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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.”
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