Country Portrait France: Freedom – Equality – Solidarity
Prof. Dr. Therese Neuer-Miebach
Publication date 2021-06-29
- 1 Social policy in France – an approach
- 2 The history of social policy
- 3 Social protection after 1945
- 3.1 Universal social protection – La Protection sociale
- 3.2 Social security – La Sécurité sociale
- 3.3 Poverty and social welfare – Pauvreté et Aide sociale
- 3.4 Social welfare – L’Action sociale
- 3.5 Social policy focus
- 4 Social work: Role – Structure – Professionalism
- 4.1 Occupation and employment
- 4.2 Anchoring social work
- 4.3 Qualification
- 4.4 New areas of employment – occupational differentiation
- 4.5 Professional self-conception
- 4.6 Associations in the social sector – Associations
- 4.7 Social and solidarity economy – Économie Sociale et Solidaire – ESS
- 5 France’s social policy in the EU
- 6 Prospects – La France en marche – Where to go?
- 7 Appendix
1 Social policy in France – an approach
Social policy is a system for compensating social inequalities, dependent on the interplay of forces of the respective economic and political contexts over time and in the constant process of negotiating the kind and extent of its own interventions.
1.1 Constitution and politics
„France is an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic. It is organised in a decentralised form“ (Article 1 sentence 1 and 2 of the Constitution of the 5th French Republic, as of 2008). This outlines the central state (la Nation) with its political principles – government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Liberty – Equality – Fraternity or Solidarity (Liberté – Égalité – Fraternité) is the slogan of France's political development since the French Revolution of 1789, which was taken up again in the February Revolution of 1848. This guiding principle has constitutional status until today. In the tradition of the French Revolution, the structure of French society is still characterised by three features: a strong, administratively highly developed central state, an institutionally weak position of associations and societies and a conservative-neoliberal socio-political system (see Bahle, chap.4).
„France is an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic“ (Article 1 of the Constitution, 2008). No body or person can touch or claim this principle. „National sovereignty belongs to the people“ – La souveraineté nationale appartient au peuple“ (Article 3 of the Constitution).
In this respect, supranational ambitions, such as those of the EU, are initially viewed very critically and are only tolerated if, for La France, "in return, an equally large political scope for action is gained at the European level“ (Roth, 206).
This basic political sense plausibly explains the perpetual invocation of the one, indivisible nation, its constitution as a centralised structure, and thus the far-reaching directive powers of the president on the one hand and the weakness of the local authorities on the other. It also clarifies the comparably close interconnectedness of state and economy – with the primacy of politics or the state's competence to intervene vis-à-vis the economy. Meanwhile, the realisation has prevailed that national sovereignty can only be preserved on a long-term basis in cooperation with the EU.
Solidarity – National heritage and obligation
Until today, French social policy refers to the triad of the French Revolution and the Constitution of the 2nd Republic (1848).Fraternity is translated in today's parlance as "solidarity" (solidarité): solidarity as the ethical basis for the socio-political aid concept; dignity and protection of the individual and education and support for ALL;
Solidarity with all members of society (citoyens), socially, interpersonally and between generations as a general obligation, as compensation for disadvantage and discrimination (see Löchen. 9–12); Solidarity of society with individuals and groups who are exposed to social risks; but also solidarity of the individual with regard to the fulfilment of tasks by the state in the sense of fair distribution.
This perception runs as a conceptual thread through the programme of French social policy and social work in practice, striking among other things in the course of decentralisation (see Löchen, chapter 7).
The term was introduced in 1992 in connection with the administrative reform "decentralisation". This is about assistance/​support only as far as necessary or about the execution of social policy activities and social services by those who can most effectively provide these services in a meaningful way. A question that follows is: does welfare subsidiarity also exist in France. Yes, as a delegation of tasks from the central state to the lower territorial authorities, which, however, always takes place within central government direction and is thus subject to the reservation of the nation-state supply and guarantee function along with the legal decision level (see chapter 2.3.2 Decentralisation). The term subsidiarity is also used in the debate on the tendency of the central state to withdraw from social policy responsibility, and here it stands as a catchy formula for the privatisation of important care services to the free market or the referral to the individual responsibility of the citizens.
1.3 Facts and figures
The share of financial social benefits (prestations de protection sociale) in GDP is 23 % (428.4 billion) in 2009, 22 % in 2010; in 2016, social spending is 29.1 % and 32.1 % in 2018. The share of the growing gross domestic product has ranged between 31 and 32 % in recent years. (see DREES, La Protection Sociale en France et en Europe 2018, ed. 2020, 26). In other words, social spending is constantly rising.
|Economic development (GDP) billion €, thereof in %. – Social benefit ratio – Education benefits – Health benefits||1.995,3 31,0 % 5,9 % 11,2 %||2.198,4 32,0 % 5,5 % 11,5 %||2.248,0 32,0 % 6,7 % 11,3 %||2.419,0 1 31,2 % 2 6,7 % 11,3 %|
|Population absolute, million Age structure in % - 0 - 14 years - 15 - 64 years - 65 and older Life expectancy – women – men||64,6 Mio 18, 48 64, 67 16, 85 85,3 years 78,3 years||66,4 Mio 18, 35 62, 77 18, 88 85,5 years
|66,7 Mio 18, 11 62, 22 19, 67 85,5 years 79,4 years||67,0 Mio 3 17, 8 61, 81 20, 39 85,6 years 79,7 years|
|Employment Participation rate 4
Employment rate 5 Unemployment rate - 15 years and older - 15 – 24 year-old
|56,1 % 51,1 % 9,3 % 22,4 %||55,5 % 49,7 % 10,4 % 24,5 %||(55,3 % 2018) 49,9 % 9,4 % 23,6 %||55,1 % 50,5 % 9,1 % 20,1 % 6|
Remarks: 1 = Development forecast 2019/2020: min. – 7,2 %
2 = Development of the rate from 14 % (1959) to 32,1 % (2016)
3 = Annual growth rate 2009/10: +0,5 %; 2019/20: +0,4 %
4 = Employed persons from 15 years to 65 years in %
5 = All employed persons in % of total population
6 = in August 2020, it will be 19.8 % (i.e. 532,000) of all young people
Sources: OECD; UN POP; UNESCO; TEF, ed. 2020, INSEE Références ; INSEE Références, ed. 2020 – Population ; INSEE, La Protection Sociale, eds. 2018 + 2020 ; INSEE
Références 101 + Demographie, Balance 2017; de.statista.com, 2020
Population and social structure
|24, 33 million||26, 69 million||28, 04 million||29, 24 million||29,97 million|
|7,6 %||7,9 %||8,4 %||9,0 %||no data. 1|
Remarks: 1 = no details; Number and share increasing. In 2018, 4 million underage children (= 28 %) live in single-parent families.
Source: INSEE Références, ed. 2020 - Population
|Gross income Development of private households in € per month||1315,1 €||1329,7 €||1353, 5 €||1421,2 €|
|Purchase power Development per household in % compared to previous year||0,3 %||0,0 %||0,8 %||0,5 %|
Remark: 1 Respectively the average of all private households
Source: INSEE Références, ed. 2020 – Revenus – Salaires
|2015||2017||2018||2018/17 in %|
|thereof direct social benefits||702, 2||728, 2||742, 1 2||+ 1,9 %|
Remarks: 1 Increase in social expenditure 2006 - 2017 by 37 % in total
2 This is 31 % of GDP and 94 % of total social costs in 2018; the difference consists of expenses for organisation and Geldbeschaffung
Source: DREES, La protection sociale en France et en Europe en 2018, ed. 2020
|State pension||Housing benefit||Employment promotion||Unemployment benefits||benefits family/​child|
|2015||15.980 m.||6.520 m.||4.492 m. 1||3.104 m.||12.006 m.|
|2017||16.160 m.||6.517 m.||6.451 m.||3.143 m.||11.928 m.|
Remarks: 1 Without activation bonus Minors and young adults (up to 20 years) are 2.4 %, and persons of 60 years and older are 9.3 % direct recipients of at least one social welfare benefit.
Sources: DREES, La protection sociale en France et en Europe, eds. 2018, 2020; INSEE
Références, ed. 2019, Fiches Niveau de vie et redistribution
2 The history of social policy
French social history locates the beginning of national social security in the Revolution of 1789 much earlier than other European countries. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens in 1793 is based on the belief in the natural, legal and political equality of all human beings (égalité). Society's "sacred obligation" to unfortunate, unhappy citizens (les citoyens malheureux) claims a right to public support for all citizens in terms of social rights to work, health and material security (fraternité = solidarité).
These principles are considered the basis of the transition from pure charitable giving to state welfare and social entitlement rights. In the same year, 1793, the first legal regulation was created for the care of the poor, for securing the labour force and family care (service national d’assistance).
Characteristic of France is an early, politically motivated declaratory, socio-political framework, which, however, is only gradually followed in the 19th century by legal regulations, social measures and institutions.
The socio-political implementation of the euphonious principles of "civil rights and social rights for all" is becoming a conflict between different social interests:
- Separation of state and church/​pushing back the influence of the charitable-church institutions – Laicism
- a wide range of occupational social insurances – freedom
- National Welfare Laws, la NATION and "family first“.
Conflicting connotations appear outwardly:
- France is a late welfare state despite an early start.
- The French social model offers the highest level of benefits in the world.
- France is the pioneer country in family policy.
Presumably, these are accurate estimates, taking into account the respective socio-economic conditions and social power relations in different historical epochs. Such contextual perspectives are important for an overall understanding of social policy and social work. However, within the framework of an overview article, they can only be pointed out, not dealt with in depth (see here and in the present version intensified: Löchen, Pascal, Peroz, Sachße/Tennstedt).
2.1 Organised support for needy people
Up to the 18th century, activities to cushion social needs were organised by charitable church institutions (care of the poor) and professional associations. Along with the industrial development of the country, social grievances arose on a massive scale as serious side effects of the industrial race in Europe, which permanently shook the social structural "balance". The vexed "social question" demanded public intervention to prevent the loss of (regulatory) political control and the impairment of the industrial labour pool.
The first state socio-political guidelines in France in the 19th century – similar to those in England and Germany – concerned the threat of labour productivity and military strength. They established rules to directly safeguard the physical and mental health of dependent employees and their families. An ordinance on municipal public assistance was passed in 1880 in response to the economic depression (assistance publique communale). This is seen as the beginning of state social welfare for those in need who are not able to independently secure their subsistence. In 1892 a law was passed to legitimise trade unions (1892 Loi relative à la création des syndicats professionnels). For a long time, the implementation of the regulations on insurance against life risks was left to charitable institutions and non-profit professional mutual aid societies in various economic sectors (sociétés de secours mutuel) – presumably an expression of the political principle of freedom and to relieve the state of financial and social responsibility.
It was not until the law on compensation for accidents at work in 1898 (Loi sur l'indemnisation des accidents du travail) that a fundamental change in the perspective of public social protection was marked: The principle of "risk" henceforth applies within social insurance (assurance sociale) and encompasses further areas of life (see e.g. Löchen, 21 et seq.). In the same year the Charter of Mutual Associations (Charte de la Mutualité) laid the foundations for a political reinforcement of mutuals and trade unions in the industrial and commercial sectors (sociétés de secours mutuel). The decisive change of course in social law was achieved by the 1905 law on the separation of church and state – Laicité. A law on care for the elderly poor in 1905 laid the basis for state social assistance (aide sociale): for children and for older people.
Exemplary social policy regulations:
1910: a first comprehensive labour and occupational health and safety code (Code du travail et de la prévoyance sociale) and a pension insurance law for workers and peasants on a voluntary basis.
1930: Compulsory pension insurance for all. In addition, the professional association insurances remained unchanged.
1919: Introduction of the 48-hour week, 1936 the 40-hour week
1928 the first compulsory social insurance for all
1928 to 1930: Old-age, health and disability insurance laws for all dependent employees
1932: a comprehensive law on family benefits to cover sickness and invalidity, old-age security, maternity, etc. (allocations familiales).
Individual laws for the support of the needy followed (see exemplary: Löchen; Peroz; Pascal).
These activities are declared as the beginning of social security legislation in France (sécurité sociale). However, general social protection as well as the inclusion of preventive care and prevention came to the forefront of social provision only at a later stage.
