LOS ANGELES, California — European Union nation-states maintain some of the most comprehensive and wide-reaching social services in the world. France, a nation that had a poverty rate of 14.6% in 2020, is an especially exceptional example of poverty reduction and care efforts. France’s comprehensive social security system includes but is not limited to health and disability insurance, occupational accident and illness insurance, government pensions, family allowances and unemployment benefits.
Solutions to Poverty
In order to fully understand French solutions to poverty, it is important to discuss the five major aspects of it – L’Assurance Maladie, l’Assurance Accidents du Travail et Maladies, l’Assurance Retraite, Allocations Familiales and L’Assurance Chômage.
- L’Assurance Maladie – or simply “health insurance.” As a national system, France’s health insurance covers most of the cost of hospital, physician and long-term care fees in exchange for being a Statutory Health Insurance (SHI). In other words, enrollment in it is mandatory and a required aspect of France’s tax system. Originally existing as insurance only to workers, the government expanded it multiple times – first to include employees and retirees in 1945, the self-employed in 1966 and the unemployed in 2000. In 2016, the government expanded it even further, granting universal eligibility under the Protection Universelle Maladie – the Universal Health Protection Law, which now includes both residents and immigrants.
- L’Assurance Accidents du Travail et Maladies is France’s occupational accident and illness care system. The Health Insurance Fund pays for it domestically and the system provides cash benefits, extended health care and provides disability pensions for permanently disabled French citizens. Though requiring fairly substantial paperwork, benefits provided through the work-accident program are even more comprehensive than those with normal health insurance benefits – the fund completely covers all care. Hospital stays require no daily fee and recipients are exempt from extensive procedure charges. The fund covers prosthetics and other well-being devices.
- L’Assurance Retraite is the French state pension system. Realistically, French pensioners receive multiple tiers of both private and publicly invested pensions, but the l’Assurance Retraite specifically has two types. The Régime de base, or the basic state pension based solely upon how many economic quarters you have both worked and paid social charges during and the Régime complémentaire, or the complementary pension based on a points system dictated by the type of work you performed and your salary. French workers receive a minimum pension after having worked at least 10 years in France but must work at least 43 years in order to receive the full state pension provided by the government.
- Allocations Familiales is the family allowance system in the country. In simple terms, the program operates as a form of state-afforded childcare payments. This includes allowances for adopted children, post-birth allowances and allowances for two or more children. In general, most French families will qualify for family allowances only after having a second child. Allowances are restricted based on age, with a cutoff period of 20 years of age for children who do not work and additional restrictions upon those who earn over €982 a month. There is also additional supplementary income for children in poorer families who are currently attending schools.
- L’Assurance Chômage, France’s unemployment insurance. Unemployment in France currently sits at a rate of 7.4% as of 2022 and has been on a steady decline since peaking in 2015. In France, only the employers contribute towards the unemployment fund – employee contributions have since been ended, save for a few exceptions such as short-term workers in entertainment or expatriate workers. French unemployment benefit requirements follow a similar scheme to that in the United States – one must be actively searching for work, cannot be of retirement age, must be involuntarily employed, be physically fit for a job and have worked at least six months over a period of 24 months.
The Practical Effects
The Borgen Project had the opportunity to speak to two French nationals who have benefited from French solutions to poverty – a disabled, unemployed worker who continues to receive monthly benefits and a current worker who found employment via a special government program.
The first, Dylan Regazzoni, is currently employed as a data entry and analysis specialist. Dylan is a 26-year-old who found initial work via the Service Civique program. While not having a job for a period of time, Dylan received very little money which was hardly enough to keep himself functional. Instead, he turned to some of the more unique programs the French government offers.
Functioning as a work program intended as a means of voluntarily involving young people in contributing towards the public interest, the program provides short-term, “low-pressure” jobs for a nominal salary if you are between the ages of 16 and 25. Dylan described it as an important step in getting into the workforce. Though he remarked that it did not pay particularly well, he mentioned that “…it was eight full months of work with a flying review from the employer, so it definitely helped my chances along a bit.” Programs like this are a typical part of the French social services network – it is constantly evolving, and changes and reforms are a commonplace aspect of the systems in place.
The second, concerned about privacy, opted only to go by their pseudonym – “Cassandra.”
Cassandra is a 27-year-old individual currently residing in their family’s small apartment and subsisting entirely on government aid. They receive just short of 1,000€ a month and 400€ of that goes towards paying their rent. Cassandra considers their situation to be a bit of a special case – unlike Dylan who was able to benefit greatly from some of the unemployment, job-seeking programs the French government offers, Cassandra’s disability status complicates the matter. Unable to perform a variety of jobs, they receive some extra degree of assistance from the French government and are able to qualify for benefits typically not afforded to people in their age bracket.
Still searching for work, Cassandra remarked that finding housing was one of the hardest parts of unemployment. “No one wants to rent to someone who does not have ‘stable income,’” and so they have to rent with their family. Cassandra continues to search for work and better housing, as well as aid in their therapy ventures.
French social services remain some of the most excellent in the world. Though constantly reforming, and with modern standards tightening, its impressive social security network is one of the best around and provides vital solutions to poverty. France has and continues to do a lot to further improve livelihoods for those living below the poverty line.
– Marc Federici