Over half a million single parents, young people affected by poverty in France

Loic Venance, AFP | A young girl walks to primary school with her mother on the first day of the new school year in Vertou, western France, on September 4, 2017.

Poverty has increased over the past ten years in France, with the number living on less than 50% of the average salary rising from 4.4 million to 5 million people. The majority are young people and single-parent families.


The L'Observatoire des inégalités -- an independent organisation that monitors social inequality in France -- released a report on October 11 stating that the number of French people with an income of less than €855 euros per month rose from 4.4 million to 5 million between 2006 and 2016.

However, it is important to note that between 2013 and 2016 this situation stabilised, decreasing by 100,000.

"There are grounds for optimism, but the situation remains worrying," the director of the Observatoire des inégalités, Louis Maurin, told FRANCE 24. The association's report states there has not been a single cause that has triggered a dramatic increase in poverty, “but that the middle class has simply shrunk.”

"Poverty does not happen by chance"

Among those most affected by poverty are young people under 30 years of age and single-parent families. For young people, "it is the issue of personal satisfaction at work. These young people are also more likely to be impacted by precarious French work contracts (ie, freelance and short-term contracts) and theire is, of course, the basic problem of finding work," explains Maryse Bresson, author of the book ‘Sociologie de la précarité’ (Sociology of insecurity). In the case of single-parent families, she says that the situation is made significantly worse by "the fragility of modern relationships".

As L'Observatoire des inégalités notes, "poverty does not happen by chance" and it affects the disadvantaged in particular. Nearly 12% of young adults, aged 20 to 29, are officially poor, but "those with a higher education do not face the same difficulties," says Maurin. The report states that the poverty rate for non-graduates is three times higher than that of graduates with high school qualifications.

It is also important to take into account "that unemployment has been a phenomenon in France for decades," says Maurin. This is specifically the case for the young, but also single-parents looking for flexi-time employment.

Single women in a "fight for survival"

Christiane Diemunsch, Vice-President of the Fédération syndicale des familles monoparentales (the Federation of Single Parents), organises weekly get-togethers in the eastern region of Alsace for people on welfare benefits. Of the attendees, "80% are single-parents, and mainly women," she says. "They face difficulties in many ways: for example, finding a crèche -- even if they do manage to get state subsidies to help with the cost -- is complicated with modern working hours, such as shift work."

These people are "in a real fight for survival", says Diemunsch. These women "are desperately indebted to their circle of friends and family, which only help them sometimes, and to the state which provides certain social benefits”

"A short step from life on the streets"

According to the report, the French social model at least helps to reduce the poverty rate. "Social benefits keep more than five million people from anxiety of poverty. Without the current social protection system, it would be 22% instead of 14% of French people living on less than €1,026 per month below the poverty line."

Housing, unemployment and other free public services "help many very deprived people, and keep them from sleeping on the streets", says L'Observatoire des inégalités report. For its director, Maurin, "the French social model does overall protect people in need, and it does a lot more than many other countries, but the benefits are frequently not sufficient to alleviate the struggle."

For the sociologist Bresson, "It all depends on the policies France pursues". Regarding French President Emmanuel Macron’s policy to fight poverty presented at the beginning of September, Bresson thinks they are worth trying. But she does not "believe the poverty curve can be reversed". For Maurin, "the financial resources of this plan are not enough, and do not address the core issues".

Diemunsch proposes several solutions to help single-parent families, such as the "creation of priority support for children" and "childcare facilities with extended hours". In the meantime, she continues her weekly workshop ‘Motivate to Succeed’ in order to "help avoid the dangers of isolation and marginalization" faced by those single parents who are struggling.

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