In 1944, the National Resistance Council (Conseil national de la résistance) issued an overall programme (Charte) for the restoration of the French nation, in which social rights took a prominent place, such as social minimum protection for all, pension insurance to lead a decent life, job security and adequate pay, security of supply for families, children's rights to education and culture, women's rights. These principles were incorporated into the Constitution in 1946. After the Second World War, it gradually became possible to transfer social protection and entitlement rights into a system of general universal social laws (protection sociale) and to develop the so-called "French social model" (see further literature on this subject: Bizard, Peroz).
2.2 The Welfare State – l’État providence
After the Second World War, France saw itself as a welfare state. Providence, i.e. care – a high universal entitlement of the state that provides a bundle of legal entitlements and social benefits to protect the whole population against basic risks of life instead of pure caritas or social assistance. With this responsibility for all citizens (citoyens), the central state secures legal and financial sovereignty, management and control of social security. France is seen as a "social insurance state" (state social legislation and social insurance), later than Germany, for example, but with the highest level of benefits worldwide (see Igl; also: Bizard).
According to Gösta Esping-Andersen's categorisation (see Esping-Andersen), France can be systematically assigned to the corporatist welfare state model, similar to Germany, but with liberal, market-oriented elements, such as in Great Britain, and with decentralisation and privatisation efforts: a mixture of tax and contribution financing (see: Peroz ch.1; Löchen chap. 2) since the presidency of Emmanuel Macron 2017. The label "welfare state" signifies the expectation of economic growth, social progress, the improvement of living conditions through the expansion of public services. The benchmark for the nature and extent of the high level of social benefits was full employment. This system was not prepared for economic structural change, economic slumps, rising unemployment and increasing poverty.
Initiated as a counterpart for the economy – equalisation/​compensation of disadvantages and risks for dependent employees, preservation of the productivity of the labour force as well as regulatory policy regulation – state social policy (politique sociale) is developing into an independent policy area with the global goal of social reproduction, compensation of inequality, cohesion and solidarity. (inclusion/cohésion sociale).
2.3 The French Social Model – Le modèle social
The Constitution of 1946 takes up the initiatives of the National Council of the Resistance of 1944 and claims comprehensive, unrestricted social rights with regard to health, material security, old-age security, indigence, etc. for all citizens, for the individual as well as for the family (universalisation des droits sociaux à tout être humain). The maxims of the so-called French social model (le modèle social) are active participation in the creation of social value, social security and protection against life risks for all members of society, as well as national solidarity towards the poorest and socially vulnerable persons (politiques sociales spécialisées).Two special features of social benefits that are outstanding compared to other Western European countries may be exemplified: Minimum income Minimum pension.
France is considered a global pioneer in the protection of earned income.
There has been a growth-oriented, cross-occupational statutory minimum wage for employees since as early as 1950 (Salaire minimum interprofessionnel garanti – SMIG resp. since 1970 „de croissance“ – SMIC), which is intended to guarantee not only the subsistence level but also participation in social life, combined with the possibility of tax relief for employers on social contributions.
Since January 2020, the minimum wage has been €10.15 per hour gross – without taking into account supplements, allowances and reimbursements.; i.e.: a monthly income of € 1,539.42 gross per 35-hour week. This puts France in second place in the EU behind Luxembourg and in the lead worldwide. Employment at minimum wage conditions results in lower social security contributions for companies.
13.4 % of employees are SMIC recipients in January 2019; that is a total of 2.32 million employees, rising trend, especially in the service sector and among low-skilled and part-time employees (see INSEE 2020 ed. Revenus et salaires). These facts are the subject of controversial discussions in social policy debates.
As early as 1956, a tax-financed minimum pension (minimum vieillesse) was introduced for senior citizens aged 65 and above – without entitlement to social security, depending on income, significantly earlier than in other Western European countries (see chap. 3.2).
For 30 years, the French social model was able to rely on economic recovery, full employment and improvement of living conditions for the broad population.
In the so-called Golden 30s (les trentes glorieuses), between the end of the 1940s and the 1970s, France was a young welfare state with a high level of performance, with diversity and intransparency, associated with high costs and strong inertia, political opportunism and contradiction. In this phase of economic prosperity, it was not difficult to expand social benefits.
2.4 The new social question
Changing socio-economic conditions in the 1970s shook the usual prosperity automatism of the liberal market economy. The economic crisis became a crisis of the welfare state. Previous social security and stability were replaced by poverty and exclusion risks as permanent socio-political consequences of the recession. A "new social question" came up on the agenda. This affected especially those who did not, no longer or hardly contribute to society's prosperity: the unemployed and people threatened by unemployment, people with disabilities and the elderly. Moreover, a generation of youths and young adults was growing up who had no chance (any more) of entering the social benefits system, but rather saw themselves as being on the fringes of society and the big city. Not only did the number of people in need and the needs increase; the complexity of emergencies also intensified. The traditional social security systems were not designed for these requirements. Social unrest in several large cities was the result. Poverty, precariousness and exclusion became a permanent theme of state social policy.
The central state was challenged to stabilise societal cohesion with social interventions, for which the expertise of social work was increasingly in demand (see chap. 3.4; 4.1, 4.2). A controversial fundamental debate on social exclusion (les exclus/les OFF versus les inclus/les IN according to Pierre Bourdieu) and social division as a double danger for the nation (la Nation) started, lasting until today.
Summarising, it can be stated: In economically prosperous times, socio-political benefits were benevolently conceded and extended; in the more difficult years since the 1980s, they have been made scarcer, access conditions have been tightened with an appeal to the individual's self-responsibility and primary social networks; especially in situations where neediness increased, this is an ambivalence that was contrary to political principles and evoked growing social discontent.
2.4.1 Decentralisation and municipalisation
The end of the 30 glorieuses in the mid-1970s was marked by economic stagnation and structural change, market changes and increasing unemployment. This was accompanied by social problems and increasing socio-political performance requirements in the health and social sectors with a simultaneous decline in payments into unemployment and pension insurance.
At that time, the state had to compensate financially for the discrepancy between income and expenditure of the social insurance system or supplement it with tax-financed measures.
This situation has not fundamentally eased to this day, and the social unrest in the banlieues of the big cities at the beginning of the 1980s gave rise to numerous socio-political interventions (see chap. 3.5; also: Löchen, chap. 7; Peroz, chap.19).
Structural reform of the administration
The basic idea of structural reforms is to strengthen the country's economic competitiveness.
In 1972, a new administrative level was introduced: 22 regions, between the central state and the departments – a long process of political struggle for competences, power and finances (see Peroz chap.9).
The administrative reform was carried out in three stages, in 1982, 2004 and 2015, to decentralise and delegate competences, to promote local participation and to modernise and improve the effectiveness of the administration of the various local authorities (see Bahle chap. 4; also Grillmayer 2019).
In 2015, a series of novelties for the departments and the regions were introduced under President Hollande with the law on the reorganisation of the spatial planning of the Republic (Loi du 7 août 2015 portant une Nouvelle Organisation Territoriale de la République, NOTRe).
These territorial reforms were associated with extensive shifts of tasks, also in the social sphere, between the central state, regions, departments, municipal associations and municipalities. Legislation, political control and financial sovereignty as well as the fight against social exclusion remain with the central state. Distribution, management and control of state funds are delegated to the departments, so also the use of most of the social assistance for the needy, the assistance for underage children and the child-related family benefits, the employment-related integration assistance, the assistance for disabled and for elderly people, all areas in which the number and complexity of problem constellations have continuously risen and are rising. Decisions on voluntary social benefits (see chapter 3.4: Action Sociale) also fall within their competence. Thus the departments gain political power to improve public services.
The local authority is the operational level; it is in charge of implementing social measures. The aim is to pool local resources to deal with problems more efficiently. Along with this, a change in methodological approach is required from social professionals at the local level: from administrative orientation to political logic. Coordination and networking are needed (see Chap. 3.4 and 3.5). At the local level, in people's social space, the hardships and needs – such as poverty, social segregation and behavioural problems – are directly visible. In addition, this is where the public and private social service institutions are located, social and neighbourhood centres – centres communaux d'action sociale/​centres sociaux (see Urban Policy, chap. 3.5.1).
However, local governance in the sense of more self-management by local actors in dealing with problems is not an automatism. Due to insufficient delimitation of competences in practice between the regional authorities, the implementation of the reforms has remained unsatisfactory to this day (see for example: Peroz, chap.26; Löchen, chap. 1.4 and 1.5). Social space orientation has not gained an operationalisable professional (interdisciplinary) profile. Spatial programmes have been implemented with little sustainability. The call for a more civil society, voluntary engagement of the " people concerned" appears to be as professionally helpless as it is socio-politically out of place; all the more so as the living conditions of the needy residents have hardly improved, but rather tended to worsen in the 2000s:
retreat of the central state, redistribution of political competences, rendering administration more effective, territorialisation of services of general interest, civil society solidarity, self-responsibility of citizens, cost savings by decentralisation? Probably a bit of everything.
The central state asserted the indivisibility of the republic. A real transfer of decision-making competences to subordinate regional authorities did not take place; a noticeable delegation of tasks did not come about.
In addition to legal and financial sovereignty, the president or the central government reserves competence in three social policy areas: Urban policy, inclusion of adults with social problems, policy for the disabled (see Löchen, 50). A municipal social policy has not yet been able to establish itself. This is probably due to several factors. No convincingly effective redistribution of competences has yet occurred between regional authorities, including the relatively newly established regions. At all levels, the central state administration has too strong an effect, which is advantageous for the powers of its municipal representatives, the mayors. In addition, the ramified system of social insurance has not only been able to sustain but also stabilise itself at the local level. The social services of the non-statutory welfare organisations have also gained weight at the local level. It remains to be observed whether, in the face of the high level of public debt overall and the widening funding gaps in the social sector, the streamlining of local authorities may be a means of choice (further literature*: Bahle; Peroz chap. 9, 19, 26; Löchen, chap. 2 and 3).
It is certainly not coincidental for the socio-political reorientation taking place under difficult economic conditions towards the end of the 20th century. With a comparatively weak industrial base in France, economic structural change, increasing unemployment, income and wealth discrepancy between rich and poor, deficits in the education and training sector, demographic change. This situation implies higher social costs to combat poverty, inequality and social exclusion.
The social policy reforms run under the label "modernisation of the welfare state". Critics complain the decentralisation favours or even intends the tendency of the state to withdraw from the welfare state in favour of liberal and regulatory concepts: market orientation of social policy, shifting of hitherto publicly provided social services to insurance companies and independent providers on the one hand (see chap.4.3. and 4.4), and increasing individual responsibility for their social security and life prospects on the other hand.
The benchmark for redirection is the adaptation of the model of "the activating state", developed by the English sociologist Giddens (see Giddens), similar to other Western European countries. Activation of the individual for self-responsibility and participation. This applies to both gainful employment and social provision according to the principle of demanding and promoting: individual promotion in return for individual advance performance; de facto a tightening of eligibility requirements in order to benefit from state support. In state terms, this is called "social investment": investing in education and training programmes, employability training, intensifying (re)integration into the labour market (l'État investisseur) and increasing choice for those in need (le soutien à l'autonomie) by offering them money to buy the whished support on the social market. This variant of social spending is considered an important production factor for the qualification of human capital. At the same time, expectations are high that this would alleviate inequality and support sustainable growth.
2.5 From social welfare to social work
Contexts – Processes
The development of social work (AS i.F.) in France, its specifics, its ruptures and continuities can only be understood in its political, economic, social, cultural and ideological context of origin.
In general, AS can be described as an intermediary activity to ensure social reproductivity: preservation of the workforce, health, securing the next generation and social balance.
Occupational health and safety, protection of the family, raising children, protection against general life risks such as illness and poverty are central topics that can only be addressed in this overview article by way of example.
State-organised social work (travail social) emerges in the socio-economic contexts of the heyday of industrialisation. The task is to contribut to the process of compensating for the mass misery of the working class, which could not be tackled by charitable work alone. It is intended to reduce the weakening of the reproductive capacity due to epidemics, diseases and high mortality rates, social "neglect" and crime, as well as to improve family, spatial and hygienic living conditions.
Functionally, it is "caught between the developments of church social work and state welfare policy, the parallel development and expansion of social insurance and the restructuring of relations between the various political and administrative levels of the French state“ (Bahle, 147).
As a socially relevant activity, it arises from state, public assistance (assistance publique) and belongs institutionally to the policy of social protection (protection sociale) (see chap. 3.1).
Early fields of social work activity in France are:
- Care for the poor and aid for working-class families: inspectors, family helpers; these were officially appointed supervisors (inspecteurs, surintendants) for child protection and the social work for workers (Oeuvre social). Child protection for orphans, for delinquent children and adolescents, institutional care for educational support for "maladjusted" children, school and cultural education,
- the work in institutions for the detention/​isolation of socially conspicuous, handicapped, chronically ill and elderly people in institutions (Workhouses/​Hospices/​Asylums).
