Italy Replaces Its €500 Culture Vouchers For 18-Year-Olds


  • The Carta Cultura has a different structure: The philosophy behind this measure is that the barrier preventing young people from accessing culture—and which this public intervention is intended to remove—is mainly economic. The card is in fact aimed at young people with a comparatively low “ISEE,” a metric of one’s economic situation that takes into account a family’s income, assets, and several household characteristics. The ISEE is not a tax return (which is personal) but refers precisely to the overall economic situation of a new 18-year-old’s family. A household ISEE of less than €35,000 (US$37,681) is makes an 18-year-old eligible for the Carta Cultura.
  • The Carta del Merito establishes a reward mechanism aimed at those who have obtained the highest marks in their last year of high school, 100 or 100 with honors. How many people are we talking about? If we take data from the ministry of education and merit, in 2023 there were about 50,000 Italian high-school graduates, 10 percent of the total, at such a level. This is an average, however, that doesn’t take into account some strong territorial and school system discrepancies in Italy.

Both vouchers have an amount of €500 and both can be awarded to a single student who demonstrates both the required economic and school-performance levels. But it’s not easy to make assumptions about how many 18-year-olds may qualify for both cards. And while it’s unlikely that there will be many recipients of both cards, a person entitled to both is to receive them in different years. The chart below indicates some of the changes in when the original 18App and the two new “card” programs come into play.

710 Comparative 18App chart from Bruno lined ftw Image: Bruno Giancarli

  • For the Carta Cultura, it’s possible to register between January 31 and June 30 following the year in which one turns 18.
  • For the Carta del Merito, registration is in the year following the year of graduation, so this benefit tends to arrive a year later.

These six-month registration periods are also tighter timelines than were in place for the 18App. Last year, it was possible to register until October 31, 2023, with a spending window open until April 30 of this year, although the allocated budget was exhausted earlier.

Goods and Services Remain Consistent on the New Program
710 iStock 1321647000 Giorez in Parma ftw

710 iStock 1321647000 Giorez in Parma ftw In a city park in Parma. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Giorez

The goods and services that can be purchased with the two new cards are the same as under original 18App. They include:

  • Tickets for theater and film performances and live shows
  • Books
  • Subscriptions to newspapers and periodicals, including in digital format
  • Recorded music
  • Audiovisual publishing products
  • Admission tickets to museums, exhibitions and cultural events, monuments, galleries, archaeological areas, natural parks
  • Music courses
  • Theater courses
  • Dance courses
  • Foreign language courses

Among items that remain excluded are video games and subscriptions for access to television channels or platforms offering audiovisual content. It does remain possible to make online purchases with these two cards. 

Until the ministry releases data on the new two-card program, initial assessments will  have to wait. But the most obvious effect of the measure is that, starting in 2024, the number of beneficiaries of the initiative will be significantly reduced. It’s difficult to estimate how many people will have access to the Carta Cultura because the ISEE (financial evaluation) is not compulsory. Also, because it’s a family indicator and not a personal one, it’s not easy to know how many children might be eligible under its requirements.

The legislature, by excluding those with an ISEE above €35,000, expects a decisive reduction in the number of users: While the 18app had a budget of €230 million (US$247.6 million), that budget now is €190 million (US$204.5 million) for the payouts of both cards combined.

The result, in any case, is that some of the new 18-year-olds in Italy will not have access to an important measure of support for their cultural consumption. Regardless of any other consideration, that’s a point that’s likely to have repercussions on the publishing market. Spending on books through the 18App has accounted for some €130 million (US$139.9 million) in the past years, somewhere around 7 percent or 8 percent of the Italian trade publishing market’s total.

And of course there may be considerable impact on the relationship many young people have with culture—at a crucial moment of entry into adult life.

710 iStock 1227345740 Gennaro Leonardi in Rome ftw

710 iStock 1227345740 Gennaro Leonardi in Rome ftw In Rome. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Gennaro Leonardi



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