In the video sent out via social media, President Emmanuel Macron was blunt, uncompromising and spoke in layman's terms.
In remarks seen as aimed at preparing voters for benefits cuts, he said France “spends a crazy amount of dough on social security”.
For Macron's leftist critics the video broadcast Tuesday night was further evidence that the “president of the rich” as they call him is scornful of the less fortunate.
“The president has a problem with poor people and it's starting to show more and more,” veteran Socialist party figure Martine Aubry, a long-standing critic, told reporters on Wednesday.
Even some members of Macron's parliamentary party said they were uncomfortable with the language used by the 40-year-old former investment banker to get his message across.
“You need to be careful about the words you use. I am very, very uneasy about this remark,” a lawmaker in his Republic on the Move party, Sonia Krimi, told AFP.
The comment comes in the midst of a debate about whether the government should reduce France's social spending, which is the highest among wealthy countries relative to the size of its economy.
Macron has pledged to balance the budget in France for the first time in more than 40 years by the end of his term in 2022 — a task that will require an overhaul of state spending.
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire sparked controversy last month when he said that “by explaining that we are going to reduce public spending without touching social spending is neither coherent, fair or lucid”.
In Macron's video, filmed by an aide on a mobile phone, he can be seen preparing at the presidential palace for a major speech that he delivered on Wednesday.
“Our social policy, look at it: we spend a crazy amount of dough on social security and the people are poor. They're born poor and they stay poor. Those who become poor, stay poor.
“We need to have something that allows people to escape,” he said.
Macron won an election last year on a promise to turn France into a more entrepreneurial country.
He vowed to tackle poverty at the root by improving basic education in poor areas and helping people get off unemployment benefits into the workforce.
But since taking office, he has battled perceptions that he is closer to company bosses.
One of his first reforms was to cut taxes on businesses and the wealthiest, a move he defended as necessary to spur investment.
“Mr Macron, what costs 'crazy dough' it's you and your presents to the ultra-rich,” the head of the hard-left France Unbowed movement, Jean-Luc
Melenchon wrote on Twitter.
France allocates the equivalent of 31.5 percent of its GDP on social spending such as benefits for the sick, poor or elderly, far more than Germany
which spends 25 percent, data from the OECD economic research group shows.
In a speech on Wednesday in the southern city of Montpellier, Macron reiterated his message about social spending, but in less colloquial terms.
The solution “is not to always spend more money”, he said, adding that there are other solutions that “are more effective than putting more money on the table”.