At the end of the 19th century, mainly philanthropists and social reformers took up the cause of education, upbringing and housing in an altruistic way – partly out of a humanist spirit, partly out of religious and ecclesiastical motivation – in order to combat the mass misery in the industrial metropolises: reactively to alleviate the consequences of misery and poverty and preventively to prevent its reproduction.
Settlements based on the English and American model, so-called social homes, later social centres and health stations, were built, especially in the working-class districts of the large industrial cities (see 2.3. Decentralisation, 3.5 Urban policy).
Social workers (assistantes sociales) made home and family visits, which served as relief and as social control at the same time. The social assistants, mostly from middle-class backgrounds, came "empty-handed", did not distribute money and worked on a voluntary basis. Their mission was to offer friendly advice, educational guidance and moral support. Femininity as a "profession" dedicated to individual care for the poor, child protection and family assistance? After all, this orientation means a substantial turning away from ecclesiastical care and – spurred on by secularisation – a tendency to be founded on social and medical expertise. However, the secular central state reserved the legal supervision (equal rights for all users) as well as the steering and control function over service providers.
With the law on the separation of church and state ("Laicism" 1905), the influence of the churches on poor policy was decisively reduced. The charitable church institutions and activities were hived off from the public system and transferred to the "private" sector. Thus, clerical social work thus developed "outside and parallel to the public sector" in the form of associations (see chap.4.3; Bahle).
The "free" social actors are by all means state-serving and socially-pacifying, insofar as they "adapt" the individual and the family to the given situation, offer help for self-help and thereby stabilise the social and economic performance of the working class. That is one side. The other side is the socio-political demand for social justice and dignified participation in life in the community for all – legal claims, especially represented by the self-confident strengthening of wage earners claiming their civil and labour rights.
It took a good 30 years before the first schools of social work (écoles de formation sociale) were founded at the beginning of the 20th century – based on different ideological currents and approaches.
The profession of social assistant (Diplôme d'Assistante sociale) – for women – was created in 1922 (comparable to the "nurse") thanks to intensive international exchange with already established Anglo-American professionals and their methodological approach (model individual case assistance, group work and community work).
In 1923 the social service for morally endangered children started. From 1932, a professional certificate of competence was issued for social (service) workers (assistante/​assistant de Service Social). In the following years, other social professions such as educators, carers, home and family helpers were established. In 1938, these activities were combined for the first time under the title of social work (travail social) and finally recognised as a state diploma (Diplômé de l'État Francais) with three central professional titles:
- Social work (assistance de service social)
- Special education teacher (éducateur spécialisé)
- Animator (animateur socio-culturelle) (see chap. 4.1).
The family system remains the focus of social work in the 20th century, which tries to distinguish itself from class struggle on the one hand and from traditional caritas on the other: social security for all. It strives to address the causes of social need. At the same time, it becomes an important factor for the emancipation of women to the extent that it can assert itself as a paid professional activity (see chap.3.5, 4.1, 4.2).
3 Social protection after 1945
From 1945 onwards, the social security system was fundamentally reformed. The central state took over the legal, financial and conceptual guideline competence for all areas, entrusted the departments with the coordination and the municipalities with the implementation of social services (see Bahle, 141–148). Social security is covered by the umbrella term "general social protection" (protection sociale universelle) and replaces the concept of public assistance (assistance publique).
|Social benefits system
|Social security (La Sécurité sociale)
||Social welfare (L‘Aide sociale)
||Social action (L‘ Action sociale)
Source: Own compilation
3.1 Universal social protection – La Protection sociale
The French system of social protection (Protection sociale) encompasses all institutionalised forms – public and private – of social provision and care. The core element of this social protection concept are legal rights. All citizens shall be protected preventively against life risks, social wealth shall be redistributed and the living conditions of the entire population have to be improved. Reactively – by means of specific social policy measures – special problematic groups are supported in order to compensate for social inequalities (see Löchen 2018, chap.1 and 2).
Structural features of this system are
- directive central government control and the dominance of public institutions in the provision of social services,
- the great weight of social insurance,
- the weak position of the voluntary welfare sector.
Social protection pursues both material and social goals.
Similar to other European countries, it is not a noble charitable event, but is owed to the significant increase in social risks and individual neediness. Social protection can be seen as a political calculation of resource preservation (productivity and reproductivity); it aims at securing livelihoods, limiting societal consequential costs and social pacification.
3.1.1 Social benefits – Prestations sociales
The focus of social benefits is on protecting the individual or private households against potential life risks.
In distinction to an understanding of narrowly income-related poverty and indigence situations, six social risk areas are distinguished:
- Health (incl. sickness, invalidity, accidents at work, occupational diseases)
- Aging (so-called dependents incl. survivors and disabled persons)
- Family (incl. children)
- Employment (incl. unemployment, integration and reintegration)
- Poverty (incl. social exclusion)
- Housing (see Code of Social Measures and the Family, 2019; DREES Protection ed. 2020, 22–23, 50ff).
The social benefits are final, i.e. goal-oriented: reduction or avoidance of the respective risk by means of direct cash benefits, social services, cost reimbursements or tax relief.
|2015||2017||2018/2018/17||2018 in % of all benefits 1|
|Elderly/​surviving dependants||320, 1 billion €||331, 3 billion €||339, 6 billion € 2,5 %||46,0 %|
|Health||245, 1 billion €||255, 7 billion €||261,1 billion € 2,1 %||35,0 %|
|Family||54, 6 billion €||55, 4 billion €||56, 1 billion € 1,3 %||8,0 % 2|
|Employment||43, 3 billion €||44,3 billion €||44, 3 billion € 0,1 %||6,0 %|
|Poverty/Soc. exclusion||20, 9 billion €||23, 1 billion €||23, 9 billion € 3,6 %||3,0 %|
|Living||18, 1 billion €||18, 5 billion €||17, 2 billion € 7,2 %||2,0 %|
Remarks: 1 Social protection benefits in 2018 in total 742,1 billion €
2 The fairly high rate of increase is mainly due to benefits for children.
Sources: DREES, La protection sociale en France et en Europe, ed. 2020, ed. 2018 ;
+TEF ed. 2020, INSEE Références
3.1.2 Legal basis
Reference is made to European legislation, most recently the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, "Social Security and Social Assistance", esp. Art. 34 (Charta der Grundrechte der Europäischen Union, Amtsblatt der Europäischen Gemeinschaften 2000/C 364/01, 18.12.2000).
The current central national social law basics are:
- The Code of Social Actions and Family (Code de l’Action Sociale et des Familles – CASF, 2000). It replaced the Family and Social Assistance Code of 1956. Relevant here above all: fundamental family policy, the right to social assistance, the majority of social assistance and promotion of the family, group-related and needs-oriented, e.g. also the minimum income (le Revenu de Solidarité Active -RSA, since 2009. Art L262-2; 1988 - 2003 RMI), a revision of the social professions and activities (Livre IV, Professions et achtivités sociales) and the merging of social and socio-medical measures;
- the Social Security Code (Code de la sécurité sociale): here, especially family benefits, pensions, social insurances
- the Labour Code (Code du Travail et de la prévoyance sociale, 1910 resp. 1973): here, for example, the benefits in the context of occupational health and safety and unemployment (see Peroz, chap. 14 and 15)
- the Construction and Housing Code (Code de la construction et de l’habitation von 1978; status 21.8.2019)
- as well as an abundance of relevant individual laws, ordinances and decrees.
3.1.3 Financing social security
|2015||2017||2018||2018/17 in %|
|Total resources in € billion including||742, 5||779, 5||799, 9||+ 2, 6 %|
|- Social contributions||456, 1||474, 7||469, 4||- 1,1 %|
|- Taxes/​levies||183, 2||188, 9||210, 5||+ 11,5 %|
|- public subsidy||83, 8||96, 3||99, 2||+ 3, 0 % 1|
|Balance||- 4,2||4,8||9, 8 2|
Remarks: 1 The reduction in contribution payments requires an increase of the public subsidy in order not to increase the deficit of the social costs
2 At the same time, this surplus allows for a slowdown in the deficit in social costs in total.
Sources: DREES, La protection sociale en France et en Europe, ed. 2020, S. 8
The social security system is income-dependent; it is essentially based on dependent employment.
The funding is composed of various revenue sources:
- Employees' social contributions and taxes,
- Social security contributions and direct employer benefits.
In 2018, these revenues together account for more than 62 % (see PS ed. 2020, 28) of total funding; the remainder is tax revenue and state subsidies.
The demands on social security are increasing, especially due to the rising living costs, high unemployment (10.1 % in 2016) and the increasing risk of poverty for more and more people.
The need for state funding is increasing. While in 1990 45.2 % of all public expenditure (a total of 56.6 % of GDP in 2016; see chapter 1.1) was spent on social services, by 2016 this figure had risen to 51.5 %. (PS 2018, 32).
Rising unemployment and the increase in precarious employment in the 1980s and 1990s posed a major challenge to social insurance, which was dedicated to providing material security for workers and their families. Social security accounts for approx. 20 - 25 % of gross salary. Social security expenditure has increased due to the expansion of the range of benefits and rising costs, the number of insured persons and rising life expectancy. Although the deficit decreased slightly in 2016, it still stands at € 2 billion (see DREES PS, ed.2018 and AA, ed. 2018).
As already noted, social insurance is financed to approx. 80 % by contributions from the insured, employees and employers, supplemented by state subsidies from tax revenues, and to a lesser extent by regional authorities and contributions from independent associations. During the last few years, shifts in individual insurance benefits have been enforced.
Unemployment insurance and accident insurance are financed exclusively by employers; employees do not pay direct contributions. In 2018, employee contributions to unemployment insurance and health insurance were abolished or have since been financed from the general social security contribution (contribution sociale généralisée – CSG). The CSG, introduced in 1991, is a tax on all types of income (labour and capital income) amounting to 9.2 % of gross income, earmarked originally for the social needs of families and in old age. In 2018, the purposes of use were expanded to cover the risk of illness and unemployment.
To finance the social security debt, an earmarked tax (contribution pour le remboursement de la dette sociale – CRDS) of 0.5 % on all workers' income was also introduced in 1996.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, the social security system has been classified by experts as financially unsecure and in need of qualitative renewal. The existing system is not suitable to cushion increasing poverty and exclusion (see e.g. Peroz; Grillmayer 2013). The political dilemma is that in the interest of social pacification, it is hardly possible to increase contributions. An increase in contributions does not seem to be feasible. The French government is trying to finance the deficit through general levies, through savings and cautious benefit and reimbursement cuts in the family and health care sectors.
3.2 Social security – La Sécurité sociale
In the Preamble of the 1946 Constitution, every human being is guaranteed the protection of health and security, in addition to the right to exist. Social security (sécurité sociale – Sécu i.F.) is the base of social protection in France since 1945, characterised by complexity and a wealth of specific agreements. The Sécu pursues – undisputed in a time of economic growth – the goal of insuring all citizens against all risks of life (protection sociale universelle pour tous les citoyens) according to the principle of solidarity. It is often referred to as a new social contract (contrat social). This ambitious demand, however, could not be fulfilled. De facto, the Sécu subsequently concentrated on the active, productive population. In contrast, public assistance (L'Aide sociale) was expanded to provide social assistance to needy persons and groups who could not or could only insufficiently secure their livelihood (see chapter 3.3).
Within the statutory social insurance system, three relevant institutions are to be distinguished:
- the general social insurance,
- agricultural insurance, in particular mutual insurance (la mutualité sociale agricole)
- as well as several special systems for specific economic sectors.
Over the years, several differentiations and specifications have been added, such as the social security of the self-employed and freelancers, e.g. artists (les Indépendants). Freelancers were integrated into the general social security system in 2018. The civil servants' pension scheme is separate.
3.2.1 The general statutory social insurance
Statutory social insurance distinguishes between 5 systems:
- Health insurance (incl. maternity and paternity insurance, disability, death; since 2000 also for needy persons) (Couverture Maladie Universelle – CMU), open to all since 2006 (protection universelle maladie);
- Health insurance for the needy, introduced in 2000, was extended to all in 2016 (Protection universelle maladie);
- Family fund (general maintenance benefits, childbirth and infant benefits, special benefits, housing, disability), (Caisse nationale d‘ allocations familiales – CNAF);
- Pension insurance (incl. widowhood, basic old-age pension and supplementary pensions);
- Occupational accident and disease insurance
financed by contribution and pay-as-you-go systems (côtisation et recouvrement).
