Country Case Studies and Links
by Jamie Wingert
FRENCH WELFARE STATE
Three different traditions, Monarchy, Revolution, and Catholicism have shaped France. In the 1850's the church and the post-revolutionary government shared similar sentiments in the sense that the two institutions reinforced each other in an attempt to increase and strengthen the family. Napoleon III was the first to create the foundations for a family welfare system. In this time artisans and craftsman began to organize, forming associations and societies that allowed their members to take up funds for insurance purposes. France went through a period of conservative, paternalistic reforms because of its concern for population and the family.
The Popular Front in the 1930's was France's first left wing government. It expanded the public services to the poor. After WWII, the conservatives dominated France for thirty years and boosted both the state's central role and political pluralism. The state would set general guidelines to be implemented by the associations and local authorities.
France's Current Programs:
- Health Care
Frances modern Social Security system developed in 1945-6 and slowly became the European Union's most complicated. Overall, the idea was for everyone to be covered by social insurance schemes or public assistance. Such funds included contributions for health care. Individuals insured under these schemes had their medical expenses (including those for pregnancies) and medicines paid for. The system was created in the post-war periods, when doctors wanted to remain independent so that patients had the freedom to be treated by a physician of their choice. As a result, doctors are paid directly and patients are subsequently reimbursed by the insurance. In the early 1980's a problem arose with too many elderly low-income people using the medical care.
- The Pension System
The pension regime in France conforms to the pay-as- you-go system where the employer and employee both contribute to a retirement fund. As demographics change and the number of retirees increases relative to the number of people working and contributing, the system has encountered increasing difficulties. This was made worse when people were encouraged to retire at sixty.
- Family Insurance System
In France, family allowances are universal and funded by the employer. Families will receive this money until the child is 16 (unless he or she continues his/her education), regardless of family income. Children with special needs are also fully provided for.
- The Housing System
Housing was also part of the family assistance programs. In the post war period the government built social housing, and would also provide housing subsidies for families in need. In the 1980's mortgage subsidies were introduced, which were intended encouraged home ownership.
- The Education System
The education system in France, while not part of the social security system, is nevertheless related to family policy. The French government committed substantial resources to education with the goal to improve educational attainment.
- The Unemployment Insurance
Unemployment was originally not part of France's social security system, but is covered now by a variety of separate insurance schemes. Those who are entitled to unemployment insurance receive 35% of their previous income. As the French system is primarily based on insurance principle, non-contributory means tested programs had to be created for uninsured citizens. For the long-term unemployed, elderly, and disabled people, state funded social assistance was developed. The expensive social security system combined with high levels of unemployment pushed up labor cost, which has made French goods less competitive. France has yet to address this problem comprehensively.
In summary, France is unique in the sense that its welfare state has been labeled "statist in style" because the welfare policy is formulated by the state; "corporatist in form" because associations implement welfare programs; and "pluralistic in practice" because of the diversity and loose central organization of associations.
Linda Hantrais. France: "Squaring the Welfare Triangle." In Vic George and Peter Taylor-Gooby (eds.). European Welfare Policy. Pg.51-70.
See also: MISSOC Country Tables