M5S leader Conte threatens to stage protests against move.
Italy's new right-wing government is set to toughen the terms for the welfare benefit payment for the poor and unemployed in 2023 as part of a draft €35 billion budget unveiled on Tuesday.
The benefit, known as reddito di cittadinanza or citizen's income, is a monthly allowance for families and individuals with low income, designed to help them pay for basic expenses such as food, bills and rent.
The subsidy has long been in the sights of the parties in the coalition government amid claims that it is subject to abuse and discourages people from seeking employment.
From 1 January 2023, able-bodied people between 18 and 59 years of age will only be able to draw the benefit for a maximum of eight months.
"A period of at least six months of participation in a professional training or retraining course is also envisaged" - reads a statement from Italy's ministry of economy and finance - "Failing that, the income benefit is forfeited. It is also forfeited if the first reasonable offer is refused".
The tightening of the social welfare system - pushed through in 2019 by then deputy prime minister and former leader of the populist Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) Luigi Di Maio - comes ahead of its complete abolition from 1 January 2024 for those deemed fit for work.
"We want to transform assistance into employment" - premier Giorgia Meloni said at a news conference on Tuesday - "There are people who have been taking the subsidy for three years, the state must help these people to find a job."
The welfare payment is a flagship policy of the M5S whose leader Giuseppe Conte was prime minister when the scheme was introduced.
Conte has accused the government of "playing with people's lives", including the "many over 50 and 60 for whom finding work today is very hard."
Describing the move as "an inhumane attitude on the backs of families who can barely pay the bills and their groceries", Conte said: "We are willing to do everything to curb this crazy plan, even take to the streets."
The government's draft budget, centred largely on helping households and businesses to tackle soaring energy bills, now heads to parliament which must pass it by the end of this year.
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