People Roberto Barbieri

This Is Not a Society for Young People, Women and Foreigners

, by Camillo Papini
Vulnerabilities increase where these three disadvantage factors meet, explains Roberto Barbieri, alumnus and general manager of Oxfam Italy. And in an Italy that shows no signs of reversing the trend, social problems will become deeper

There have always been divisions within Italian society, only today they are deeper and make their way faster. But above all, when these fractures cross, the fault line sharpens. "Growing phenomena of vulnerability emerge precisely where there are intersections of multiple factors of disadvantage, where divisions meet,"clarifies Roberto Barbieri, CEO of Oxfam Italia, an international NGO that presented its annual report on inequality at the World Economic Forum 2024 in Davos. In everyday life, for example, there are three categories that are particularly affected, according to the Bocconi University alumnus with a degree in Economics and Social Sciences (DES): young people, women and foreigners. In the world of work, they are affected by factors such as the proliferation of atypical fixed-term contracts and low wages. Young people in particular face the prospect of retiring with the contributory system and receiving more modest pensions than those who preceded them. On the other hand, with regard to women and families, we must also consider the lower resilience of the social aid network which, in turn, is accompanied by deficient policies for reconciling family and work and endemic under-investment in social infrastructure. As for foreigners, there has always been little attention to social and work inclusion.

All these factors "unfortunately make it probable that a future society will have problems that are deeper and have wider repercussions than today," Barbieri points out. He cites two more phenomena in a country that, moreover, shows no signs of reversing the trend. The first is that more and more young people do not feel motivated either to study or to work (the so-called NEETs, Not in education, employment or training); the second is that children born in Italy into families with few starting resources are more likely to remain in underprivileged conditions for most of their life. Simply put, the social elevator is broken. So, again according to the CEO of Oxfam Italy, it is true that all these are global trends, but it is equally true that the Italian peninsula has recovered only weakly from the latest crises. "In fact, it has never recovered," Barbieri reiterates, "because various elements weigh heavily, such as the loss of competitiveness of the overall system, the absence of a national industrial policy, jobs with low added value and low wages (such as in services), as well as a decreased progressivity of the tax system."

If these are some of the causes that divide Italian society, their intersections follow paths of variable geometry. The growing phenomenon of the working poor, for example, affects many citizens across the board, including the middle class. In the long run, pensioners who are less well-off will not be able to help their children and grandchildren as they once did. For its part, the non-profit organization, which has been active for over 80 years and is present in more than 85 countries around the world, has presented the Equality Agenda ( and is launching the petition La Grande Ricchezza ( to introduce a European wealth tax, as one of the possible answers. The objective is to improve the fairness of the tax system and provide financing for health, education and the fight against climate change (affecting only assets of 5.4 million euros or more, owned by the richest 0.1% of the Italian population). How are the issues of inequality received in Davos? "They are now perceived as unavoidable corrections to certain mechanisms," Barbieri replies. "There is a growing conviction that all companies, and especially large economic and financial groups, must respect the rights of workers in their supply chain. And by rights, I mean everyone, from the quality of work to a living wage."

Roberto Barbieri is Director General of Oxfam Italy. A graduate of the Economic and Social Disciplines (DES) program at Bocconi University in Milan, he has also worked for Unicef, consulting firms, local authorities and Italian third sector organizations.