Fifty severely disabled people have gone on hunger strike in Italy to demand that the government of Mario Monti restore funding axed by his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi and provide round the clock care.
The hunger strikers are suffering from progressive neurodegenerative disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.
The campaign group coordinating the protest has presented a plan to the Government called ‘Stay at Home’ that would assist severely disabled people in their homes with all the support, including tools and equipment, necessary. It is asking for government funds of €20,000 per year for each family where a seriously ill person resides.
The protest follows sit-ins in between April and July which led the Government to the allocate €658 million in the latest budget for disabled people in need of support. But the deployment of these resources is being frustrated by the lack of a comprehensive long-term care plan to ensure that all people with disabilities have access to appropriate help from cradle to grave, say campaigners.
They argue fundamental constitutional rights are at stake: Article 32 of the Italian Constitution says: ‘The Republic safeguards health as a fundamental right of the individual and as a collective interest…’
The country spends less than any other European country bar Spain on social protection for the disabled.
Communist leader Paolo Ferrero expressed solidarity with the hunger strikers and criticised the unelected government headed by the former Goldman Sachs advisor, saying:
‘The Monti government, after the cuts already made by Berlusconi, continues to rage against the weakest, striking heaving blows to the welfare state and even going so far as to threaten a tax on the disabled that was withdrawn at the last minute.
‘Local authorities are axing services because of cuts in [central government] transfers worth tens of billions of euros.
The cuts come at a time when billions of euros of public money, raised through sharp increases in taxes as well as swinging cuts to public services, have been allocated to save local and foreign banks despite continuing evidence that they are holding back lending to the real economy.
Disabled rights activists and their radical political allies like the Communist Refoundation party Ferrero heads will be joining yet another mass protest, dubbed ‘No Monti Day’ on Saturday 27 October to demand a shift in billions of euros of public resources from the bankers and the super-rich to help the growing millions of ordinary Italians facing misery and distress.