The respective insured persons have a legal claim to benefits. Services that are subject to costs are provided according to the principle of reimbursement; for example, medical services are covered by the health insurances according to their catalogue of services upon presentation of receipts.
3.2.2 Supplementary insurances – La protection sociale complémentaire
Here we are talking about partly compulsory (e.g. unemployment insurance, health care), partly voluntary (e.g. occupational, cooperative pension schemes and mutual insurance (les mutuelles) insurance schemes. Administrative allocation to supplementary schemes depends on professional activity; there is no freedom of choice.
The variety of currently 42 individual schemes and special regulations for certain occupational groups such as seafarers or construction workers is confusing.
The system of mutuelles, solidarity insurances organised according to the principle of self-administration, could assert itself more sustainably against state intervention or attempts at appropriation than denominational-church social associations, because it was and is strongly anchored above all within the working class and its organisations. The branched structure of the mutuelles still in place today is self-confidently traced back by some to the principles of freedom of the French Revolution and sustainably defended. On the other hand, there are those relying on the one-size-fits-all principle of social security. Up to now, all attempts to create a universal social security for all citizens (protection sociale universelle) in the sense of social justice have failed (see Löchen 2018, chap.2).
A supplementary income-related social benefit is available for low-income older people, as well as for disabled and invalids, if they have not acquired sufficient pension entitlements. It is subject to a means test with regard to income and assets. (Allocation de Solidarité aux Personnes Âgées – ASPA). It is intended to raise the remuneration to the level of the minimum pension.
3.2.3 Private (supplementary) insurance – Assurances privées
For various insurance areas, there is the possibility to cover additional benefits or to increase a resulting cost reimbursement amount.
The organisation and management of the entire social security system are diversely branched and resistant to change; not least, it is a matter of maintaining vested interests and particular interests. Stubborn insistence on the part of both workers and employers has so far hindered a fundamental reform (see e.g. Bizard; Löchen).
3.2.4 The pension insurance example
The French pension system is an example of the topicality of the social security system – pensions and old-age security are fundamental concerns for all citizens. The pension scheme for dependent employees in France consists of a basic system (sécurité sociale or aide sociale) and a supplementary system (social services of the individual insurance branches) as well as optional benefits in the context of action sociale (see Bahle). The contribution rate in 2018 is 28 % of gross income; of this, employers pay 16.3 % and employees 11.2 % (see OECD data); the cost of pension payments accounts for 14.4, % of GDP (339.6 bn. €; DREES, PS ed. 2020). Cost increases, higher efficiency, more transparency, fairer distribution taking into account demographic and labour market policy changes have long been controversially discussed.
In 2017, the Macron government attempted a fundamental reform: raising the standard retirement age, the pension level and the streamlining of insurance diversity are the main points of contention of fierce debate since 2018. In autumn 2019, a bill on the financing of social security was presented (Projet de Loi de financement de la sécurité sociale, 10.10.2019) aiming at the unification and simplification of the social security system, including the pension insurance system. Already agreed by the president and the government, the passage of this socially important law by parliament in March 2020 was prevented by the Covid pandemic and has been on hold since then. The future prospects for socially fair old-age provision for low-income, long-term employees are likely to prove even more problematic.
3.3 Poverty and social welfare – Pauvreté et Aide sociale
Since 2020, the poverty statistics have taken into account the living conditions of social benefit recipients in addition to the income measure, based on current economic, social and environmental EU poverty/​wealth indicators. These include key living conditions – financial and medical care, nutrition and health, housing and social communication, access to education and culture, environmental protection. In operationalising the indicators at the individual level, recent statistics differentiate four poverty dimensions: financial constraints, debt, consumption constraints and housing problems.
(See on this and 3.3.1: DREES AA ed. 2020, chap. 8; DREES, Minima Sociaux et prestations sociales 2020; DREES, Les conditions de vie des bénéficiaires de minima sociaux et de la prime d’activité 2018; INSEE AA ed.2020, INSEE statistiques, Chiffres détaillés, ed. 31.10.2018, 9.9.2020, 16.12.2020; eurostat data France compared, 2019; INSEE Première, September 2020. INSEE Références, ed. 2020 – Économie générale. Further literature exemplary: Peroz, chap.18; Löchen chap. 6).
3.3.1 Low income, risk of poverty and poverty – Pauvreté et précarité
In 2018, 40 % of the population earn less than €1,551 per month, i.e. they are low-income earners (personnes modestes). 17.4 % of the population are at risk of poverty despite social transfers.
The monetary poverty line (i.e.: less than 60 % of the median annual income of the total population) in 2018 is an annual income of € 21,250. Single people live on € 1,063 per month, single-parent families with 1 child under 14 years have € 1,381, with 1 child of 14 years and older as well as for a couple without children € 1,594. De facto, half of the poor people have a monthly income of less than € 855.
Poor are 21 % of children under 18 (= 2.9 million), 37.8 % of unemployed, 32.7 % of unemployed people incl. students, 17.7 % of self-employed and 8.7 % of pensioners. Particularly affected are single-parent families at 35.3 %, people living alone at 20.2 %, families with children at 13.1 %.
At the beginning of 2018, a total of 9.3 million people (= 14.8 % of the population) live below the poverty line. They are income-poor taking into account social transfer payments. Social benefits account for 41 % of the disposable household income of low-income households. Excluding this support, 22.1 % of the population is considered affected. Half of these poor people live in severe poverty
The poorest 10 % of the population have an annual income of less than €11,210; the highest earning 10 % of the population have a median annual income 3.5 times higher (€ 39,130).
In total, half of the recipients of social assistance, minimum social benefits and/or the so-called low-income supplement, i.e. people on low incomes, can be described as "socially poor" in terms of their living conditions. This applies to 11 % of the population in 2018.
Poverty is a socio-structural fact and a socio-political category in material, social and cultural terms. The term in a comprehensive sense describes factual or threatening life situations and perspectives below the socially average living conditions in society: insufficient satisfaction of general basic needs, insufficient economic, social, health and cultural resources and opportunities. In this respect, the threat – precariousness – of being poor is also part of social problems and the object of socio-political/​worker activity.
Obvious life in a situation of social risk or poverty for more and more people, clear tendencies towards a lack of solidarity between the "poor" and the "rich" are special challenges for a welfare state based on the French Revolution, which claims general civil rights for all, comprehensive rights of the individual to equality and solidarity, and formulates social cohesion as a state goal. Social exclusion has no place in such an ambitious social model and requires state intervention. Under the last presidents, a number of initiatives were taken in this respect. However, it is evident that individual measures and "special" programmes for socially vulnerable or poor population groups alone, especially with the requirement to become self-active, are not sufficient in order to secure one's livelihood or combined with threats of sanctions in case of non-acceptance, are not very suitable for integration or inclusion, especially in times of crisis with rising unemployment. Moral appeals to individual responsibility and self-activation are difficult to communicate to people living with few material, social and cultural resources and feeling resigned and socially disconnected. For example, the paradigm shift to social investment that has taken place in recent years – the provision of state financial resources for education and qualification offers – is an attempt to initiate the activation of those affected by poverty. Such offers are only likely to be successful when taking into account the living conditions and the actual realisation opportunities of these population groups, including accompanying measures to secure income and social stabilisation.
3.3.2 Social welfare and minimum social benefits – Aide sociale et Minima sociaux
In 1953, social welfare (l'aide sociale) was introduced, flanked by the corresponding profession, social work (see.: chap. 2.4 and chap.4).
It was established by the Family and Social Assistance Code (Code de la famille et de l'aide sociale) in 1956, updated in 2000 by the Social Action and Family Code (Code de l’Action Sociale et des Familles – CASF). Social welfare has established itself – alongside social insurance, which concentrates on the major social risks – as a permanently necessary, lowest social safety net for the poorest members of society whose subsistence level is not covered by their own earned income, family support and/or social insurances.
The two pillars of social assistance are financial benefits and services for social and occupational integration and for the prevention of need – Social work (assistance sociale; see chap.4). The support is aimed at the target groups of children and family, the elderly, the disabled and the needy (the latter group also includes people intended to be (re)integrated into the work process).
Four key areas of action are covered:
- financial aids,
- home support,
- Financing of facilities
- and relevant social assistance programmes.
People in need have a direct, individual statutory entitlement to benefits according to the relevant Codes for Family and Social Measures, for Social Affairs and for Labour (see above). Social assistance benefits are non-contributory, financed by the state, predominantly from tax revenue.
Under the heading minimum income (Minima sociaux), a system of state transfer benefits was introduced for people and households with very low incomes – people in poverty and on low incomes. All people in social problem situations and in dependent relationships, unemployed people and/or have housing problems that cannot be solved by privately/​family means are target groups of the programmes.
Minimum income benefits are: the active solidarity income (revenu de solidarité active – RSA),
the benefit for disabled people without pension entitlement (allocation aux adultes
handicapés – AAH), the basic pension for poor elderly people and their financial independence
(les allocations du minimum vieillesse – ASV and Aspa), the special social solidarity benefit for unemployed jobseekers (allocation de solidarité spécifique – ASS), the benefit for asylum seekers (allocation pour demandeurs d’asile – ADA) plus a further 5 performance categories
(cfl. DREES Minima sociaux, ed. 2020; Löchen chap. 6).
Prominent among the ten benefit categories are employment-related support and incentive benefits for taking up work and consumption.
The minimum income is subsidiary, subordinate or complementary to family support and social security entitlements. The level of total benefits for a person or household remains below the threshold of minimum income from employment.
Minimum income in the year 2018
Expenditures: in total: 27.2 bn €, i.e.: 1.2 % of GDP or 3.7 % of all social benefits;
of which 95 % for the 4 main lines of business: RSA, AAH, ASV/Aspa, ASS;
just for RSA 11.5 bn €; i.e.: 42.3 % of total expenditure.
Recipients of at least one minimum income benefit are 4.2 million people at the end of the year. 2019;
6.9 million people, i.e. a good 10 % of the population, are included in this benefit scheme
(see DREES Minima sociaux, ed. 2020).
As early as 1988, France, much earlier than other Western European countries,
introduced a basic integration allowance (Revenu mininum d'integration, RMI) for those who are, for those dropping out of all income schemes.
In 2009, this was replaced by a so-called basic social benefit, the employment-oriented active solidarity income, by decree (revenu de solidarité active – RSA). (See Décret 2009–404 du 15.4.2009 relatif au revenu de solidarité active).
The RSA reforms (re)integration policy insofar as non-earners and so-called top-up recipients, persons with earned income below the poverty line, are subsidised from tax revenues. The aim is to prevent social exclusion and to encourage the take-up of employment by all persons from 25 years of age until retirement age, since 2011 also for persons under 25 years of age. Access to the labour market is to be facilitated through social and vocational guidance.
The prerequisite for receiving benefits and accompanying counselling from the RSA is the signing of a contract with the employment agency (contrat d’engagement réciproque). Active job search or taking up community service is obligatory (according to Art. L-262-35, CASF). Failure to comply with the contract may result in a reduction/​suspension of benefits. Similar commitment contracts exist for housing and health. This basic benefit, based on the social significance of work/employment, is financed by increasing the capital tax and is subordinate to claims under insurance law.
In 2016, the RSA will be supplemented by an employment allowance for people on low incomes, on a full-time and part-time basis (prime d'activité), inserted into the Social Security Code (Code de la sécurité sociale).
It is intended for people whose income is 40 % below the median standard of living (taking into account child benefit, unemployment benefit, housing allowance and other income). This allowance is designed to provide an incentive to take up employment subject to compulsory insurance and at the same time to increase purchasing power.
RSA and employment bonus
Expenses 2018: 11.5 bn for RSA; this is 42.3 % of the Minima sociaux expenditure.
Benefits: Base benefit RSA from 1.4.2020 €564.78 per month for a person living alone, plus housing supplement, consideration of other household members, child benefit entitlement, etc.
RSA recipients: At the end of 2019, there are 1.92 million households, an increase of 0.6 % compared to the previous year; 12 % of households receive the increased basic benefit; beneficiaries are 3.85 million people, i.e.: 5.8 % of the population.
Social structure of the recipient households: Half are single and childless people; one third are single parents with children
Employment supplement (Prime d’activité):
20 % of households with RSA also receive the employment supplement.
Recipients of the employment bonus at the end of 2019: 4.5 million low-income households in total.
