Benefits rethink in €8bn fight on poverty in France

Broad welcome for plans but ‘they need to go further’

26 September 2018
By Ken Seaton

An anti-poverty plan to better educate the young and get more into work has been unveiled by President Macron as he seeks to ditch the ‘president of the rich’ tag and match his election claim as ‘neither left nor right’.

With nine million people – one-third of them children – living in poverty, the plan centres on a social benefits rethink to create a ‘universal activity income’ linked to work.

It also promises extra crèche places so parents can work; compulsory school or training until age 18, and free breakfasts and €1 lunch meals for primary children in poorer areas.

But, despite being welcomed as a step forward, the €8billion four-year plan was quickly contrasted to his replacement of the wealth tax and its €20bn ‘cadeau fiscal’ for the rich.

France Insoumise MP Alexis Corbière said: “You are one of the 100-plus richest in France? Macron gives you €1.5million each. Among the nine million poor? He scrapes up €200 a year to get you out of poverty.”

Condemned earlier this year for complaiing France spent ‘crazy amounts of money’ to help the poor but failed to help them out ofpoverty, Mr Macron said his policies would “never forget anyone again”.

He said work was the way to “rediscover dignity” and people’s place in society, adding:

“I don’t want a plan to help poor people to live better in poverty. I want us to give them choices, and possibilities, because they do not want to be poor anymore – and not to feel they are dependent on support.”

A continuing theme was to prevent not treat poverty; fighting ‘social determinism’ so poverty was “no longer passed on as an inheritance”.

With his targeting of aid at the poorest he was moving away from the social welfare model that has been in place since the war; that of helping everyone.

Mr Macron said he had “never believed in a universal income without conditions” and opted to merge benefits for a revenu universel d’activité tying rec­ip­ients into ‘rights and duties’ and being linked to working.

A full review of benefits would create a new safety net by merging “the greatest num­ber of benefits” as they baffled people and stopped them applying.

François Soulage, of Alerte-Exclusions and ex-president of Secours Catholique, said: “It has interesting measures but not for all sectors. Only concrete measures to ensure access for all to the rights of all can reach the poorest and fight inequalities.”

He also highlighted that the plan forgot the elderly, a large number of whom are poor; the disabled and mig­rants.

“Some of the measures meet our aims, especially those to stop predestined failure and compulsory training until 18, but can only succeed if additional means are announced.

“But, they are insufficient to correct the corrosive effects of previous political choices.”

Antoine Dulin, of the CESE social assembly, said it was “an advance but needed to go much further”, especially for 18-25s who “had little welfare cover”.

“France is one of the rare European states with no minimum revenue for over-18s – it treats young people as social minors until 25 but civil majors from 18. They can vote but cannot have a minimum to live on.

“It is not clear what the revenu universel d’activité will involve but as it is linked to work it will not help people out of work.”

Raihere Maruhi, of Mouve­ment Français pour un Revenu de Base, said: “This does nothing to meet what we want, a minimum income with no fixed conditions that allows a person to choose the job that best suits them and not on what it pays.

“It also does little to recognise how the work world is changing ...as seen in Mr Macron’s comments [that a jobless gardener just needed to ‘cross the road’ to find a job in a restaurant].”

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