More than eight million live in poverty in France but anti-poor prejudice still rife

More than eight million people in France are living in poverty. But a survey has found that most French people believe at least one popular prejudice about the poor.

One of the photos from Médecins du monde's exhibition Regardons la précarité en face at Paris's city hall
One of the photos from Médecins du monde's exhibition Regardons la précarité en face at Paris's city hall Médecins du monde / Denis Rouvre

Campaigners in France marked the World Day to Overcome Extreme Poverty on 17 October with a photo exhibition in front of Paris City Hall and an opinion poll on people’s prejudices.

Health NGO Médécins du Monde asked people to “face up to” poverty in a three-day exhibition of portraits of homeless and poor people who have come to it for help.

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It also published its annual report on access to health care among the underprivileged.

A total of 29,960 people went to the group’s centres in France in 2013, it reveals, and 97 per cent of them were living beneath the poverty line of 984 euros a month.

More than a third were living in squats, shacks or on the streets and 80 per cent of households were undernourished.

The doctors’ group found that 20 per cent of the centres’ visitors had given up trying to obtain health care during the course of the year and that most of those in extreme poverty were foreign nationals.

The official statistics institute, Insee, has found that:

  • 14 per cent of the population, 8.5 million people, live in poverty;
  • More than jalf of them live on less than 748 euros a month;
  • 20 per cent of single-parent families live in poverty;
  • France’s poverty levels have slightly reduced since 2011.

Virtually everyone in France subscribes to one or more popular misconception about the poor, according to an opinion poll commissioned by another campaign group, ATD Quart Monde, to mark the day.

Seven out of 10 believed that it is easy to receive benefits, the survey found, while ATD Quart Monde points out that officials demand up to 100 documents for an application and 68 per cent of those eligible for the RSA basic unemployment benefit do not receive it.

Sixty-three per cent believed that benefit payments discourage people from seeking work and 71 per cent believed that the poor pay no taxes, the survey found, although the group points out they pay VAT and other indirect taxes.

ATD Quart Monde was cheered to find that acquainting people with the facts did change their minds, however.

About a third of those questioned revised their opinions on hearing the counterarguments, they found.

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