This is an increase of 42.7 % compared to 2018 (2018/17 + 10.9 %), due to the increase in benefit rates by the government in response to the yellow waistcoats protests and the significant increase in claimants.
(See: DREES Minima sociaux, ed. 2020)
In summer 2020, 1.9 million households will receive RSA, 0.6 % more than in the previous year. This relatively small increase is due, on the one hand, to the fairly good economic situation that will last until 2019; on the other hand, to a reassessment of the eligibility criteria and better access to benefits (see DRESS PS ed. 2020, Minima sociaux ed. 2020).
Whether the RSA actually provides better access to the labour market for the low-skilled and is financially attractive for their (re-)integration into the regular labour market, or rather encourages companies to favour low wages, is still the subject of debate among experts.
On the one hand, people in need are legally entitled to benefits; on the other hand, the implementation of social assistance is the obligation of the institutions involved in its organisation and financing. The departments are responsible for the implementation of social assistance and social measures (see chap. 3.4). The payment of benefits is usually carried out by the family pay offices (CAF); the central government reserves the benefit sectors of accommodation/​housing and social reintegration via the département departments of social cohesion (cohésion sociale, DDCS).
Reform efforts have been underway for several years to simplify the social minimum income system, facilitate access, equal treatment and alignment with other social benefits, which have made little progress by 2019 and stalled in 2020 (see Sirugue, Christophe 2016; Peroz 2018, chap.5 and 19).
|Expenditure||Share of GDP||Share of social benefits||Number of actions|
|73 b. €||3,1 %||10 %||4.3 %|
|Financiers pro rata|
|7 %||50 %||11 %||32 % (thereof 26 % health insurance)|
|Total departmental expenditure|
|Gross expenditure||Share of own budget||Direct beneficiaries of measures|
|39.9 bn €||67 %||6.2 % of population|
|Expenditure is divided between the areas of inclusion (30 %), disability (21 %), child welfare (21 %; this is mainly in the context of family welfare) and old-age insurance (19 %); (9 % is accounted for by administrative and organisational services.|
|Social welfare benefits for children and young adults up to 20 years (= 24.1 % of the population)|
|Expenditure||Measures in total||2018/2016||Type of measures|
|8.3 bn.€||355.000 thousand||+3 % annual||Accommodation 54 % Educational support 47 %|
Sources: DREES L’aide et l’action sociales en France, eds. 2019, 2020
TEF ed. 2020 INSEE Références
DREES Minima sociaux et prestations sociales, ed. 2020
3.4 Social welfare – L’Action sociale
The term "action sociale et médico-sociale" (AS i.F.) refers to the sum of all social policy activities for support and promotion undertaken by different actors to ensure a maximum of cohesion and harmony in society (cohésion sociale) by means of legal, monetary and material means of protection for members of all social groups, especially for people in distress and precarious living conditions (Loi 2002 rénovant l’action sociale et médico-sociale; Social and Family Code inserted in 2002 (Code de l’action sociale et des familles – CASF – von 2000, formerly: Code de la famille et de l’aide sociale; Stand: 2.4.2019. Livre I, Chapitre VI, art. L116-1 and L 116–2, and Livre III 3).
The claim of Action sociale (AS) is more than social assistance and social work. It could be described as an ensemble of "social policy programming" (Igl, 2010, 269), complementing social assistance and social insurance, as a civil society complementary programme to services of general interest, comparable to voluntary social services in Germany. The aim is to provide social services and cash benefits by ensuring that, on the one hand, all people and social groups actually get the chance to enjoy adequate and dignified living conditions and to develop the capacity for independent living conditions. On the other hand, social cohesion and social development are to be prospectively promoted by means of comprehensive activities, preventively and collectively, both with regard to the target groups, the social spaces and the cooperating actors.
This relatively new social intervention concept of establishing a "system open to performance" (Igl, 268) in the collective interest relies on innovation, creativity, activation of social and cultural resources (or "capital" according to Pierre Bourdieu) – as an alternative to the narrow framework of action of bureaucratic procedures and administrative regimentation.
The services of the AS are carried out by regional authorities commissioned by the state, especially departments and municipalities, as well as by social service providers (public and independent institutions, associations, foundations, social enterprises at the local level and municipal social service centres) (centres communaux d’action sociale – CCAS) (see chap. 4.3). Insofar as public funding is involved, the actors and groups of actors are dependent on local political goodwill for funding. They are also subject to state supervision and control.
The French concept of social policies – marked by the extensive social unrest in many suburbs (banlieues) of the big cities – is characterised by a comprehensive, politically pointed programme to prevent exclusion and mitigate negative effects that have already occurred, to promote self-determination and the exercise of civic and social rights (citoyenneté) in order to include all members and groups of society in the sense of social cohesion (cohésion sociale) and preventing exclusion (exclusion) (see chap.3.5, Urban policy).
The AS consists of two areas of action:
- direct work with individuals, families and social groups
- Equipment and quality assurance of social services on site.
Since the 1980s, the socio-spatial orientation towards the concrete living conditions of people has been new. People should be supported and activated where they live and work (action de proximité; participation). At the same time, this is linked to the expectation of more effective social measures and the distribution of responsibility among several shoulders (see Chap. 2.3 Decentralisation; chap. 3.5 Urban policy).
The AS does not remain with an abstract, centralist programme.
Its self-image as a "system open to performance" (Igl, 268) is to adapt to the respective socio-economic context and current emergencies: regionally, cooperatively and flexibly.
In this respect, a bundling of social measures at the municipal level (l'action sociale des villes) under the auspices of the départements makes sense: intensified cooperation with social insurances, with all social service providers and (services sociaux) with welfare associations, social service providers, with foundations and associations as well as with social and medical institutions and local actors (see Chap. 4.3). Accordingly, social workers are considered the main actors for implementing the AS in locally working associations, local institutions and communal social centres, in departmental social services and social insurances (local social centres, Centres sociaux) (See Beck/Lapeyronnie; also chap.4.1 and 4.2).
Not least remarkable is the subsuming of medical-social measures under the heading "social measures" in the Social Code (see CASF, esp. Livre III, Action sociale et médico-sociale). Chronic diseases, especially in relation to ageing, technological innovations with a lack of professional cooperation and high costs as well as health economics are cited in the context of justification. Health risks are perceived too selectively and too little in their social context. In contrast, health care must be offered holistically, patient-oriented, territorially with an appropriately differentiated range of outpatient and institutional measures. Political responsibility for a broad public health system is indispensable, providing long-term economic benefits and strengthening the individual's responsibility for a health-conscious life. However, experts complain the convergence of these two systems – which is also geared towards cost efficiency – is difficult in practice (see for example: Löchen 2018; Bizard 2017; the latter has outlined the main features of a new health strategy for the 21st century).
The broad orientation of the AS sets the bar high for concrete socio-political action. In practice, the open character of the AS' purpose is quite ambivalent. In principle, it provides room for the inclusion of newly emerging or worsening emergencies in the medical and health sectors, such as those in need of care, people with disabilities, migrants and refugees.
At the same time, the various service providers are confronted with considerable demands on their socio-political responsibility and their professional competence. Further-reaching new demands for services, including desires, rub up against the respective current political priorities and economic restrictions.
3.5 Social policy focus
In order to understand the concept, structure and approach of French social policy, it is worthwhile to look at the central fields of work. These include family, work and employment, poverty and exclusion, housing, pensions, health, migration: Family, work and employment, poverty and exclusion, housing, pensions, health, migration. Two topics are addressed here examplary: urban policy and family policy.
3.5.1 The example of urban policy – Politique de la Ville
Since the end of the 1970s, pressing urban planning, housing and socio-political issues have focused attention on urban contexts and developments. In particular, social unrest and the rebellion of young people in the large housing estates that were built in the 1960s due to the great housing shortage on the outskirts of the big cities (les banlieues), often for 15,000 - 30,000 people, and usually with little open space, social infrastructure, employment opportunities and poor transport links, touched on the hitherto unquestioned political credo of assimilation. There was talk of ghettos, of spatial, ethnic and social apartheid. Structural deficiencies, maintenance deficits, changing interests in the use of space, processes of displacement on the one hand and a mass of unemployment, poverty and lack of prospects on the other hand, demanded fundamental urban development policy restructuring at the end of the "30 Glorieures", to reduce the explosive power of territorial and socio-economic segregation.
From 1977 onwards, the national concept "Urban Policy" (Politique de la Ville) was developed and came into force in 1981. This concept pursued the goal of integrating building, housing and social life in neighbourhoods in need of renewal (quartiers sensibles) (habitat et vie sociale).
It includes a wide range of urban development interventions, flanked by projects for job creation and employment, crime prevention, security, as well as educational and social initiatives of Action sociale, participatory measures for housing supply and residential environment design, infrastructure improvement and social inclusion.
The methodological approach is described as concerted, global urban and social policy in interministerial cooperation, with contractual agreements involving all actors as well as participation of residents.
The focus was on housing and regulatory interests in the structural and spatial upgrading of these neighbourhoods and making them more attractive for higher income groups.
In 2007, the city contracts (contrats ville) were replaced by urban development contracts on social cohesion (contrats urbains de cohésion sociale). In 2008, a plan for the upgrading of the suburbs (Espoir banlieues) was presented, inspiring the reinvention of the city by means of social concessions such as the autonomy of young adults, the creation of "second chance" training, support for the creation of small businesses, the provision of boarding schools for educational activities.
Spatially related planning concepts and interventions using existing structural and social resources were called for in order to steer small-scale renewal in difficult urban neighbourhoods.
A new concept, "social space orientation", was based on a connection between spatial and social living conditions suggesting close cooperation between urban policy, the housing industry and social measures. It also applied to the residents of these neighbourhoods. They were to be involved in the process of upgrading, activated for their own cause: living, living environment and neighbourhood – individually and collectively.
Whereas the local social centres (Centres sociaux) previously had mainly socio-cultural functions, they now fulfilled the role of being a contact point for the participation of the residents in the transformation of their living space and coordinating the very different interests for neighbourhood concepts (see Löchen, Chap. 7). In centrally organised France, this interdisciplinary, regional and local orientation only became possible in connection with administrative decentralisation (see Chap. 2.3.2).
For traditional social work working at the local level, new thematical and methodological demands arose: focusing on prevention, inclusion and social cohesion, accompanying clients "in partnership" (participation of concerned persons, self-advocacy) as well as cooperation with local administration and politics. A redefinition of the AS's professional self-image was required. Services, initiation and support of residents' and neighbourhood councils, mediation vis-à-vis local politics – these were not only new terms, but synonyms for the need for changed strategies of municipal social work (see Löchen 2018; Peroz 2018).
Over time, up to the present day, different neighbourhood concepts continue to be tried out: renewal of the building fabric, reduction of population density, mix of the social structure (mixité sociale), security increase, creation of jobs, education and training measures.
Outlook and critical view
From a socio-political retrospective, social space orientation and participation are regarded quite critically today: Concepts were created by urban and social planners targeting underprivileged groups – to compensate, to pacify social conflicts among disadvantaged people, without reducing the basic social inequalities. Well-meaning social planning initiatives often got caught between sociological insights and administrative barriers (see La Loi No 2002–276, 27.2.2002 relative à la démocratie de proximité – on the local participation of citizens and associations; see also: Blanc, Maurice/​Neuer-Miebach, Therese).
At the beginning of 2017, still under President Hollande, the law on the equality of all citizens (Egalité et Citoyenneté) created a regulation to involve young people/​adults in civic engagement. In 2017, President Macron commented extensively on the importance and the need for mobilisation within urban politics: poverty and stigmatisation as favourable factors for radicalisation. His focus: safety in everyday life, fighting radicalisation and discrimination, and preventing difficult neighbourhoods from becoming disconnected.
According to the specialist press, the most recent participatory, socially integrative measures appear to be only moderately effective, as often being carried out selectively and incoherently or bounced off against massive conversion and upgrading interests or the resistance of hierarchical local administration.
Urban policy continues to be a programme for upgrading (private sector) local property and land use, favoured by political frameworks (land law, land use planning and decentralisation), flanked by a socio-political concept to limit social collateral damage – social work as a repair business.
3.5.2 The example of family policy – Politiques de la Famille
France is considered a "pioneer country of family policy in Europe and the world" (Bahle, Thomas: Wege zum Dienstleistungsstaat. Deutschland, Frankreich und Großbritannien im Vergleich, Wiesbaden: VS 2007, 143), characterised by extensive financial support as well as an "outstanding service infrastructure for families and children". (Bahle ibid. 144). Bahle attributes this to an early decline in births in France as well as to "strong social Catholic currents and motives" despite secularisation (Laicité) (Bahle ibid.143).
