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Italians slash health, food spending as recession bites

Seven out of 10 cutting quantity and quality of products bought

23 April, 16:56
Italians slash health, food spending as recession bites (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, April 23 - More than seven out of 10 households have reduced the quantity and quality of products purchased during Italy's long recession, the president of the Italian statistical agency Istat said on Tuesday. Enrico Giovannini said 71% of Italian families had cut household consumption, as they try to grapple with the ongoing economic crisis. He added that many Italians had virtually cut out certain types of health expenditure, like examinations with specialists and tests, although spending on prescription medicines was unchanged.

Giovannini said that between 2007 and 2013 "the share of families which has made purchases at discount food stores has almost doubled, reaching more than 21% in 2011".

Italy is enduring its longest recession in 20 years and some experts have said the economy is so weak that forecasts a recovery will start in the second half of the year may be proved wrong.

Tax hikes and spending cuts adopted by outgoing Premier Mario Monti's emergency technocrat government eased concerns on the international money markets about Italy's ability to weather the eurozone crisis but they also deepened the recession and pushed unemployment up to record highs of well over 11%.

"Istat's snapshot of Italians' consumption is truly alarming," said Loredana De Petris, the Senate whip for the Left, Ecology and Freedom (SEL) party. "It's the inevitable result of the wrong economic policies that have only worsened the crisis.

"Families have been forced to tighten their belts, to have less medical attention and change their food habits out of necessity, certainly not out of choice.

"The Italian people cannot spend money that they haven't got". Tuesday's data were the latest in a long series of figures Istat has presented recently showing how hard the recession is biting. Earlier this month Istat said households' spending power fell 4.8% in 2012 with respect to 2011, adding that the decline was even worse in the last quarter, when it was down 5.4% on the same period in the previous year.

Factors include government tax hikes eating into disposal income and price rises outstripping increases in salaries to cause real incomes to fall.

The statistics agency also said Italy's tax burden hit a record high of 52% in the fourth quarter of 2012, up 1.5% on the same period in 2011.

The average burden for the whole of 2012 also reached a record of 44%, up 1.4% on 2011. Close to three million people are out of work and the jobless levels for the young are particularly alarming.

Istat said 37.8% of young people were jobless in February.