France's BanlieuesMany imagine Paris (and, by association, France itself) as a paragon of bourgeois lavishness, with its beautiful architecture, upscale restaurants and chic socialites. But marginalized beneath such stereotypes is “The Other France” — the low-income housing projects on the outskirts of Paris. These suburbs, or “banlieues,” are home to France’s most underprivileged population, which is overwhelmingly Black, Arab and working class.

Take the poorest of France’s banlieues, Grigny. It is only 21.8 km (13.5 miles) south of Paris’s center. As of November 2020, Grigny’s poverty rate was 45%, compared to the nationwide average of 14.6%. Nearly 10% of Grigny’s population lived below the income threshold that triggers state support.

Historical Context of France’s Banlieues

The economic stagnation in France’s banlieues reflects the dual historical legacy of working-class gentrification and colonial ventures. In the 19th century, Napoleon III appointed Georges-Eugene Haussmann to initiate a series of public works projects. The goal was to modernize Paris — then a den of unsightly buildings, overpopulation and disease — by widening the avenues, building parks, replacing the sewers, and more.

Haussmann’s renovations gentrified the city center and displaced the poor urban proletariat to the city periphery, which naturally became a hotbed for Communist, socialist and anarchist political agitation. These radical movements influenced the 1871 Paris Commune, made the banlieues à ceinture rouge (“red belt”) for the French Communist Party in the 1920s and affect banlieue politics to this day.

Another historical influence on the banlieues was France’s colonial rule over Algeria from 1830–1962. The turmoil of the Franco-Algerian War (1954–62) for Algeria’s independence forced many Algerian Arabs to flee to France. Without much financial or social capital, they were relegated to the already-existing poor districts of Paris’s periphery. By the 1980s, around 25% of Paris’s population was Algerian. That figure is roughly how it stands today, too.

After decolonization in the 1950s, a large number of working-class black immigrants from the former French colonies of Western and Northern Africa (mainly Mali, Senegal and Mauritania) arrived to fulfill France’s need for cheap labor.

Thus, the histories of class conflict, colonization and ethnic migration have all shaped the modern demographics and political culture of France’s banlieues.

How Mayor Philippe Rio and Other Local Leaders Are Addressing Banlieue Poverty

In 2021, London-based thinktank The City Mayors Foundation declared Philippe Rio, the French Communist Party mayor of Grigny since 2014, to be “the best mayor in the world” for his progressive social policies, especially during the COVID crisis. Among them included the issuing of 38,000 emergency food vouchers and daily check-up calls to the town’s 2,000 retired elderly people. Rio has always been adamant about addressing the structural causes of the Parisian banlieues’ poverty: lack of educational resources, lack of affordable housing and job discrimination.

“In the ‘land of human rights,’ the fifth largest economy in the world, we must denounce, understand and challenge these phenomena of spatial and social segregation that undermine people’s right to the city,” said the Communist mayor in a statement to the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In 2021, many local leaders, especially in working-class districts, believed that President Macron’s government was not doing enough for France’s banlieues. So Rio, along with 180 other mayors, signed a petition called Appel de Grigny (“Call of Grigny”) to urge Macron’s government to invest more in the banlieues and include them more thoroughly in the COVID recovery plan, as it had diverted only 1% of its €1 billion budget toward impoverished suburbs. Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist Party mayor of Paris since 2014, endorsed the petition. In the end, they successfully convinced the government to divert another €2 billion towards “urban renewal.”

Within the community, Rio’s administration is working to make Grigny’s housing more affordable. 17,000 of Grigny’s 38,000 inhabitants live in a housing trust called Grigny 2. Due to the severity of their poverty, many cannot afford to pay their bills. This once led to a crisis of “over-indebtedness” that forced landlords to shut off residents’ heating, hot water and natural gas. In response to this, Rio began an initiative for a “100% publicly owned” housing complex powered by geothermal energy. In his interview with Jacobin, he claimed that the project cut bills by 25% and saved 15,000 tons of CO2 emissions in a single year.

