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To be guaranteed social services is an integral part of the citizens' rights and is essential to reach an acceptable living standard; therefore, economic investments are necessary to ensure these services. Against this background, the social protection statistics help to understand and quantify the dimension of the financial needs, measuring the amount of expenditure for the whole sector and services provided. In particular, the expenditure for social security and assistance provisions accounted for an important share of the total social protection and assistance expenditure.
Social protection includes social security, assistance and health care (for more information on the latter, please refer to the "Health and Healthcare" sector).
In 2018, the social protection expenditure, including health care, amounted to 29.0% of GDP. The trend, over 2014-2018 period, showed a decrease of 0.9 percentage points. The social benefit expenditure is mainly allocated to the old age function (48,8%) and to the sick leave function (23,1%).
In 2017, the expenditure for social benefits provided by social security institutions recorded a slight decrease compared to 2016, going from 18.8% to 18.7% of GDP. Instead, the per capita social benefits raised (5,327.0 euros per year in 2017 compared to 5,250.6 euros per year in 2016). The expenditure on social benefits was only partially financed by social security contributions, as shown by the rate of social security coverage equal to 75.5%, whose growth has been recorded since 2015.
In 2017, the incidence of pension payments, excluding the share paid to people who moved abroad, was equal to 16.5% of GDP. Compared to the previous year, the decrease confirms the downward trend observed since 2015, when it was equal to 16.9% of GDP.
Individual or associated municipalities must guarantee social services and benefits to citizens, according to the Framework Law on Assistance (n. 328/2000). In 2017, the municipalities' expenditure for social services, net of users’ contributions and National Health Service spending, amounted to about 7 billion and 234 million euros (0.41% of GDP). The per capita expenditure for territorial welfare amounted to 119 euros, compared to 116 euros in 2016. In 2017, 38.2% of the resources spent by Municipalities for social services was allocated to families with children, 25.9% to the disabled, 17.9% to the elderly, 7.4% to fighting poverty and social exclusion, 4.8% to immigrants and 0.3% to drug and alcohol addictions. The remaining 5.5% of the municipalities' social expenditure was allocated to general, organizational and "multi-user” services.
Among the services supplied to families with children, there are nurseries and other socio-educational services for early childhood. In the 2017/2018 school year, the Italian municipalities (supplying at least one service including nurseries, small nurseries and other socio-educational services for early childhood) accounted for 58.3% of the total.
During the 2017/18 school year, the recovery of the public supply of early childhood services - started in the previous year - was confirmed. In fact, the percentage of children under the age of three enrolled in the public or public funded structures had decreased from 14.0% in 2010/11 to 12.6% in 2014/15, despite the parallel reduction in births and potential beneficiaries. On the contrary, in 2017/18 the indicator rose to 13.5%.
In the 2017/18 school year, out of a total of over 194,500 children using municipal facilities or affiliated with municipalities, 92% were enrolled in nurseries and 8% in family nurseries or other supplementary services.
The provisions for pensions and social contributions depend upon the demographic and productive structure of the Country. In 2017, in the South and Islands the rate of social security coverage (51.0%) was lower than the national figure (75.5%). Calabria (40.3%) showed the lowest value, registering a further decrease compared to 2016, while the Centre-North reached 85.3%. The highest values were recorded in the North, where Lombardia and the autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano/Bozen showed indexes higher than 106. In the Centre, the index was equal to 80.9%; in particular, Lazio (100.7%) exhibited the highest one.
The expenditure on pensions to GDP was more reduced in the North-East (14.7%), while the South and the Islands (20.8%) were the only areas, which recorded a higher incidence than the national average.
Municipalities' expenditure on social services to GDP was higher on average in the North-East (0.50%), while it was lower in the Centre and in the South and the Islands (0.43% and 0.42% respectively); the lowest values were recorded in the North-West (0.36%). At regional level, the highest shares of GDP allocated to social services were observed in the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/Bozen (1.41%), Sardegna (1.13%), the Autonomous Province of Trento (0.70%) and Friuli-Venezia Giulia (0.92%). Instead, in Calabria a value equal to 0.13% of GDP was registered.
In the South and the Islands, the levels of per capita expenditure were significantly lower than in the Central-Northern regions (about 77 euros against almost 141), with the exception of Sardegna (229 euros per inhabitant). In addition, in the South and the Islands, the per capita expenditure went from a minimum of 22 euros per inhabitant in Calabria to a maximum of 82 euros in Sicily. Finally, in the Centre-North, where 78% of the expenditure for social services was concentrated, it went from a minimum of 88 euros per capita in Umbria to a maximum of 597 euros in the Province of Bolzano/Bozen.
At regional level, the indicator of the public supply spread of socio-educational services for early childhood showed
significant gaps: in the 2017/2018 school year, it went from 100% for the municipalities of the Aosta Valley / Vallée d’Aoste to 18.5% for the municipalities of Calabria.
On average, in the regions of the North-east a greater presence of childcare services is recorded, which were public or financed by the public sector. The average distribution amounted to 89.4% of the municipalities, which supplied these services. Instead, the Centre (54.3%) and the South and the Islands (43.1%) recorded lower values than the national figure (58.3%).
Between the 2014/2015 and the 2017/2018 school year, the municipalities of the South and the Islands, which supplied childcare services increased from 35.4% to 43.1%. However, the ratio of users to resident children under the age of three still showed a regional gap. In the 2017/2018 school year, the percentage of children who used childcare services was higher than 20% in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Emilia-Romagna, Toscana, Valle d'Aosta/Vallée d'Aoste and the Autonomous Province of Trento, while in Calabria and Campania it amounted to 2.1% and 3.8% respectively. The regional gap was evident comparing the values of the indicator in the Centre-North (17.8%) and in the South and the Islands (5.5%).
The level of social protection expenditure is affected by the welfare model adopted, the level of income and the structural characteristics of the population (expenditure is higher in countries with polarized populations in the young and/or elderly age groups).
In 2017, the per capita expenditure in Italy, equal to 8,338 euros per year, was just below the EU average (8,388 euros) and Italy confirmed its ranking (twelfth among the 28 European countries). Italy ranked seventh for the social protection expenditure to GDP ratio (29.1%), getting a higher rank, above the EU average (27.9%). In Europe, the expenditure to GDP ratio was rather variable; it varied from the minimum recorded in Romania (14.4%) to the maximum in France (34.1%).