"le déséquilibre entre les riches et les pauvres est la plus ancienne et la plus fatale des maladies des républiques"
- Plutarque

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The fight against poverty in France

When right-wing politicians are talking poverty these days, they like to blame people down on their luck for their problems and stigmatize them as “lazy”, prone to cheat the social security system and more interested in getting handouts from the government than look for a job. This kind of political attitude is more widespread within the UMP, the great loser of the 2012 presidential elections, and harks back to the diatribes against the poor chronicled in 18th century England.

In fact, as François Chérèque - inspector-general for social affairs in charge of the French government’s Plan Against Poverty - has recently explained on public television, the poor are not ones to milk the social system, they’re the ones who don’t know how the system works. Had it been otherwise, some 5,4 billion euros earmarked in the state budget to help the poor would not remain unclaimed every year.

Political disputes along ideological lines apart, because of the dire economic conditions the number of people living below the poverty line has reached a peak in 2011. According to INSEE, there are now about 8,7 million people or 14,3 % of the population earning less than 977 euros a month. Emergency accommodation and social housing are still in short supply and the administrative procedures for claiming entitlements are cumbersome and in many ways dissuasive (La Croix).

On the 21st of January, 2013, however, the French government had adopted a 5-year plan for fighting poverty which was personally endorsed by President François Hollande. One year down the track, even as snags in its application still exist, progress has been made: in simplifying procedures for access to free medical care by poor people, in the provision of year-round emergency accommodation and a campaign aimed at better informing the needy about existing benefits and entitlements.

According to the report M. Chérèque presented last month to the government, much remains to be done towards improving the access of low-income families to social housing, assisting disadvantaged children to overcome difficulties in getting free meals in school cafeterias and in further simplifying procedures for claiming the full range of entitlements which are available to the poor. Citing the growing number of long-term unemployed, however, the authors of the report do not expect the situation to improve significantly until economic growth resumes and, with that, employment prospects for people currently on the dole.

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