Grigny has partnered with nine public bodies — including the regional health agency and Ministry of Education — in a joint “task force against poverty.” Their policies include the free distribution of nutritious breakfasts to children in schools as well as a vocational training center that teaches adults French and job skills. To solidify the right of all residents to have affordable housing, Grigny has created a unit to inspect apartments and take action against predatory landlords who provide “substandard accommodation.”

What’s Next

Philippe Rio is a talented local leader continuing France’s long tradition of “municipal communism” in working-class towns and setting a positive example for other banlieue mayors. This generation of municipal leaders is providing a check against the French State, making sure that it gives necessary attention to France’s banlieues. They recognize that realizing ‘liberté, égalité and fraternité’ requires addressing the historical legacy of a time when these, quite clearly, did not exist for all.

– Eric Huang
Photo: Unsplash

Poverty in France
After a two-week campaign against Marine Le Pen, the French people re-elected Emmanuel Macron as their president on April 24, 2022, for another five-year mandate. The man who many often call the “president of the rich” has to deal with a country that is experiencing more and more inequalities today. After a first mandate in which Macron had to deal with the yellow vests or “Gilets Jaunes” movements requesting economic and social justice, France experienced the COVID-19 pandemic and the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Poverty in France has become central to its people, whose main concern is their purchasing power amidst rising inflation. In fact, France’s inflation rate was 4.5% in March 2022.

Poverty in France

Although many know France for how it funds education, health care services and retirement pensions, the pandemic has had an impact on the French people. COVID hit parttime workers and workers in the informal economy especially hard. Additionally, many students were ineligible for state support during the pandemic, and many migrants and clandestine workers were only able to obtain support from NGOs.

The Fight Against Poverty in France Over the Last Five Years

In order to answer the needs and requests of the French people, the French government took different measures to adapt to each crisis the country was going through. Back in 2018, Macron first began with a $9.3 billion plan to fight the poverty in which nine million people in France are living.

Macron’s philosophy has always been to allow people to get out of poverty through work. Hence, Macron’s government decreased income tax and distributed a €100 bonus to low-income workers. The government adopted the “no matter the cost policy” to support businesses that the pandemic affected, thus protecting as many jobs as possible starting with the medical professionals who benefited from a €9 billion salary increase.

What About the Next Five Years?

Despite the fact that the populist class voted for Marine Le Pen, Macron has plans to continue his fight against poverty in France. The first measure Macron promised upon re-election was to provide “food cheques” to the people who cannot afford high-quality, local food.

With the ongoing war in Ukraine and the rise in prices of gas, Macron authorized subsidies for energy bills. However, the main measure of his program is to provide work and employment for people so they can get out of poverty. For that to happen, Macron is encouraging employers to recruit employees by adopting “pro-businesses reforms.”

After efforts to alleviate poverty over the last five years, the country is more in need of more reforms to fight poverty. The recently re-elected president has already started to implement some reforms and has work to do to please the important part of France’s population that is against his policies and is seeing its purchasing power diminish every day.

– Youssef Yazbek
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in France
France, the world’s seventh-largest economy, gained national media attention as the “Yellow Vest” protest hit its 10th consecutive weekend. The protesters — originally citizens of the country’s rural areas — came to Paris to protest higher taxes on fuel. Now, three months into the protest, the movement has changed its message to target many economic problems that those living in poverty in France struggle with.

Poverty in France

This unrest has pressured French President Emmanuel Macron to do more to help the nation’s poor. He has now announced an anti-poverty plan worth 8 billion euros ($9.3 billion) aimed at appeasing the protestors and increasing the fight against poverty in France. He hopes it will get people into work and help the young. Specifically, this plan includes increasing: schooling until the age of 18, nurseries to get mothers into work, emergency accommodation with a priority for women and children, and breakfast for students in the poorest areas.

Additionally, the package includes wage increases and tax relief for low earners and retirees. Macron also launched a “national debate” to talk to the public about their economic situation. This period is to last two months, and end with a “new contract for the nation.”

