Rome, Italy – Loredana Longo has very little time for Italian September 25 election. Instead, what’s driving her thinking is how she’ll be able to pay her sky-high gas bill in the coming winter months.
“The situation is dire,” she said.
A teacher at a kindergarten in Ciampino, a suburb of Rome, Longo earns 1,000 euros ($990) a month.
With more than half of her salary going into a mortgage, the 48-year-old single mother of a teenage son has long struggled to make ends meet – but has always been able to pull through.
Now, with an energy crisis enveloping Italy – and all of Europe – caused by Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine, Longo faces tough choices.
“I had to decide whether to put the food on the table or pay the bills,” she said.
Her case is not an isolated one. According to the European Union’s statistics office, Eurostat, nearly 12 million Italians are on the verge of falling below the poverty line – that is, those whose wages are 60% less than the median income.
“This segment of the population is at risk,” said Nunzia De Capite, sociologist and researcher at Caritas, a leading Catholic charity that operates around the country.
De Capite says the group is one step away from joining the 5.6 million Italians who are struggling to pay their bills.
The war in Ukraine, combined with Italy’s huge reliance on Russian gas, which accounts for 40% of imports, is proving a perfectly unpredictable storm.
Electricity prices for the average household increased by 94% in the first quarter of this year compared to 2021, while the cost of gas increased by 131% year-on-year, data from Italian energy regulator ARERA Shows.
Gianfranco Viesta, a professor of applied economics at the University of Bari, told Al Jazeera the energy crisis has significantly affected the purchasing power of households and slowed industrial production.
Inflation rose to 9%, the highest in decades, hitting the most vulnerable.
Studies show that low-income households spend a large portion of their income on domestic energy costs due to less efficient housing and the use of cheaper but energy-intensive electrical appliances. more quantity.
“It is the poor who have to pay for this energy crisis, not the rich,” says Viesta, sounding alarm bells about the risk of social breakdown.
“The number one challenge for the future government will be how to maintain social stability in a country tired and depressed after 20 years of unbalanced growth, with huge inequality,” he said. .
On the campaign trail, the candidates discussed the best strategy to deal with the crisis.
Giorgia Meloni, leader of Italy’s Far-Right Brotherhood which the coalition is expected to win the election, has pledged not to increase Italy’s already record-high debt – under the monetary policy of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
Italy is the second most indebted country in the euro area, with Record of the Bank of Italy Debt is the highest in the country’s history at more than 2,700 trillion euros ($2.635 trillion) this year.
“I won’t ask for more money,” she said at her end of campaign rally in Rome on Thursday. She emphasized, again, on the need to cap gas prices and reduce gas and energy prices, two proposals that also mark continuity with the current government’s approach.
Meloni has downplayed her European skepticism since the prospect of becoming prime minister became more concrete, in an attempt to reassure markets that she would not be a danger to the stability of the Union. European Union.
But Meloni’s coalition partner, the head of the hardline and anti-migration League party Matteo Salvini, has pushed for a 30 billion euro ($29 billion) state subsidy to help limited businesses. curbing energy costs – a move that critics warn will make Italy more vulnerable to financial markets and higher interest rates.
The league is voting at almost 13%, according to the latest poll on September 10, almost half of what the Meloni Brothers in Italy are predicted to win, showing that the policy proposal of she can prevail.
Enrico Letta, leader of the Democratic Party, also advocates limiting gas prices, as well as giving needy families the tools and funds to produce energy from renewable sources, increasing tax credits to offset the increase in non-domestic energy prices and incentivize businesses to invest more in renewable energy.
But many Italians are not convinced by the options available. As the group of people falling into poverty has increased over the years, so has the number of people frustrated with politics.
Mauro Spadolini, 21, said: “You know what, I’m going to write a poem on the ballot paper, while serving coffee at a bar in Rome’s working-class Garbatella neighborhood.
Nearby, Liliana Cortellesi, the owner of a small grocery store, countered: “I’ll write Draghi on it,” said the 72-year-old, explaining that she didn’t know who to vote for.
They are only among the millions – more than 40% of those eligible according to a survey in September – who say they will abstain or have yet to decide who to vote for after a campaign. chaotic dispatch.
Draghi’s term, in power since February 2021, is seen by many as a time of stability in Italy’s often volatile politics.
But it collapsed in July, becoming the latest government to fall victim to political infighting.
Italy has had three governments in the last four years – seven of the last 11 – and this, according to experts, has further disenfranchised the population.
Lorenzo Pregliasco, founding partner of polling firm YouTrend, said: “Public opinion is that the vote is not useful when considering what parties will do about it.
Voter turnout is expected to be the lowest in the history of Italian elections, he said.
“My hands are shaking,” Meloni said when asked how she feels about running during the campaign.
My hands are shaking too, said Longo. But he said he was thinking about the upcoming winter bills.