During an international seminar where experts from different backgrounds illustrated perspectives on how to measure impact beyond financial indicators, one of the speakers used an Italian phenomenon to explain what he thought could represent social innovation. According to statistics, more than 11% of Italy’s population are over 75 years of age and this number will double by 2050. Most Italian families, especially in the Northern regions, need external support to take care of their elderly. To fulfil this need, rarely covered by welfare support, there has been a constant growth of privately-hired caregivers, directly by the family, most of them women and many of them migrants from Eastern European countries.
The spontaneous social process of hiring them — sometimes even without a contract — has become a widespread phenomenon, usually spread by word of mouth. According to statistics, 6 out of 10 caregivers are paid off-the-books and don’t enjoy any form of employment benefit or accident insurance. This characteristic of being a self-organised and bottom-up arrangement of elderly care was most likely the reason why the expert at the conference lightly listed the ‘badanti’ phenomenon among the examples of ‘social innovation’. He highlighted this bottom-up but ultimately individualistic solution without problematizing, or even referring to, the new form of labour exploitation it entails. This lack of political analysis avoids acknowledging, for instance, the psychological toll that the migrant caregivers have to endure in through these working patterns, a depression so wide-spread that it has its own name: “Italian syndrome” (1). Continue reading Innovation and the paradox of for-profit care