French society

French government advisors warn of Covid-linked 'poverty time bomb'

Fiona Lazaar head of the CNLE and MP for LREM
Fiona Lazaar head of the CNLE and MP for LREM © Fiona Lazaar

The authors of a new report on poverty predict wide-ranging problems and note a significant increase in the number of people on welfare payments since the start of the Covid crisis.

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The Covid crisis has meant a loss of income for thousands of people, says the CNLE (France’s national council on policies to combat poverty and social exclusion) but it has also led to a huge increase in loneliness, psychological problems and educational difficulties.

The authors of the report, commissioned by Prime Minister Jean Castex and delivered to him on Wednesday, warn of a “time bomb”, describing how the pandemic has made life even harder for people who were already in difficulty, and plunged many more into poverty for the first time.

Poverty in France

In 2019, 9.1 million people in France were classified as poor because they had an income of less than 1,070 E after tax per month. There were fewer poor people in 2019 than in the previous year but the figures for 2020 are likely to be much higher.

The number of people receiving the basic income allowance has increased by 4.8 per cent in one year to over 2 million, unemployment has also gone up by 6.3 per cent over the year and Charity workers say there has been a massive rise in demands for help, especially requests for food aid.

Covid accelerates poverty

Fiona Lazaar, a former member of Emmanuel Macron’s LREM party who is now president of the CNLE, said the Covid crisis had not just exposed but also accelerated poverty.

She pointed out that those who were already poor had had little opportunity to improve their lives amid high unemployment, while retail workers, artisans and self-employed people had been badly hit by the crisis and were now among those showing up at social security offices for the first time.

The numerous different types of government-funded welfare payments, including the furlough schemes, ensured that people had a basic income she noted but she felt that more should be done for the under 25s.

The CNLE proposes to measure the continuing effects of the Covid crisis among the most vulnerable populations in the coming years, producing regular reports on its findings.

Researchers, aid workers, local authorities, parliamentarians as well as people experiencing poverty were among those who helped compile the report.

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