French business leaders warn of severe hardship as nearly one in four self-employed people are still waiting for December grants

Delays in processing grants for the self-employed is leading to 'catastrophic economic consequences' say business leaders, as one poll shows that nearly one in four are still waiting for their December grants.

French business leaders warn of severe hardship as nearly one in four self-employed people are still waiting for December grants
The solidarity fund was set up to help businesses affected by Covid shutters to cope with their economic losses. Photo: AFP

Thirty-nine percent of France's self-employed are still awaiting their monthly “solidarity fund” grant for December, according to a survey conducted by the French national federation for the self-employed (FNAE),  published by France Info on Thursday.

FNAE represents 80,000 self-employed businesses. 

“We receive messages of despair over catastrophic economic consequences,” FNAE spokesperson Ludovic Badeau told France Info. “When you make people wait for the solidarity fund for a month and a half, two months, their fridge has emptied.”

Set up in March 2020, France's solidarity fund has provided small businesses and self-employed workers with economic grants each month throughout the Covid-19 health crisis.

While the grants were capped at €1,500 a month and did not cover the full losses for many businesses, the fund has been crucial in preventing France from falling into a downward economic spiral of chain-bankruptcies and mass-unemployment.

BACKGROUND: Coronavirus crisis in France: The battle to save the livelihoods of the self-employed


But Badeau said the delays in distributing the help was undermining the whole point of the system. 

“The solidarity fund is an emergency fund and now we are losing that element of urgency,” he said.

In addition to the delays of the funding for December, 21 percent of the self-employed asked said they had not yet received help for October.

Originally meant as a temporary measure to help businesses weather what was hoped to be a brief economic storm, the government prolonged the solidarity fund system as the gravity of the Covid health crisis' economic impact grew clearer.

They piled in billions of euro to maintain the scheme for longer and widened the criteria to reach more businesses in need of relief. 

But as the fund grew in size, the government also toughened up checks as several businesses were discovered to have cheated during the application process.

Reinforced checks are the reason for the delays, according to the finance ministry, which said it would dedicate 250 extra agents to fix the problem.

So far, 1,956,097 businesses have benefited from the fund through 6,964,998 grants – nearing €15 billion in state aid in total.

For a full overview over the areas in France that have benefited from the solidarity fund, click HERE to see an interactive version of the map below.

Photo: French government

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French doctors to stage more strikes in February

General practitioners in France are planning another industrial action that will see doctors' offices closed as they call for better investment in community healthcare.

French doctors to stage more strikes in February

Primary care doctors in France announced plans to strike again in February, after walkouts in December and over the Christmas-New Year holidays in early January.

The strike will take place on Tuesday, February 14th, and it comes just a few weeks ahead of the end-of-February deadline where France’s social security apparatus, Assurance Maladie, must reach an agreement to a structure for fees for GPs for the next five years.

Hospital doctors in France are largely barred from striking, but community healthcare workers such as GPs are self-employed and therefore can walk out. 

Their walk-out comes amid mass strike actions in February over the French government’s proposed pension reform. You can find updated information on pensions strikes HERE.

Previous industrial action led to widespread closures of primary care medical offices across the country. In December, strike action saw between 50 to 70 percent of doctor’s surgeries closed.

READ MORE: Urgent care: How to access non-emergency medical care in France

New concerns among GPs

According to reporting by La Depeche, in the upcoming strike in February primary care doctors will also be walking out over a new fear – the possibility of compulsory ‘on-call’ hours.

Currently, French GPs take on-call hours on a voluntary basis. Obligatory on-call time for primary care doctors was scrapped in the early 2000s after GPs mobilised against the requirement.

However, representatives from the Hospital Federation have called for it to be reinstated in order to help relieve emergency services.

Additionally, GPs are calling for Saturday shifts to considered as part of their standard working week, in order to allow for a two-day weekend.

Striking primary care doctors are more broadly calling for actions by the government and Assurance Maladie to help make the field more appealing to younger physicians entering the profession, as the country faces more medical deserts, and for working conditions to be improved.

Those walking out hope to see administrative procedures to be simplified and for the basic consultation fee – typically capped to €25 – to be doubled to €50.

In France patients pay the doctor upfront for a visit, and then a portion of the fee is reimbursed by the government via the carte vitale health card.