Italians and solidarity in times of crisis
Nicola Maggini (University of Florence)
April 18th 2018, University of Florence, Social Sciences campus
The principle of solidarity, which is one of the founding values of the Italian constitution, has been put under pressure in recent years. Indeed, the global financial crisis and the austerity measures which followed have resulted in drastic cuts to public services, heavy job losses and reduced incomes. The impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable sectors of society, such as people with disabilities, was particularly tough. Within the gap of a few years, the refugee crisis overlapped with the economic crisis, strongly affecting a country positioned at the centre of several migration routes in the Mediterranean Sea. Understanding the spread and the triggers of solidarity practices in such a difficult context is therefore a goal that deserves scholars’ attention. Through a survey-based analysis of social and political dimensions of solidarity in Italy, we argue that solidarity practices towards three target groups (the disabled, the unemployed, and refugees) can be explained with reference to people’s social traits, beliefs and political preferences. Findings show that solidarity is a multifaceted phenomenon and its practices are fostered by social capital, religiosity, cognitive political involvement and perceptions of deservingness. In other words, Italians are more likely involved in solidarity activities (regardless of the target group) when they trust in others and/or have frequent social connections, are religious, are interested in politics, consider the group they are supporting as worth being helped. There are also group-related predictors of solidarity: political factors play a more important role for support towards the unemployed and above all refugees compared to support for the disabled; solidarity towards refugees is bounded by political orientations and at the same time is an unconditioned and universalistic form of solidarity. Indeed, solidarity towards refugees entails political commitment to libertarian values as opposed to authoritarian stances. Furthermore, it is closely tied to social beliefs like absence of conditionality as regards granting migrants the entitlements to social benefits and services.