More creches and €1 school lunches: Here’s Macron’s plan to fight poverty in France

On Thursday French President Emmanuel Macron outlined his much-awaited (and long delayed) plan to improve the lives of France's nine million poor people. Here's a look at the chief measures.

More creches and €1 school lunches: Here's Macron's plan to fight poverty in France
Bobigny is one of the towns that could stand to gain from France's new "poverty plan". Photo: AFP
All eyes in France were on the president on Thursday as Macron, dubbed “the president of the rich” by his critics, presented his plan to combat poverty in France. 
Initially the plan was due to be unveiled in April before it was postponed until July and then it was famously (and controversially) delayed again due to the World Cup
But there is an urgent need to tackle poverty in France, which spends more on social benefits than any other country in Europe and yet nine million people live below the poverty line, surviving on around €1,000 ($1,160) a month.
“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.
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).
The plan, labelled “ambitious” by some, will see €8 billion spent on tackling the issue of poverty over the next four years.
This is what you need to know. 
More creches
The French government aims to boost the number of creches (daycare centres) in priority or disadvantaged areas by giving communities financial incentives to open them.
The thought behind this is that children from poor backgrounds will be able to learn the French language as early as possible and the move would also allow single parents to get back into the workplace sooner rather than later. 
Paris parents warned over possible health risks at 30 creches built on polluted ground
Photo: AFP
Subsidized breakfasts at school
According to a recent report, 13 percent of primary aged children arrive at school hungry in the morning. 
As a result, the new “poverty plan” will give schools funding to provide heavily subsidized breakfasts.
“It's not about making everyone have breakfast,”said Olivier Noblecourt, a ministerial official who worked on Macron's plan. “Teachers and parents will be at liberty to offer this breakfast once or several times a week, or to set up a dedicated space in a playground area, at suitable times.” 
The plan also includes subsidised school lunches priced at €1.
Streamlined benefits
In 2020, the government will introduce a new law called “revenu universel d'activité” as part of its attempt to streamline benefits in order to “guarantee a minimum threshold of dignity” to all. 
“I wish to create a law in 2020 which merges the greatest possible number of benefits and for which the State will be entirely responsible,” Macron announced on Thursday.
The president added that people would have access to this benefit only if they comply with their side of the deal which would prevent those seeking work from turning down two job offers.
Child benefits
The French government wants to make child benefits available for those aged up to the age of 21. 
“It will be possible for children to benefit from child welfare up to 21,” said government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux. “We do not want to forget about poor young people once they turn 21.”
The family benefits you can claim in France... but probably didn't know about
Photo: AFP
Youth employment
Another of the measures set to be introduced as part of the “poverty plan” is that young people will have to be receiving some kind of training up until the age of 18 meaning that 16-year-olds will no longer be able to leave school without going onto further training. 
The government will also contribute more financial help to community aid projects for young people (missions locales) to help identify those who have dropped out of school and offer them further training. 
A scheme aimed at getting 16-25-year-old into the workplace will be extended to “500,000 young people before the end of the five-year period”, compared to 100,000 currently.
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.
The government is set to extend CMU (universal health coverage) to several more million people meaning that they will have access to free healthcare. 
Five French words to know
la pauvreté – poverty
aide sociale – benefits, social security benefits
la formation – training
lutter – to fight 
la précarité – precariousness, instability, insecurity, lack of security

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IN NUMBERS: The ‘worrying’ scale of poverty in France in 2020

How many poor people are there in France and what does 'poor' even mean today? A new report has shed light on the changing face of France's most deprived groups.

IN NUMBERS: The 'worrying' scale of poverty in France in 2020
Volunteers of the charity 'Les Restos du Coeur' distribute food in Toulouse, southern France, on November 24th, 2020. The organisation expects 1 million beneficiaries this year for the winter season,

Published on Thursday by l'Observatoire des inégalités (Observatory for inequalities), the report Poverty in France 2020-2021 drew a sombre picture of situation in France.

“France remains one of the best social models in the world that protects its poor better than most other rich countries,” the authors wrote, before adding “that does not mean that the situation is not worrying.”

The report was published to, according to the authors, set the scene of the situation before the real impact of the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

“We will pay the damages, by an awaited and devastating progression of unemployment,” they said.

Young people were in an especially concerning situation, they said, outlining the under-30s as the biggest losers of the looming social and economic crisis.

The data in the report come from France's national research institute Insee. Some of them date back to 2018, due to a lack of newer numbers.

Here are some of the key numbers revealed in the report.

€885 – The poverty threshold the Observatory operates with. Most public institutions use €900. That means that anyone with a monthly income averaging less than €900 after taxes is regarded as poor.

In comparison, France’s minimum wage is €1,219 net. The Observatory chose to use €885 because it allowed them to “focus on the populations struggling the most”

REVEALED: Where in France has the lowest cost of living?

5.3 million – the number of people in France living on less than €885 per month on average in 2018. In comparison the number of people living on less than €900 per month on average was nearly the double, 9 million. 

The remaining numbers are calculated based on the Observatory's poverty threshold of €885 per month.

8.3 percent – the percentage of poor people in France, or more than 5 million people out of a population of 67 million.

According to Luis Maurin, President and Director of the Observatory, France's poverty level is low compared to many other European countries. “But it’s still 5 million people who live with very little, with incomes that are very different from the rest of society,” he said in a video published on their website (clip below).

This number is expected to rise in the months to come due to the negative impact from the Covid-19 health crisis on the economy.

0.4 percent – the rate of which poverty in France grew between 2013-2018. That means that back in 2013, 7.9 percent of France’s population was poor compared to 8.3 percent now. “It’s not an explosion, but it still represents 350,000 additional poor people,” Maurin said.

30 – half of France's poor were below 30 years old. Young people were those the most impacted by poverty at the time the statistics were collected and the report have outlined them as the biggest future losers of the economic downturn caused by Covid-19. 

12.5 percent – the percentage of all 18 to 25-year-olds  below the poverty threshold, a number that has been growing for years and is expected to grow in the future.

8.2 percent – the percentage of 18 to 25-year-olds who lived below the poverty threshold back in 2002.

5.5 million – the number of people in France who received food aid in 2017.

56 percent – the percentage of the French population who said the government is not doing enough to help the poorest groups of the population.

9 percent – the percentage of the French population who said the government is doing too much.