A major report on poverty finds that France faces accelerating levels of hardship amongst the general population with people struggling to feed themselves.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been an “accelerator of poverty” in France, the National Council of Anti-poverty and Exclusion Policies (CNLE) has concluded in a damning report.
The pandemic which has hit France especially hard has highlighted “major fractures” that were already at work in France long before the crises and now “pose a risk to national cohesion”, the reports outlined.
France has seen more than 5.7 million infections and more than 110,000 thousand deaths resulting from Covid-19.
“The health, economic and social crisis that the country is going through is extremely violent,” said Fiona Lazaar, one of the authors of the report.
An initially slow response to the pandemic led to one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe, with a profound impact on an economy which was already struggling to recover from the 2008 global financial crisis.
France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, has seen his popularity plummet amid his perceived mishandling of the pandemic and the resulting economic fallout.
France’s gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 8.3 percent in 2020, making it one of the worst affected European Union countries and one of the largest post-war recessions in its history.
As part of its Covid-19 support programme, French citizens on permanent contracts received generous state support with many paid 86 percent of their wages as companies closed due to the pandemic.
The second-largest economy in the EU had a 19 percent youth unemployment rate going into the pandemic, which has been stubbornly high for over a decade now.
For comparison’s sake, Germany, the EU’s largest economy, has a 5.2 percent youth unemployment rate and the UK just over 10 percent.
Long term youth unemployment not only has economic repercussions resulting in long term low wages but also has a trickle-down effect on rising social tensions.
The CNLE report, which brings together non-profit organisations, trade unions, researchers and those impacted by poverty, calls this an emerging “covid generation.”
The long term fallout from the pandemic, according to the report, not only “hinders the exit from poverty” but also “precipitates people into poverty and leads to unexpected arrivals in poverty.”
The report outlines that the pandemic has been a “revealer” of France’s precarious social and economic fissures.
Those that are self-employed, employees on fixed-term contracts, temporary workers, workers in the informal economy broadly did not qualify for access to the generous income substitution on offer by the state.
The pandemic, therefore, resulted in subverting the logic behind the welfare state in ensuring those in stable jobs received strong protections while those most in need endured economic turmoil.
The report also highlights that a growing part of the population is increasingly finding it difficult to feed themselves, and that too in one of the wealthiest countries on earth.
“Recourse to aid food has become a condition of survival for many people,” the report warns darkly, adding that “those who were already beneficiaries and for whom the importance of this support has increased, but also those who were not and who had to push the doors of associations for the first time.”
The pandemic has also further exhibited France’s racial divide, something the country’s political establishment refuses to acknowledge.
Covid-19 has “revealed the prevalence of comorbidities within the poor population,” notes the report with a noticeable “over-representation” of people with immigrant backgrounds among it victims.
France forbids gathering data on religious and racial grounds, a position it sees as a great equaliser but which inhibits the country from fully reckoning with institutional inequality and racism.
A recent investigation by Reuters found that the country’s Muslim population has paid a heavy price due to the pandemic, with data showing that the Covid death rate is higher in the community than the general population.
Muslims and those of immigrant background are more likely to have jobs that bring them into contact with the broader public.
There is a growing perception amongst younger people that they have been “sacrificed” as inequality increases.
Young people in France have been forced to line up for food as many are not eligible for welfare support until the age of 25. This stands in contrast to other higher-income countries when young people become eligible at 18.
The report warns that lockdowns have also resulted in increasing household violence, especially towards women, and in the long run, the state needs to deal with it.
“Being poor has never been easy, but now it’s worse,” and unless the state takes immediate action for many, the poverty trap could become “irreversible”, the report concludes.