Florence residents are being urged to pay the utility bills of elderly people living alone and struggling to make ends meet as city leaders seek to shield the most vulnerable from soaring energy costs.
The ‘adopt a bill’ initiative begins in the coming days and comes as the social implications of the more than 50% rise in gas and electricity bills in Italy this winter begin to emerge.
“The social impact is very strong as we face huge bill increases,” Dario Nardella, the mayor of Florence, told The Guardian. “We have received many calls and letters from people in great difficulty.”
Around 27.6% of Florence’s population is over the age of 65, a number which has increased in recent years, with between 30,000 and 33,000 pensioners living alone.
“And many live below the poverty line, trying to survive on €9,000 (£7,500) a year,” Nardella added. “We have a list of everyone registered with social services, and we cannot succeed in helping them all, as much as we will try to do, because the commune has also been affected by high energy costs.”
Sara Funaro, social counselor for Florence, said the council had 4,000 to 6,000 older people on its social services records, although she believes the number of people in economic difficulty could now be higher.
“People who could have usually coped, or had support, maybe family, can’t do it anymore,” she said. “With their pension, they have to pay rent, food and now these very high bills. We need to give them some peace of mind. »
Donations will be collected online by the Montedomini Foundation, which for decades has helped Florence’s elderly, and citizens can donate as much as they can afford.
Since news of the initiative was published by La Repubblica on Sunday, Montedomini has received dozens of messages from individuals and companies wishing to donate.
“It’s very impressive,” Nardella said. “The Florentines, when it comes to solidarity, are very responsive.”
Florence was among major Italian cities that last week turned off the lights of famous landmarks to symbolically protest high electricity costs, leaving many struggling to pay bills for town halls and public buildings . ANCI, the association of Italian municipalities, estimates that bills will rise by at least 550 million euros for local councils, on a total annual electricity expenditure of 1.6 to 1.8 billion euros .
Nardella said Florence had earmarked 7.5 million euros from its 2022 budget for additional energy costs.
The Italian government has been working to ease the burden of gas and electricity bills on families and businesses by passing €5.5 billion in support measures so far. Prime Minister Mario Draghi said last week that the government was preparing a new “large-scale intervention”.