Maybe we cannot yet speak of an emergency, but the attacks that some members of the new Italian populist government have reserved for disability cannot fail to cause concern.

 

Let’s start from the beginning. The decision to propose for the first time a Ministry of the Family and Disability is already very questionable for at least two reasons. The first is ideological, because in the country that was among the first in the world to pursue the inclusion of people with disabilities within society, you cannot think of turning back, relegating the issue to the family. The assistance, care and integration into education and employment of people with disabilities is not the concern of just one nucleus, but of the whole community. The real and tangible risk is that the State delegates its welfare duties to the family, which then becomes burdened with an additional duty, while the State, the neighbourhood, the community relinquishes all thought of it and above all saves on those who would need more investment. The second reason is politico-economic: unlike the Minister of Labour and Welfare, the Minister of the Family does not manage funds directly. This is a problem that is recognised by the minister himself, who said he was ready to resign if funds were not found for the policies he wants to implement (http://www.lastampa.it/2018/08/06/italia/fontana-soldi-per-il-mio-ministero-se-non-servo-posso-lasciare-dg3tVf5l8bAGqpEfYOh66L/premium.html). Among other things, combining with Labour and Welfare would have enabled labour integration policies to be developed that better implement Law 68/99, which promotes the integration of people with disabilities into the workplace. This law has too often remained simply on paper.

The assistance, care and integration into education and employment of people with disabilities is not the concern of just one nucleus, but of the whole community.

In addition to all this are the declarations and programme they would like to implement. In his first interview, Minister of the Family and Disability Lorenzo Fontana announced that one of his priorities is the fight against so-called “fake invalids”. For sure, those who pretend and abuse rights must be found and punished, but announcing this as a priority means putting in first place the repression of the few who pretend, rather than ensuring services, protection and rights to people with disabilities. In fact, the priority must be to ensure inclusion and assistance, education and work, but above all it must be to ensure the access of people with disabilities to resources.

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But it is the statements made by Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini at the League’s rally in Pontida that are of the greatest concern. Indeed the Minister of the Interior attacked Law 180, which abolished psychiatric hospitals and put an end to the segregation of people with mental and intellectual-relational disabilities, reintroducing them into families and society. The Minister stated he would like to review “certain fake reforms” that “bring drama to families”. His statement provoked a long series of very harsh responses, including that of the Italian Society of Psychiatry, which replied on Facebook: “Minister Salvini declares that in Italy there is apparently an ‘explosion of aggression’ from ‘psychiatric patients’. Italians need to know that this is completely unfounded. 95% of the violent offences committed in our country are attributable to so-called ‘normal’ people. It is more likely that a person suffering from a mental disorder is a victim, not a perpetrator. Spreading fake news like that given by the Minister only increases unfounded fears about people suffering from mental disorders, labelling them unfairly and indiscriminately as ‘dangerous’, worsening the already terrible burden of stigma and discrimination.

If the sick person was your son how would you feel?

The real problem is that Matteo Salvini addresses all issues regarding those different from him (the disabled, Roma, migrants) by presenting himself as the solver of a social problem, playing on the age-old fears of the different, above all, appealing to the emotional and presenting all issues as “problems” to be solved and to which he, and only he, has the solution.

In reality, the only solution possible is to continue on the road to inclusion, increasing funds for independent living schemes, assistance, the removal of structural and sensory barriers, increasing the level of education of people with disabilities, promoting and facilitating the attendance of university or postgraduate courses in an increasingly comprehensive and widespread way – things that do not really seem to be among the priorities of this government.

The real point is that people considered as different are treated as a burden that has to be borne and tolerated.

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