France Pushes on the Socialist Path to Poverty
President Emmanuel Macron announced a slew of measures Thursday to combat stubborn poverty in France, seeking to win back support from leftwingers who say his policies have left the poorest behind.
France spends more on social benefits than any other country in Europe, yet nine million people live under the poverty line, surviving on around 1,000 euros ($1,160) a month.
Macron, a former investment banker who campaigned as a centrist, has been labelled the “president of the rich” by critics over his tax cuts for the wealthy — a label he is keen to shed.
Unveiling an anti-poverty plan worth eight billion euros ($9.3 billion) over four years, he said his focus was on improving the life chances of children born into low-income families.
“I’m here to launch a new fight, crucial for our country, to see that no-one gets forgotten,” he said, adding that the “scandal of poverty” had become normalised in France.
“There is a Mozart in every child, including a child born into a poor family,” Macron said.
But that potential was being snuffed out “because we decide that there is no chance they will ever become Mozart” he said.
– ‘Crazy amounts of dough’ –
The plan includes free breakfasts for the poorest children as well as subsidised school lunches priced at a euro.
France’s most deprived towns will be given funding to open new daycare centres, Macron added.
“Not having access to daycare for their children means blocking people from access to training or work,” he said in a speech at the Musee de l’Homme in Paris, an anthropology museum.
Completely free healthcare will be extended to several million more people while various back-to-work schemes will be extended, including a programme allowing unskilled workers to get paid at the end of every day’s labour.
And young people will be obliged to stay in some form of education or training until 18, up from 16 previously, in a bid to boost employability in districts with high school dropout rates.
Despite its national motto of “liberte, egalite, fraternite” — freedom, equality and brotherhood — France has long struggled to improve social mobility for the poorest.
A child in a deprived district is four times more likely to end up struggling in school than one from a richer area — the worst rate out of the 36 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
France’s social expenditures, including health, housing and employment support, came to 32.1 percent of GDP in 2015, the highest rate in Europe.
Yet more than a million extra people have fallen below the poverty line since the financial crisis a decade ago, bringing the current poverty rate to 14 percent, according to national statistics office INSEE.
Macron drew fire in June for complaining that the state spends “crazy amounts of dough” on welfare without lifting people out of poverty.
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