens represent for all of us. Why do I say that this is a truly innovative feature? Because few people today can really count on economic support because of the fragmentary nature of the measures in place. For example, self-employed workers do not have access to family allowances; for example, those who are unable to pay taxes do not have access to tax deductions for dependent children. The second characteristic is that this is a structural measure: it means that it is part of a family economic planning dynamic. Month after month, families know how much they will have available for the financial costs of having a child. The third element is the simplification because instead of many measures that are somehow incomprehensible because they alternate, are stratified, today there is clarity, a comprehensible and specific supply and this, beyond the simplification – obviously always desirable also in an economic-social dynamic – which has a clear advantage, together with the structure, the possibility of being a measure that is projected in a temporal becoming and which for all this it is characterised as an investment. When facing uncertainty (from a professional, social point of view), the answer must be a structural support and investment measure. It is not a subsidy, and it is not a simple measure against individual poverty. It is an investment and support measure, which must be proportioned and based, and it will be, to the family income context. So it is a universality but scaled on household incomes.

The universal child allowance, according to some observers, would have an extraordinary multiplier effect if introduced alongside the family quotient.

The issue of taxation, within which the single universal allowance is placed, is a very important one. The family quotient is an instrument that interprets the family burden in the context of taxation. In fact, the universal single allowance is in itself a taxation instrument. We did not build it as a welfare support tool but as a taxation tool related to the need dimension (for example, to activate work and, in particular, women’s work).
As part of the tax reform, it is clear that it will be possible to include supplementary measures.
As part of the tax reform, it is clear that supplementary measures can be included.
– However, I would like to point out that the universal child allowance is part of the Family Act reform, which, in addition to the support of the universal child allowance, recognises the tax exemption of expenses incurred for child-rearing, the tax exemption of contributions for domestic work, for all family support. It is within this multidimensional vision that this measure has a multiplying effect. A multiplying effect of investment, for example, in the revitalisation not only of a social co-responsibility but also of a greater presence of women in the labour market.

The current ISEE system is a sort of identity card of the economic situation of families. Is it still a current and effective tool?

I imagine that the ISEE, in the context of the tax reform, will eventually have to be modified and made consistent with the new context of taxation in our country. As of today, among the existing instruments, it is the one that best gives a picture of the family’s economic status. However, within the delegated law, the ISEE, or some of its elements, has been identified, so it has already been prescribed that the ISEE should be used as a quantification of the allowance. We are working, within the implementing decrees, to ensure, for example, that within this instrument, the second income earner is not penalised, to avoid a negative effect – which could occur – which is that of a further inhibition of women’s work, besides, and that greater recognition of the burden of the number of children is certainly included. But I would like to point out, from this point of view, that the allowance itself contains, like the French family quotient, a rewarding effect, starting from the third child. The universal single allowance, on the other hand, has a sort of rewarding effect. It is in some way a kind of negative taxation that gives back that contribution that families have put in for childcare.

The family inevitably leads us to discuss children, with the associated problem of closed schools and the development of youth intolerance, which frequently leads to violence. Is this a problem that needs to be addressed right away?

It is a phenomenon that must be stopped immediately; however, it is a phenomenon that highlights a deep unease among the youth population, particularly in this dramatic time, and that weighs heavily on the shoulders of this generation. There are two significant factors weighing on our children: the debt we are incurring to get back on our feet because we are using their future money and the current situation. We are currently in a situation in which schools and places of socialisation are closed. I have always emphasised the importance of reopening educational and relational spaces for young people. This year we confirm the need to meet this demand: first, by reopening schools, but then, in the long run, by organising educational experiences aimed at adolescents and pre-adolescents, which can reacquire spaces for relations, including educational ones, to absorb these discrepancies. From this perspective, dramatic episodes are occurring, which is why my department, within the National Observatory for Childhood and Adolescence, has established a group that is studying the psychological and emotional effects of the Covid experience on the young population to provide concrete answers while also integrating those from the school world.

Children are not only active participants in violence, but they are also increasingly becoming victims of heinous crimes such as paedophilia. Is there any new research in the field to combat paedophilia?

The issue of paedophilia and child pornography is becoming more prominent, but we still don’t have a clear picture. To this day, there are hidden forms of this violence, forms that occur on the web, in the world of the Internet. As a result, the National Observatory against Paedophilia and Child Pornography has been reconstituted today with a more specific and timely approach to combating these phenomena. The first step is to establish those synergies with all competent subjects to intercept this crime with extreme clarity and punctuality. Then there is another issue of an informative nature for adults, parents, and families, to help them and be able to recognise abuse suffered by their children through the Internet. Finally, there is the issue of education and schools, which can provide training and education for children and young people while also recognising the signs and, as a result, setting up support programmes. These victims are frequently left alone, which is the most powerful weapon of violence. As a result, this is what we must insist on today.

Ministry of the Family, but also of Equality. It is not your case, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for women to obtain top positions in politics or even large corporations, as evidenced by von der Leyen’s ‘sofa-gate.’ Every step forward appears to be followed by two steps back.

The presence of women in politics and social leadership, in general, is a challenge that we must continue to address. We must have the courage to declare that gender equality, and thus the advancement of women into leadership positions is a necessary and constitutive component of our democracy. I believe that this will become increasingly clear due to the positive process that women in politics have undertaken. You are correct; gender equality must be chosen, exercised, and seen as more than a concession to protect a right to equality; it must be something more, a constitutive element of our social form. The case of President von der Leyen was notable. Still, I’d like to draw attention to one particular detail: that apparent step backwards, that slap in the face of the Institutions, right in relation to the President of the European Commission, that act demonstrated, on the other hand, how much female experience knows how to interpret institutional leadership at the highest level. Her determination to stay and turn that act into a denunciation of an unacceptable stereotype that is still prevalent in the Institutions has resulted in a further step forward. Women must be able to do this and understand that there are sometimes steps forward that require effort, but that if they are taken, they are done on behalf of and for all future women.

Enrico Letta, the Democratic Party’s new secretary general, has prioritised Ius Soli or acquiring citizenship in a country simply by being born there. Is this a result of Italians’ low proclivity to have children?

I believe the issues are related, but they require two distinct responses. For example, I think that the Ius Culturae, or the recognition of the school as a site for the formation of citizenship, is one of the proposals I have always supported. I’m referring to the definition of citizenship, but we also need to consider the growing trend of childlessness in our country, which has reached alarming proportions. Birth rates are steadily declining throughout the peninsula. Unfortunately, as a result of Covid, we will have the greatest gap between births and deaths in 2020. This issue is addressed by providing a stable perspective: unfortunately, data show that even immigrants in Italy have a lower propensity to have children. So, in reality, the problem today is to give concrete prospects of hope to all families in our country, which means female employment, educational services, investment in the youth population, and economic support for educational expenses, which is, in a nutshell, the Family Act.

 

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