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France tops social welfare spending list, US comes in second

France spends more on social welfare than any developed country, but many Yellow Vest protesters believe the system is not working for them.
France spends more on social welfare than any developed country, but many Yellow Vest protesters believe the system is not working for them. AFP/Abdul Abeissa

France spent a larger share of its national income on pensions, healthcare, unemployment benefits and other social programmes than any other wealthy country last year, according to figures published Wednesday. With private funding added to the mix, the United States was found to be the second-highest spender on welfare.

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France spent 31.2 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on social programmes in 2018, according to figures published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

That puts France well above the 20 percent average the OECD recorded among its 36 member countries.

Belgium ranked second with 28.9 percent of GDP and Finland third at 28.7 percent, while at the far end of the spectrum, Mexico spent only 7.5 percent.

France did not top the list in all categories.

While it was first on health spending (8.8 percent, ahead of the US and Germany), France was third when it comes to spending on pensions (13.9 percent, behind Greece and Italy) and seventh for unemployment, family benefits and other assistance for people of working age.

France is also the only country among the top 10 in the list to have reduced social spending between 2017 and 2018.

When taking private and public funding together, France still tops the spending list at 31.7 percent, with the United States coming in second at 30 percent of national income spent on social welfare programmes.

The US only spent 19 percent when looking at public spending alone.

The OECD measures suggest France’s spending makes for one of the most egalitarian societies on the planet, though they also show poverty and inequality would be among the highest in the world without welfare transfers.

Nonetheless, the Yellow Vest protests of recent months have shown that many people, especially those living in rural areas and small towns, do not feel the French system is working in their favour.

The unrest has been driven by anger over taxes and living costs and the perception that President Emmanuel Macron and his administration are out of touch with their everyday realities.

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