PARIS, France — Across Europe, the novel coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on access to food and supplies. In France, for example, students and young people are increasingly facing food insecurity. While both students and young people took a financial hit during the pandemic, COVID-19 also impacted professionals. Consequently, it has become more difficult for young people to access food during the pandemic. To address this issue, French President Emmanuel Macron launched a relief plan in January 2021.
Unemployed Youths in France
In France, by the end of 2020, a third of the youth, aged 18 to 29, was in a critical financial situation. This represents more than three million people in France. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 20% of this age group lived below the poverty line.
Additionally, in 2020, the general unemployment rate in France reached 9% while the unemployment rate for people between 15 and 24 reached 21.8%. The employment situation of students and young professionals is particularly unstable. They are more likely to be employed in precarious jobs (part-time and temporary jobs) than full-time work.
Economically, the pandemic hit this age group harder since youths mostly rely on restaurants, coffee shops and bars to work while they study. However, in France, restaurants and coffee shops have been closed for most of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 due to COVID-19. As a result, the rise of youth unemployment has had an impact on food security in France.
Youths Under Pressure
The pandemic underlined issues inherent to the youth’s mental and financial situation in France. The French government’s decision to close universities, colleges and shops added difficulty and stress to young people. The lockdowns and curfews were subsequent to the pandemic, as well as unemployment, food insecurity and depression. In January 2021, difficulties built up and culminated to the point that several students tried to commit suicide in Lyon and Paris.
The strain imposed on students led to a massive demonstration in Paris. It called upon the French government to act and implement measures to help young people. Students and associations asked the government to consider food insecurity, mental health issues and the financial emergency created by the pandemic. “Everything that makes the university and youth community special is now banned or forbidden, with serious consequences of dropout, distress, neurosis, loneliness, unemployment. And that goes as far as suicide and attempted suicide” writes one student. Students facing food insecurity in France remain a growing issue: some vulnerable students even resorted to ration their food intake and eat only one meal a day.
During the pandemic, students’ access to food security is particularly at risk. People younger than 25 cannot get the RSA (the French solidarity income). As a result, students and associations asked the government to add social benefits for younger people to fight food insecurity in France.
Emmanuel Macron’s Relief Measures
In January 2021, the French president acknowledged the critical situation students faced and revealed new measures. To help fight food insecurity, the government promised two one-euro meals per day to students. However, young people still need financial support from the government to not only access food security but to also pay rent and tuition fees. In addition to food vouchers, the French government promised to put in place “psychology checks.” These would provide students in distress with access to psychological support.
Mental health awareness is particularly important for students studying far from their families and who could feel lonely. Consequentially, President Macron promised that students would be progressively able to return to university once a week.
Louis Morin, the head of the Observatoire des Inégalités, stated during the pandemic that the elderly have suffered from health consequences the most. However, she added, the youth will face the future economic and social consequences of the pandemic. Challenging times affect people differently; however, food security remains an essential and basic right for all.
– Soizic Lecocq