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Cuts to benefits in new budget

Reductions to housing benefit, disability aid and home-help scheme but more will be done to simplify income support

FINANCIAL incentives for hiring home help, aid for the disabled and student housing benefits are to be reduced in a new round of government spending cuts.

Budget Minister François Baroin has announced a number of changes to social security benefits in a bid to reduce France's public deficit.

Parents will have to choose between applying for the aide personnalisée au logement (housing benefit) for their child in university or claiming an extra half-part in their tax return - not both.

Some 700,000 students currently receive the APL benefit, which pays up to €2,400 a year towards the cost of renting accommodation.

Students' union Unef said middle-class families would be the hardest hit by the changes because they are not eligible for grants and the APL represents their only form of state financial help.

The union said it would be planning a series of protests at the rentrée if the proposal was not withdrawn.

Other measures being cut include a social charges discount for people who hire home help such as a babysitter or cleaner.

At the moment, individuals can save 15% on the contributions they pay Urssaf for hiring a home helper. This will be scrapped but the tax breaks applying to home help will remain in place.

The Allocation aux Adultes Handicapés incapacity benefit will rise by 25% but over six years instead of the five initially proposed.

Next year's rise will be 3%, not 4.5% as first planned - meaning a disabled person will receive €717 a month next year instead of €727.

Disability rights group Fnath said handicapped people in France were already trying to survive below the poverty line at a time when hospital costs and GP consultation fees are rising.

"Choosing the most fragile and excluded people in society as a target for budget cuts is unacceptable," the organisation said.

Despite the cutbacks, the government has also announced plans to improve access to the RSA income support scheme (revenu de solidarité active), which replaced the RMI last summer.

It estimates that 1.6 million households meet the criteria for the RSA, but only 627,000 families are receiving the benefit.

According to research by TNS-Sofres, a lot of people who are eligible for the payment are not aware it exists or decide not to apply because it appears too complicated.

Some believed that the benefit was only reserved for the socially excluded and "very poor".

Letters will be sent to eight million families who receive housing benefit to inform them of the scheme, and application forms will be simplified.

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