Poverty levels surge in recession-hit Italy: report

ROME (Reuters) - The number of people living in absolute and relative poverty in Italy jumped in 2012 with families in southern regions hit especially hard, a report showed on Wednesday, highlighting the human cost of the country’s longest post-war recession.

About 4.8 million people, or 8 percent of the population, now face absolute poverty, meaning they are unable to afford the minimum acceptable standard of living, the report from statistics office ISTAT showed. That figure has jumped from about 3.4 million in 2011.

An additional 9.56 million people, or 15.8 percent of the population, are relatively poor for Italian standards, the data showed, up from 8.17 million people in 2011.

Levels are especially high in the traditionally poorer south of the country, where almost one in three people face relative poverty, while 11 percent are suffering absolute poverty.

Poverty levels rose particularly among families with several children, while single people were less affected, ISTAT said. Rates were also higher among families whose main breadwinner is unemployed or a factory worker, or who include two or more elderly people.

A recession that has lasted almost two years has taken a heavy toll on ordinary Italians, hit by rising unemployment and declining purchasing power caused largely by aggressive tax hikes aimed at strengthening public finances.

Another report released by ISTAT in May showed that millions of Italians cannot afford to heat their homes properly, take a holiday away from home, or eat meat.

Reporting By Catherine Hornby