As early as in the 2nd half of the 19th century, there were voluntary payments by employers for their workers, so-called family supplements. In 1891, the first family fund was created, covering benefits for children and family-related wage supplements, financed by employers, administered by employees. In 1932, the Civil Code was amended to include compulsory family-supporting benefits for employers: child allowances for their employees. Penalties became due in case of violation of this regulation. In the following years, an ideologically motivated population policy perspective dominated: the family as a pillar of the moral order (Décrèt-loi de la famille et de la natalité francaise, 29.7.1939).
In 1945, the "family risk" was enshrined in law as the third central branch of social insurance alongside sickness and old age. Family policy as "demographic policy" (Grillmayer 2015, p. 56) was the tenor of the Family and Social Welfare Code (Code de la famille et de l’aide sociale – CFAS; 1956). Many family benefits remained income-independent for a long time – even in the context of the economic upswing. Relief and benefits to increase the birth rate and stabilise the family system existed until the 1970s, when the change in family forms in the context of socio-economic changes and the increase in family hardship demanded new emphases in family policy. Allowances for children, for young workers, for the disabled and for the elderly are added or extended. In 1980, the minimum income for families with three or more children is raised to the level of the minimum wage. Compatibility of family and work, measures for women's equality and labour force participation are promoted.
In the 1990s, particularly groups of people in need came into the focus of welfare: single parents, poor families and single people, and targeted services for children, young people and the elderly. At the same time, family-related activities are being expanded. Measures for balancing family and work (among other things, a preschool assistant – assistante maternelle – can be employed since 1991 to care for children up to 6 years of age at home), for part-time work, for family compensation and support for young people are further achievements up to the 1990s with a rising birth rate and an increase in poor and socially needy families.
The state aims at minimising the inevitable cost increases by streamlining services. For example, the capping of the level of tax relief or the commitment of funds for infants and adoption can be enforced against the family lobby associations. These massively resist that combating poverty and social inequalities in general could be at the expense of family policy. It is also complained that family policy became a hodgepodge of individual services contributing to the threat of the actual mission of family policy. In addition, family policy lacks a clear structure and reliability and is pursued with less political ambition. The rigid, bureaucratic structure and institutionalisation are likewise criticised. Other voices resist the adherence to the ideal of the petty bourgeois family and the propagation of increasing the birth rate.
For reasons of social peace, the governments of the last 20 years have shied away from fundamentally touching the hot potato (or sacred cow) of family benefits, imposing cost and contribution increases to finance the deficit. The strategy is rather to distribute benefits to a broader group of people, to extend benefit increases over time and – tentatively – to allow for regional differences – a completely new experience for family policy, which is used to expansion (See Grillmayer, Dominik 2015 b).
Nevertheless: France still has a very high level of general family support, which is respected worldwide. Critical voices note how family benefits have been shifted in favour of poverty reduction over the last 30 years, so that today family policy rather seems to be a branch of poverty-focused social policy in favour of poor families, single-parent families, non-marital and heterogeneous family constellations.
Financing and organisation of family benefits
Like other social benefits, the state's family benefits are also increasing.
In 2011, the state spent €88 billion on family policy; that is 4.7 % of GDP. 6.7 million families receive family allowances.
(See tabs in chap.1; also: Löchen 101–103).
The share of expenditure for families ranks third in social expenditure. The relatively small overall increase in this central social policy segment can be explained by the fact that the measures for families are used and offset in a diversified manner and transversally to other security systems. There are performance improvements especially for children (see DREES PS 2018 and 2020).
It is the employers who withhold 5.25 % of the gross salary for family allowances. Families do not pay a direct individual contribution to the statutory family insurance scheme, but are involved via the general social security contribution (CSG) and, if applicable, via compulsory supplementary insurances of the respective occupational branches of the family professionals and the occupational mutuelles.
Family benefits offices – Caisses d’Allocations Familiales – CAF
The central steering body for public family benefits is the national family allowance fund (Caisse Nationale d’Allocation Familiales – CNAF). It was established in 1967 to distinguish it from the general health insurance and the old-age insurance.
In coordination with the government, the national family allowance fund, the CNAF, annually defines the family policy concept and strategy for all family funds in the country.
The organisation and distribution of funds at departmental level is carried out by the Family Allowance Funds (CAF), currently 101 in total. They are entrusted by the central government to manage the family-related statutory social benefits in the respective department.
Their tasks include: Payment of Family Allowances, Child Benefit, Infant and Adoption Benefits, Housing Allowances, RSA and Prime d'actitivité and for Allowances to Adults with Disabilities. They decide on the social measures and facilities of the AS:
- individual financial support for families,
- social work: services provided by social workers and counsellors in the social and solidarity economy (Économie sociale et solidaire – ESS),
- the financial social benefits of service providers and institutions.
Furthermore, they locally organise and coordinate the offers and facilities of social service providers, e.g. counselling centres (Maisons de Services au Public), the digitalisation of social services and access to them, especially for disadvantaged families.
The family allowance funds are among the most powerful socio-political institutions in France. In France, the family – taking into account the current diversity of family forms – is still accepted by the majority as a place of ("natural" ?) solidarity and is still considered to be one of the central switching points of national social policy at the beginning of the 2000s.
CAF's voluntary social measures for families account for 5 % of total family expenditure (See Löchen, 102).
In 2016, 30.6 million French people are beneficiaries of the CAF; this is no fewer than 50 % of the total population.
Sociological studies on poverty research have identified unsecured financial living situations of families as a social risk. Against this background support for parenthood has been the focus of family policy in recent years, without diminishing the legal entitlement to family benefits.
While the number of poor families and the spectrum of their neediness increased, more comprehensive legislative initiatives since 2010 - for financial and political reasons – could not be implemented until today, such as the attempt to create a Family Law. Merely individual measures such as alimony payments, divorce without a judge or a national strategy to combat child and youth poverty could be launched during Francois Hollande's government.
Social security in key words
Facts: Increased social need, complex problem situations, the population's entitlement to benefits, preservation of vested rights, cost explosion, increase in the deficit, higher state subsidies and, last but not least, social uncertainty. The pressure for social policy reform is great, but it has not yet been possible to implement fundamental changes.
In addition to the economy (structural change), demography (life expectancy) and the health care system, the high dependence of social security on employment and income, as in many Western European countries, is another problem. Specific to France are comprehensive benefits for families and the variety and confusion of supplementary insurances. The massive political pressure exerted by the business community on the government to reduce employers' contributions to the social wage costs is not communicated officially.
Several reform efforts have been initiated to close the funding gaps of the social system without increasing social contributions or raising government subsidies. The basic problem is complex: balancing the changed socio-economic and demographic conditions and international competitiveness with the identity-forming high welfare level of the insured and the social protection of poor population groups and those living in precarious circumstances (see chap.2.3). Politicians are aware of the need for change on the one hand, but fear for social cohesion on the other.
The benefit ratio in France is still above average within the EU. The political balancing act for the near future lies in convincing citizens of the state's ability to combine the necessary economic growth promotion with precautionary social investments to handle the manifold social risks. Whether or how this will be resolved in the conflict between benefits and financing of social policy in the near future will have to be observec. The current Covid 19 pandemic causes immense economic collapses. The impact of this crisis on the social security system is not foreseeable.
4 Social work: Role – Structure – Professionalism
„Modern society, in view of the problems it causes its members in their lifestyle, is in constant need of work to try to solve these problems". (Wendt, Wolf Rainer ibid. p.1 (own translation)).
4.1 Occupation and employment
The political framework conditions of social work (SW i.F.) in France were characterised by continuity and rupture in the period from about 1940 to 1950 (see Pascal) On the one hand, it was a matter of continuing an intensive family policy – poverty, child protection, juvenile delinquency, strengthening social services in public administration, in rural areas and in large companies; and on the other hand, establishing social insurance and strengthening disciplinary and regulatory measures against "maladjusted" children and young people and institutional integration of SW in state social policy. A new form of state commissioning began to emerge in the 1950s. As a result of the worldwide recession at the end of the 1970s, France also had to deal with considerable social consequences: growing unemployment of low-skilled workers, increasing poverty, precarious living conditions and fears of exclusion, social insecurity that erupted in suburban settlements, at times in the form of violent social unrest, especially among young people.
The local level, the city/community as the living space of those affected, turned into the focus of political responsibility for tackling social problemsIn the context of decentralisation and urban policy, SW became the central profession that had to implement social services on the ground (see section 2.3.2 Decentralisation and chap. 3.5.1 urban policy). It got into the dubious role of being at the same time the "rubbish collector" of the economy, the "fire brigade of the social" (pompier du social; Pascal, 155) and the facilitator of integration. This change of role marked a challenge both for the traditional self-image of SW as the addressee of individual social supplicants and for a politicised, emancipatory-oriented social work "at eye level" with clients.
4.2 Anchoring social work
As a discipline, AS is an area of social policy, defined in the Code of Social Action and Family (Code de l’Action Sociale et des Familles – CASF, 2019, book IV, part I, article L 116–1 and 2; D 142-1-1, Social professions and activities – Professions et activités sociales). It fits systematically into the professions of social intervention (le secteur de l’intervention sociale) and the shaping of the social: social work is considered a "key programme of modern societies for dealing with risks of exclusion". (Erath, 226). It holds a political mandate, is located in the public administration, in a facility, an institution, an association or is freelance, largely financed by public funds. The fields of work have historically expanded and diversified according to the respective social consequences of socio-economic change that need to be dealt with publicly – from person-related to problem- and purpose-related SW (see Bahle; Pascal; also chap. 2.3., 2.4. and 3.5).
|Occupational group/​Profession||Brief description||Introduction first time||Type of degree||Main employers|
|Aiding professions Professions de l‘aide|
|Social worker Assistant de service social||all fields of social work||1932||Diplôme d’État||Municipalities, state, public + private institutions|
|Social and Family counsellor Conseiller en économie sociale familiale||extensive social family counselling||1974||Diplôme d’État||Municipalities, Social insurances|
|Family assistant technicien de l’intervention sociale et familiale||Social activity in family (autonomy, integration)||1967||Diplôme d’État||Municipalities, independent + public institutions|
|Educative professions Professions educatives|
|Social pedagogue Éducateur spécialisé||Pedagogical work with children and youth||1967||Diplôme d’État||Municipalities, soc. + med. facilities|
|Educational assistant Moniteur éducateur||Promotion, training of disabled people||1970||Certificat d’aptitude||Independent + public institutions|
|Sociocultural Mentor Animateur socioculturel||Social and cultural pedagogical mentoring||1979||Diplôme d’État||Municipalities, independent + public institutions|
Remarks: In addition, there is a range of vocational further training offers and additional qualifications, e.g: Social work – social and Solidarity Economy (ESS).
The distinction between SW and social pedagogy, still practised today, is remarkable. Moreover, the social professions distinguish themselves from health and other pedagogical professions.
Social work in France is a professional qualification, not a university degree. Training takes place in practice-oriented so-called training centres (centres de formation), located between higher technical colleges and universities of applied sciences. Accordingly, the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation is not responsible for the subject policy (ministère de l‘enseignement supérieur, de la recherche et de l‘innovation), but – depending on the subject focus – the Ministry of National Education (ministère de l‘éduction nationale) or the Ministry of Solidarity and Health (ministère des solidarités et de la santé). The training is financed by the Regional Council (Conseil régional).
The merging of social and medico-social measures within the SW in 2002 (see chapter 3.4) has apparently not led to the development of joint curricula and study programmes to date.
After three years, the common higher education courses for the above-mentioned professions based on the baccalauréat conclude with a state diploma, which since 2018 has been recognised at the level of the Licence, the first university degree comparable to the Bachelor's degree (see Arrêté relatif au diplôme d’État d’assistant de service social, 22.8.2018). According to the decision of the Ministry of Solidarity and Health, 23.8.2018, this concerns the following training courses
Assistant/e de service social and Éducateur/éducatrice spécialisé/e, techniques spécialisé/e, de jeunes enfants. Below this level, there are certified training courses at technical college level in each case. Furthermore, following the requirements of the social market, a series of further education and additional qualifications (formations supérieures) for professional specialisation has been established in the form of a differentiated modular system, for example for management and executive positions. Some of these degrees recently allow access to university courses or a double diploma.
