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The pandemic caused a number of changes in the levels and tools of public policy design, as well as – on a micro level – in the processes of community interaction. From hybrid models, to the impact of demography and isolation related to remote work, De-LAB, a social design center specialized in Purpose Economy, interviewed Professor Franca Maino about how recent changes will influence public choices in the near future. The interviews is also published on the De-LAB website and is available in Italian here. Franca Maino is Associate Professor at the Department of Social and Political Sciences of the University of Milan, where she teaches “Social and Labour Policies” and “Health and Social-Health Policies”. From 2006 to 2011 she has been coordinator of the scientific program of the Graduate School in Social, Economic & Political Sciences of the University of Milan. Since 2011 she is director of the Research Laboratory Percorsi di secondo welfare.

Public social policies increasingly coexist with interventions of private origin. Has mutual support between these two different instruments really been achieved, or are there still irreconcilable differences from a managerial and organizational perspective that, in the long run, will generate new inequalities in the use of welfare services?

There are lights and shadows in the collaboration between public and private. It takes a lot of effort to create and develop this type of collaboration, since the actors involved have different interests, logics, reference frameworks and working times. However, the synergy between these two “worlds” can be strategic when it contributes to increasing resources and aggregating supply and demand in order to respond to growing social needs, even more so if exacerbated by the pandemic of the last year.

On the occasion of the Covid19 pandemic, the need to pay attention to the theme of “work-life balance”, with particular reference to the female employees, emerged strongly. Do you see measures on the horizon that will help to balance these two areas of life, or will we remain for a long time in this situation of uncertainty of which – as data says – it is increasingly women who are paying the highest price?

In the last year we have seen growing awareness of the relevance of this issue at the governmental level: it is a topic that has entered the public agenda and there will be no turning back. It should also be considered that technology can encourage experimentation with new forms of work, but we cannot focus on digital alone. We must not give in to the idea that remote working, which is so prevalent today because of the healthcare emergency, is destined to become the prevailing model. We need to understand the implications of the interconnections between the work and personal spheres, and not just for adults but also for children, educational systems and businesses. For example, local administrations should return to investing in the definition and implementation of “Time Policies” with strong attention to the transformations of urban contexts, also taking into account the growing diffusion of smart working both inside and outside PA. And it would be very important to define solutions and guidelines that arise from the comparison between different actors and organizations.

In our country there is an enormous demographic problem that impacts on what are (and will be) pension resources. Similarly, young workers have no chance to grow, between a senior generation still firmly in top positions and an intermediate tier that is essentially immobile (both in terms of wages and career’s advancement). How would professional careers look like in the near future?

There are many protective measures in our country, but they mainly concern stable workers. The problem is that precarious work has grown rapidly and strongly over the last decade. It is therefore necessary to rethink policies for those who are most exposed to the risk of precarious careers and for young people, from the educational system to that of training, from labor policies to welfare policies to generate real opportunities and strengthen both the so-called soft skills and digital skills.

There are various forms of poverty: educational poverty, food poverty, economic poverty. For each of them, there seem to be deep-rooted causes that are difficult to modify, unless there are “structural” interventions. If you had the chance to activate a national plan against poverty, where would you start from and why?

As shown by the most recent ISTAT data, absolute poverty is on the rise again in the country, and once again families with children are the hardest hit. I therefore believe that, in addition to tackling the problem of poverty as a whole, it is necessary to invest further to combat child and educational poverty. Allied in this battle today is the Citizenship Income and in the coming months will be added the Family Act that the Draghi government is preparing to approve.

There is a lot of talk about the Silver Economy, in relation to an average lengthening of life that opens up new consumer markets. In your opinion, how much of this phenomenon is due to marketing opportunities and how much is due to a true transformation of consumer priorities nationwide? In other words, will the boomer generation still drive the economy later in life?

The socio-demographic changes underway in Europe and in our country, and in particular the process of population aging, call for serious and urgent reflection on the current functioning of welfare systems both in terms of responding to the needs of the elderly and for the opportunities that caring for the aging determines. The country does not yet seem to be fully aware of the implications of the ageing process and, above all, does not adequately deal with it, except through the welfare system. It is urgent to reform home care services following the paradigm of multidimensional care and to start a requalification of residential facilities to ensure their modernization, strengthen their infrastructural endowment and thus improve the effectiveness of care and the quality of life of guests. Investing in continuing care could bring undoubted advantages, launching a reform process that has been awaited for decades. Moreover, it would allow the creation of new employment, also counteracting the gender discrimination that characterizes our country more than other countries. A greater supply of services for the elderly would in fact contribute to reducing the care duties borne by women in their role as family caregivers and would open up new employment opportunities for them. Finally, it would enhance the territorial dimension in a constructive dialectic between State, Regions and Municipalities that would reinforce the coordinating and guiding role of the former and the autonomy of the latter, while at the same time reducing the differentiation of intervention.

The pandemic has accentuated the individual dimensions of life: from working remotely, to shopping alone in stores – for safety reasons – to the absence of social interactions due to the temporary suspension of sports, recreational and cultural group activities. Do you think this moment will be quickly forgotten, or will it mark the beginning of an increasingly atomistic lifestyle?

The risk is there. And that’s why we need to invest in communities and in the reconstitution of social ties. We need to nurture that sense of community that has proven to be a valuable ally in countering the social effects of the pandemic since the first months of lockdown. There have been many significant initiatives at the local level over the past year, with a wide range of people involved and committed to solidarity practices aimed at the most vulnerable. I think that these experiences in most cases will not be dispersed and could form a solid basis for continuing in the future innovation path.

Italy is a country with an enormous public debt, with an elderly population to maintain and little social mobility. What do you think the Welfare of the future will be like?

Here we enter the delicate question of inequalities, which grow the more social mobility is blocked. Institutions often dissipate energy and resources in policy choices that crystallize opportunities for growth and development at both the individual and systemic levels. The State must increasingly become a promoter of new opportunities with particular attention to young people and women, so heavily affected by the current pandemic, and to the most vulnerable. In this framework, I believe that, on the one hand, the United Nations 2030 Agenda with its goals and, on the other, the European Pillar of Social Rights can provide a framework of meaning and reference for building the welfare of the future.