4.4 New areas of employment – occupational differentiation
Since the 1980s, the AS has been responsible for dealing with new social problems in the banlieues, and new professional specialisations of the AS have emerged.:
- in the field: local social presence to activate residents, for neighbourhood advice, help organisation or professional support (métiers de présence, métiers de proximité, conseillers des missions locales, médiation sociale),
- locally and regionally: in project organisation and coordination, project management (agents de dévelopment, chefs de projet). (see also: Law on direct democracy at the local level, Loi relative à la démocratie de proximité, 27.2.2002-276)
- national: Involvement in migration and asylum policy, especially dealing with residence and asylum problems, with the objective to deal with deportations/​returns in a humane and socially acceptable way.
Between 2000 and 2005, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs had developed a national plan to improve the qualifications of the social professions as a response to changing social and pedagogical problems, but also for reasons of systematisation and clarity; for example, training:
- Counsellors in the social and solidarity economy (conseillers en économie sociale et familiale resp. solidaire), who can work either in the private sphere (family) or in public contexts (institutions, associations).
- Social action consultants (AS) who advise regional and local, district-related institutions, service providers and projects and can also take on overarching executive and steering tasks – management – there (introduction of this diploma in 2009 in accordance with Décret No 2009–1084, 1.9.2009 on the state diploma „ Advisor in family-related social economy “).
Accordingly, since the 2000s there have been new additional or advanced diplomas such as a diploma on social restructuring (Diplôme d’État d’Ingenierie sociale) or an advanced course on social and solidarity economy (Ingenierie sociale et Économie sociale et solidaire).
Another example is the state diploma "educational and social accompaniment", launched in 2016 (Diplôme d’État d’accompagnement éducatif et social) with 4 areas of competence, corresponding to newer professional fields of work (see urban policy, chap.3.5): social measures, accompaniment in everyday life and in the living environment, cooperation with relevant actors, participation in social and public life, with specialisation in accompaniment in family life, in community institutions or accompaniment to inclusive education and everyday life in the last third of the training (see Peroz, 29–39; also: IMF, Institut Méditerranéen de la Formation et de la Recherche en Travail social, www.imf.asso.fr, firstname.lastname@example.org)
4.5 Professional self-conception
During the socio-economic development of the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, social work in France has gone through decisive phases of professionalisation, academisation and Europeanisation. Contrary to other Western European countries, it has been politically active from an early stage as a champion of the political and social rights of its clientele and as a motor for the solution of concrete problems such as securing employment, housing, education or as an advocate for disadvantaged groups in the face of state regulatory policy during the unrest in the banlieues in the 1980s. At the same time, it is equally contentious about its own profession as a socio-political force and takes up fundamental questions of professional profile, professional development or structural questions such as respect for professional secrecy.
As a result, however, it can be said that the political clout of the social work profession has remained limited in the face of central government policy-making and control powers. It is caught between the dependence on political speed and the execution of social and administrative mandates on the one hand, and the civil rights and civil society mandate of its clientele on the other.
In short, the current situation is characterised by high demand and high responsibility versus low decision-making authority, low reputation, low earnings.
It is considered a "key programme of modern societies for dealing with exclusion risks"; while being described as "the unsettled profession" in professional publications. There is talk of an identity crisis in French social work. Causes of this crisis and solution strategies would have to be analysed for proving their social benefits (Erath, Kap. 6.1.1).
4.5.1 Growing challenges for the profession
Since the 1980s, social work has been faced with growing professional challenges; no longer just person and group references, but social space reference (living environment), problem reference (unemployment, poverty, exclusion), social market reference (competition from independent social service providers) and, more recently, technology reference (transformation of social services through digitisation) are required.
Appropriate concepts to deal with these challenges in terms of professional policy and to raise the necessary funds are absolutely necessary. Furthermore, the consequences for the users of the social services of welfare organisations and social enterprises must be taken into account: to what extent can they be included in the process of digitisation to profit from it themselves?
4.5.2 Current social policy issues
Social work is involved in various socio-political issues that require its position and initiative; examples include the following:
- Activation of employability: social investment in education and qualification offers;
- Social cohesion is the programme: risks of exclusion must be dealt with; regulatory and security policy measures are necessary;
- Professional policy developments in social services are on the agenda: staff development;
- Digitisation of social work as a tool for documentation, for understanding the system, for facilitating work, for staff and clients, in compliance with all data protection regulations:
- Evaluation, revision and development in the fields of: Youth welfare, social space orientation, care, disability, unemployment, migration, refugee issues.
4.5.3 Prospects for social work
Social work faces the conflicting demands of problem proliferation, higher qualification requirements and cost explosion on the one hand, and professional and economic pressure in competition with providers, cost limitation and financial viability on the other (see Peroz 239, 248; also Lafore 2017a).
The question of deprofessionalisation arises when the activities of charitable volunteers and volunteer groups are rewarded by the state as civic engagement in the sense of practised social solidarity. To avoid regressing to the Caritas of the 19th century, social professions need to address these trends and sharpen their own qualification profile.
Tendency towards privatisation, awarding of contracts according to the cost principle as well as the economisation and market orientation of social services are the challenges social work needs to face.
Using the path of supposed personalisation (the awarding of vouchers, financial incentives for people in need of care, old and disabled people, individual (further) education measures, childcare, care and household services to shop on the "social market", in the social and solidarity economy or with freelance service providers), state funds are transferred to the private sector. State and local authorities tend to concede the field of local services to the private-commercial social market; the consequences for social work – in the medium and long term – have not yet been decided.
Despite contextual differences in different European countries and developmental progress over time, the socio-political and professional-political position of social work in Europe is still "consistently described as weak" (Erath, 225).
Jean-David Peroz's question to social work is not simply a rhetorical one: » Est-il mort, souffrant ou agonisant ? Devient-il un simple exécutant, un comptable des parcours de vie (forcément) favorables ?» (Peroz XV) Rather, the issue is fundamental: is social work in agony, suffering or dead? Is it simply an executor or accountant of a restrictive state regulatory policy and social control? Is it all about management and enforcement, leaving little room for social creativity?
Finally, it is the basic question of the product and the social benefit of social work (Peroz: 2–4; 29–30;33.; see also: Löchen, 32–38, 39).
However, optimism and hope are still awake on the part of committed protagonists of social work understood in socio-political terms like Cristina de Robertis, asserting their own professional identity and mobilising the activation of affected groups with the support of social worker organisations. Associations would play a central role in this, especially when it comes to collective projects, initiative and creativity are required (see Lafore 2017 b).
The social protection system can still be mobilised, according to Cristina DeRobertis (cf: DeRobertis 2012), a passionate lobbyist for social work.
It is up to the profession itself to prove and assert its systemic relevance. Social work is challenged to participate in shaping socio-economic developments and to define its own role in these processes, for example on migration, poverty alleviation, inclusion, cohesion and in defending civil and social rights for all people. This would require, among other things, a socio-political articulating its subject-specific contribution to dealing with social problems and demonstrating professional standards (see Peroz 29/30, 279–81; also: Institut Méditerranéen du Travail Social Formation et de Recherche en Travail social, www.imf.asso.fr; email@example.com ); also: Institut Régional du Travail Social,
4.6 Associations in the social sector – Associations
As part of centralised social policy, social work is bound by sovereign guidelines and directives if it wants to be recognised and rewarded as such. This includes the type, scope, structure and control of service provision.
A tried and tested political means is the delegation of public social services to professional, free social service providers, subsidised by the state and the department.
Over time, there have been and still are different types of public and private sponsors. The independent welfare sector (organisations/​institutions privées d‘action sociale) is based on an association structure in France (structures privées associatives). It includes voluntary organisations and professionalised welfare associations. Since the 2000s, an increasing number of non-profit social enterprises have entered the social market as providers.
In contrast to public providers, associations are free associations/​non-governmental organisations, non-profit or non-profit or private-commercial social work organisations. Free associations have a long tradition in France in the cultural and social spheres. A law on associations was passed as early as 1901 (loi du 1.7.1901 relative au contrat d’association) as an expression of ensuring associative freedom in the conflict between the liberal declaration of human and civil rights of 1789 and France's centralised republican form of government – for lack of other intermediary instances. The idea here was to ensure the right of all persons to freely organise themselves with several others and to form an association under private law in order to pursue common, non-commercial activities or public interests on a permanent basis. Since then, there have been such organisations in all areas of social life.
After World War II, the number of social associations for the needs of children and youth, for education, culture, sports, health and humanitarian projects increased tremendously. The fields of work became larger and more complex, especially in the living environment of the clients of youth welfare and family support/​relief. The organisational structures have also become more diverse: small, local initiatives stand alongside regionally and supra-regionally branched institutions; national umbrella organisations take on lobbying functions and increase the political clout of the social sector.
The organisational form of the association plays a central role in local social policy in France. The importance of associations for the provision of services of general interest, which is in principle reserved for the state but can be delegated in part, is great for reasons of personnel and financial capacity. But also because the independent associations contribute a different quality compared to the public administration, act more flexibly, less bureaucratically, develop new concepts and can experiment methodically.
Hence the state's efforts to use the services of associations, e.g. in AS and urban policy. This applies in a similar way to social work in the operational sector.
Large voluntary welfare organisations – like in Germany and Austria – are still relatively weakly represented compared to the centrally structured, conservative French social policy (albeit with liberal elements) in partnership with small local organisations/​institutions.
Non-profit associations now provide almost all socio-spatial and family social services; they are responsible for the vast majority of facilities for people with disabilities and for more than half of the social services for disadvantaged people (see Lafore a). Since the early 1950s, these have included most of the municipal social centres. (centres communaux d’action sociale – CCAS). They connect public and private institutions through grants, social welfare counselling, processing and forwarding of applications (see also: Code de l’action sociale et des familles. Also: Loi sur le mécénat du 23.7.1987; Sociétés coopératives d’intérêt collectif (SCIC) Art 36. Loi du 17.7.2001, 2019 portant diverses dispositions d’ordre social, éducatif et culturel). They act on behalf of the state and are largely financed by public funds.
The same applies to the neighbourhood management organisations in the banlieues having emerged in the course of urban policy since the 1980s (see chap. 3.5.1).
The social contribution of private associations to the health and social sectors is financed by membership fees, service fees, loans and predominantly by tax revenue, especially if acting directly on behalf of the state, e.g. in the field of education (éducation spécialisée). The fact that more than 50 % of public subsidies are now used to finance the professional staff of social associations, especially in the fields of disability, care and disadvantage, is a sign of their growing importance for social cohesion and participation at the local level, in neighbourhoods and social interaction.
4.7 Social and solidarity economy – Économie Sociale et Solidaire – ESS
In the 1990s, the "social market" changed (see *details: Jung; dfi 2017; Löchen, chap.1; Peroz, chap, 1 and 8; Observatoire 2017). Since the 1980s, the number of independent social action agencies has increased significantly. Non-profit organisations enter the scene from the 1990s onwards and compete for public subsidies. At the beginning of the 2000s, private commercial social service providers appeared, soon successful and accepted. These non-associative social service providers pose a challenge to the traditional professions of social work, which were case-based and top-down oriented, shaped since the 1968s by the expectations of emancipation and the perception of the individual freedom of choice of their clientele.
Especially by caring of small children, elderly people, people in need of care and disabled people, the non-profit social service providers are facing competition from these non-profit social enterprises (entrepreneurs sociaux).
In addition, there has been a shift in social policy since the 2000s. As a result of the economic downturn, public cost savings in the social sector with rising costs and more complex needs, the central state is de facto initiating a partial withdrawal from social policy responsibility with regulations for the liberalisation/​privatisation of social services. Thus, a considerable share of the "social market" tends to be left to free service providers, without taking into account the potential risks of an economisation of the social sector.
A noteworthy socio-economic business strategy had already developed in France since the 1970s. It was originally based on socialist approaches against exploitation and impoverishment of the working class and increasing inequalities in the increasing capitalism of the 19th century. It pursued alternative economic models in favour of a social and solidarity-based form of economy (entrepreneurs sociaux): at its core, the concept of a "common welfare society" (see: Defalvard, 137. See also the remarks on the movements of a utopian socialism in the 3rd Republic: mutualism, cooperativism and solidarism; Protagonist Léon Bourgeois).
After years of political wrangling, a law regulating the social and solidarity economy was passed in 2014 (Loi No 2014–856 relative à l‘Économie Sociale et Solidaire, 31.7.2014 – ESS, i.F.). It is a compromise between the endeavour to realise an "alternative economic development model" and the political goal of a "special kind of entrepreneurship", through which permanent jobs were to be created for the hard-to-place (see Defalvard 146/147).
The aim is for private companies to commit themselves on combining economic competence and market orientation with social, civil society objectives. These so-called social enterprises develop innovative, practical solutions for sustainable and more humane economic activity.
- economical operation, not purely profit-oriented, profits are primarily reinvested in the companies, a mandatory minimum reserve for securing the company is to be established;
- social and ecological orientation, democratic, participatory corporate governance, integration of primarily poor and long-term unemployed people into the labour market.
Various private, socially oriented forms of enterprise are included: non-profit associations, cooperatives, foundations, mutual societies and relevant commercial companies. The social and solidarity economy is financed by state subsidies, but above all by state-mobilised private capital from banks, insurance companies and large enterprises. It is not an alternative economy to the capitalist economy, but it is a vibrant growth sector, which in 2019 counted 2.3 million employees in private companies (= 14 % of all employees in the private sector), with a slightly increasing tendency in smaller, less lucrative sectors (see Observatoire 2019).
In the context of urban policy (see chap. 3.5.1), for example, companies and institutions are seeking prominently to mediate the reintegration of people living in troubled urban neighbourhoods into the general labour market – a "business" that is not easy from a socio-political point of view caught between clients, cooperation partners, purely economically oriented competing companies and employees.
After all, the Ministry of Labour puts the rate among participants in social work programmes who experienced their own social usefulness at 80 % (see Blanc 2016). The medium-term success for employees is evaluated by their success in actually entering the first job market.
The political debate on the sustainability of this business model is continuing. Scepticism is warranted, on the one hand, about permanent public support and, on the other, about the temptation for companies to tend to replace regular employment with such subsidised jobs. Scepticism is warranted, on the one hand, about permanent public support and, on the other, about the temptation for companies tending to replace regular employment with jobs subsidised in this way. Moreover, distrust towards the government exists insofar as it seems to escape its own responsibility in favour of the liberalisation/​privatisation of social policy services.
In turn, the government hopes for ecological effects and labour market pacification from this economic model. In November 2018, at the time of fierce demonstrations and strikes against his social policy, President Macron presented, among others, issuedcomprehensive programme, the Growth Pact of the Social and Solidarity Economy (Pacte de croissance de l’économie sociale et solidaire), to improve the public perception of the ESS, to maximise the ESS enterprises and to strengthen the cooperation with associations and federations (ESS – Pacte de Croissance de l’Économie Sociale et Solidaire,29.11.2018. Ministère de la transition écologique et solidaire).
Whether this can have a future-oriented social and economic policy effect given the current socio-political priorities in France, Europe and beyond is an open question (see here: Defalvard 2017). Nevertheless, civil society platforms (e.g. Observatoire européen) are optimistic about the role of the social and solidarity economy in showing the way out of the current social upheavals of the Corona crisis and serving as a model for the transition to a different, more humane economic system.
5 France’s social policy in the EU
The efforts to Europeanise social work by overcoming nation-state self-assertion sound good at first, especially under the label of inclusion, avoidance of poverty and social exclusion. In order to accelerate their implementation, a significantly intensified professional cooperation of social workers beyond national borders is required, in particular a joint socio-political and professional-political positioning and sustainable lobbying vis-à-vis other policy areas within the EU structures.
Convergence of social policy?
Social policy in Europe is still consiedered – in terms of subsidiarity – to be a national matter, but subject to conformity with European law, in accordance with EU directive competence and, where appropriate dependent on financial support (e.g. funding programmes with a social policy objective, such as the European Social Fund ESF).
There are considerable differences between EU programmes and their implementation at national level. For example, in migration and refugee issues, national differences of interpretation persist regarding the willingness to jointly practice actual human rights equality and solidarity. Even in protecting the EU's external borders against unwanted immigration, a consensual settlement is not in sight. The overarching strategic goal of Europe's self-assertion vis-à-vis other continents is not on the agenda of all EU member states.
France is a committed advocate of "social Europe" (le modèle social européen); but is often left in minority with this concern versus national priorities and egoisms of other EU states.
The idea of a close bond between nation, state and economy has incited President Macron to promote "European sovereignty": with a common administration, common decision-making structures and finances. His not disinterested idea: France as the "idea generator and initiator of EU integration" (Roth, ibid. 212); the president as the provider of guidelines for European policy as a whole and initiator for individual areas such as migration and refugee policy, here, for example, the suggestion to set up an EU asylum department (see: Macron speeches; also Grillmayer et al. 2018).
French European policy is caught in the "dilemma between deepening European integration and defending the nation's democratic sovereignty" (Roth, 2019, 223). In 2017, Macron had already evoked the association with Jean-Jacques Rousseau's 1762 model of a social contract (contrat social) in his programmatic speech at the Sorbonne University: the basis of all democracy is the general will (la volonté générale) for the public welfare. This was a catchy emphatic appeal to the nation and to the EU, but not yet a European policy implementation strategy.
The current issues of climate protection, migration/​refugee issues – protection of Europe's external borders (the "Fortress Europe" – la forteresse européenne) against poverty immigration (immigration de pauvreté) and global health threats, currently the Corona pandemic, obviously do not per se lead to a slowing down of national and European egoisms and sealing-off efforts. The long-discussed revision of the statutes and the self-image as a "community of values" in the interest of a global strengthening of a social Europe remains an urgent challenge for the future fate of the EU.
6 Prospects – La France en marche – Where to go?
The prospects of the social security system in France are uncertain, exacerbated by the 2020 Covid 19 crisis. „L’État est-il encore Providence?“ (Is the state still a provident state?), Jean-David Peroz asked in 2018 (Peroz, XIV).
In May 2016, Henrik Müller wrote in Manager Magazin that France lives beyond its means in terms of social policy (see Müller). The fragmentation of social care by categories, by risk types and target groups persists. Fundamental improvements in the quality of services cannot be identified. Pension insurance and health insurance, in particular, continue to be major challenges like the protection of families (see Löchen Kap.1; auch: DREES PS ed. 2018, 24–39).
Financing social security is costly; the deficit is growing, albeit at a slower pace in recent years. Although responsibility for services of general interest was transferred to the departments with decentralisation and their implementation to the municipalities, no independent municipal social policy exists. The system is still rudimentary because it depends on the predominant funding by the central state and social insurance. The question arises: Can the strict nation-state reservation for social policy or the president's directive power of disposal be upheld medium-term (see Bahle,144; Peroz , 7/8)?
Social security in the future
Altogether, the French social security system is considered to be complex, complicated to confusing, administratively cost-intensive and unequal, simply in need of reform. France has not yet succeeded in initiating a comprehensive transformation of social protection. President Macron launched several social policy initiatives in 2018, including a draft law on the financing of social protection, a National Reform Programme, the Strategy against Poverty. His call to implement a fundamental pension reform and to merge the social security systems was long overdue, but is apparently a project of the century. Against the background of rising social costs, the vehemence of the current disputes between the government and the population over pension reform is evident. It is not only about preserving vested rights for the individual recipients of benefits, but above all about conflicts of interest between social groups. The French social model is called into question: the "pact between the generations" is used as an incantation of solidarity (see draft pension reform). Frédéric Bizard calls for a new social pact for the next decades that responds to societal changes, „un nouveau socle de principes adapté au nouveau monde“ (Bizard, 13)
Individual measures or structural change?
Since the beginning of his tenure, President Macron undertakes initiatives to modernise national social policy; see his attempts in 2018 and 2019 to engage the French population in joint participatory activities (the president and the people) to reach consensus on pension reform, reforms of labour law, school and university education, vocational education and training, etc.
The firefighting actions as a result of the social unrest in the middle of society, the movement of the so-called yellow waistcoats (gilets jaunes) in autumn 2018, started by the president and his cabinet, are certainly useful approaches to slowing down the increase in the living costs and the lamented loss of purchasing power in a short-term and selective manner and to counteracting social discontent. So far, however, they have neither initiated a fundamental socio-political reform nor been able to put a stop to the growing social movement against precarisation, poverty and exclusion (c. Loi du 27.2.2019, portant Mesures d’Urgence Économiques et Sociales – MUES).
Continuing the multi-annual effort for an overall revision of public policies (Révision Générale des Politiques Publiques – RGPP), President Macron proclaimed a reform of political action (Action publique 2022) in 2017, a reform of the relationship between state and citizens involving all actors to make state action and public services more effective, as well as a permanent reduction in expenditure. He invokes social cohesion and promotes a direct dialogue between the central state and territorial units (les collectivités territoriales), in particular with the regions through conferences, consultations and citizen participation, in order to prevent spatial and social division. New communication procedures were introduced, such as the People's Consultation ("le grand débat") in January 2019, an appeal procedure (la doléance). Not everything needs to be decided in Paris, said the new Prime Minister Jean Castex in July 2020. He reclaims the welfare state of the 21st century (L'État providence). A new social pact (un nouveau pacte social) is called for involving the population, as many social partners, actors and regions as possible. (dazu: Un nouveau contrat social. Centre d’Étude et de Prospectives Stratégiques – CEPS, No 44).
Therfe is a long list of challenges for national polic. The pressure on the benefit system will increase in the face of low economic growth, relatively high unemployment and – more recently – the economic, labour market and health consequences of the Corona pandemic. In September 2020, the President and his new Prime Minister presented a reconstruction plan for France in 2030 (France relance) to overcome the current crisis. France needs to take its destiny into its own hands ("reprendre notre destin en main") to become more independent, competitive and attractive.
„Il est temps que le pays se tourne vers l’avenir“ – Future orientation. Where the march will actually lead will remain to be negotiated within the social balance of power – the end is open.
Note: References to relevant French legal regulations/laws are directly incorporated into the text in brackets.
AA Aide et Action sociale
ANAS Association nationale des Assistant/e/s Sociaux
ASPA Allocation de Solidarité au Personnes Âgées
AS Action Sociale
ASS Assistent/e de Service Social
CAF Caisse d’Allocations Familiales
CASF Code de l’Action Sociale et des Familles
CCAS Centres Communaux d’Action Sociale
CEPS Centre d’Étude et de Prospectives Stratégiques
CMU Couverture Maladie Universelle
CNAF Caisse Nationale d’Allocations Familiales
CNCRESS Conseil National des Chambres Régionales de l’Économie Sociale et Solidaire
CRDS Contribution pour le Remboursement de la Dette Sociale
CSG Contribution Sociale Généralisée
DREES Direction de la Recherche, des Études, de l’Evaluation et des Statistiques
ESF European Social Fund
ESI Europäischer Struktur- und Investitionsfonds
ESS Économie Sociale et Solidaire
GDP Gross Domestic Product
INSEE Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques
MS Minima sociaux
MUES Mesures d’Urgence Économiques et Sociales
NOTRe Nouvelle Organisation Territoriale de la République
PS Protection Sociale
RMI Revenu Minimum d’Intégration
RSA Revenu de Solidarité Active
SW Social work
SCIC Sociétés Coopératives d’Intérêt Collectif
SMIC Salaire Minimum Interprofessionnel Garanti
SMIC Salaire Minimum de Croissance
TS Travail Social
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Prof. Dr. Therese Neuer-Miebach
Dipl.-Sociologist, Dr.rer.pol., State Examination in Romance Studies / Catholic Theology.
Professor at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences (FRA UAS), Department of Social Work and Health (1999-2016), teaching position at the Department of Architecture, Civil Engineering, Geomatics (2006-2015); em. 2016. Main areas of work and research: Urban and regional planning, urban and municipal policy, social policy, ethics, health and disability, migration, internationalisation of studies. Study and research projects in Algeria, Kenya, Morocco, Tanzania, South Africa. DAAD guest lecturer at the University of Marseille 2010/11. Supervision of the university partnership with the University of Marseille and the University of Agadir; exchange seminars "Teacher Mobility".
Before: 1985-1999 full-time professional activity at the Bundesvereinigung Lebenshilfe, Marburg, with European and international partner organisations and bodies. 1997-2008 Advisor to the German Bundestag and the Federal Government on ethical issues in modern medicine and the life sciences (BMG Advisory Council; Enquête Commission; National Ethics Council).
Since 2016, lectureships in the departments of Social Work and Health and Architecture at FRA UAS. Expert activities in accreditation procedures,
Consultant work in Central Asia and Africa.
Relevant empirical research, publications and lectures, nationally and in international cooperation.
Cite this publication
Neuer-Miebach, Therese, 2021. Country Portrait France: Freedom – Equality – Solidarity In: socialnet International [online]. 2021-06-29. Retrieved 2023-02-07 from https://www.socialnet.de/en/international/France
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