Steps to Improvement

Poverty in France affects 9 million of the country’s 67 million people with a third of them being children. Macron has stated that the previous welfare system “does not do enough to prevent people from falling into poverty, does not do enough to eradicate poverty.” He has expressed frustration at previous plans, saying they “plow a wad of cash” into benefits, but produce very few results. Macron also plans to make these earlier systems more simple, as one in three people eligible for core benefits do not apply.

People know these low application rates well, in addition to the very real struggles of applying. A story on Expatica, a website that helps immigrants in Europe settle into their new countries, has a very telling story on a citizen’s attempt to apply for aid. The author describes the process of applying for three state programs providing assistance. Describing the welfare system as “tricky,” they share that one of their claims had boomeranged back to them four times and that this experience is something everyone applying should expect.

Complex Issues, Concrete Solutions

According to the author, the administration is well aware of the complexity of the process, which is exactly why it requests documents multiple times. This repetitive behavior requires applicants to deal with huge stacks of paperwork and multiple trips to state offices. Stories such as these may explain the low application numbers and also act as some of the issues Macron hopes to address in his new programs.

Although many of the protesters expressed concern over Macron’s national debate, it is extremely clear many people in the country need help, and many of the programs need reforming. With the debates and planning still in the works, it can be hard to tell exactly what is going to occur. However, the people are talking, and it appears the government is listening. The fight against French poverty is clearly still ongoing, but progress is steadily happening.

– Zachary Sparks
Photo: Flickr

France may be known as a fabulous tourist destination that attracts around 89 million tourists per year, but many people who vacation there turn a blind eye to the 14.1 percent of the population (nearly 9 million people) that live below the poverty line. Here are the top 10 facts about poverty in France:

10 Facts About Poverty in France

  1. The definition of poverty in France follows that of the European Union. The poverty line in Europe is “60 percent of the populations median income” and is based on living conditions and employment levels. This means that more than 8 million people in France live on less than 954 euros a month.
  2. There is a considerable gap between the rich and the poor in France. The bottom 20 percent of the population earn almost five times less than the top 20 percent. This inequality is more obvious in the French city of Paris. Even though the overall poverty rate in the city of Paris is 14 percent, which is close to the national average, when you look at the underprivileged neighborhoods, the rate jumps to nearly 40 percent.
  3. In 2004, the poverty rate in France was at its lowest at 12.6 percent. However, that number has gone up. In 2015, 14.2 percent of the French population was living below the poverty line.
  4. France’s most vulnerable groups are among the most impoverished. According to a report published by the charity Secours Catholique, single women, children and foreigners are at the greatest risk of being impoverished. In 2016, Secours Catholique passed a comprehensive nine-year National Plan to address the issue of poverty in France with a focus on the higher risk population.
  5. There are several misconceptions about poverty in France. Seven out of 10 people in France believe it is easy to receive welfare. In actuality, of those who apply for unemployment, around 68 percent of those eligible for benefits will not receive them. Furthermore, up to 100 documents can be required in the application process.
  6. France is known to work to protect the rights of its citizens. It puts aside over one-third of its GDP to providing welfare protection. This is more than any other country in Europe.
  7. A new French law will require retailers to donate their unsold clothes to charity. Last February, a photo posted to Facebook showing a French clothing store destroying many unsold clothing items. This caused a great backlash from the public with many people commenting on how wasteful this was and that these clothes could benefit those in France who cannot afford to clothe themselves or their families. A French organization, Emmaus, which focuses on ending homelessness and poverty, worked with French officials to find a solution. French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, has introduced a law to take effect in 2019 that would ban retailers from throwing away unsold clothing and require the retailers to donate them to charity instead.
  8. France is home to many poverty-fighting organizations. The Restos du Coeur is one of the largest French organizations that helps with poverty alleviation. Their volunteers distribute thousands of hot meals every day. In fact, in 2015, 128.5 million meals were given out throughout France. Another organization, SOS Children’s Villages, is an international organization that has been very active in France. Parents who cannot take care of their children can seek the help of SOS Children’s Villages to offer support systems within the community to help provide a stable environment for the children in an effort to keep families together.  There are two SOS Social Centres in France, one in the north of France and one near Paris.
  9. French supermarkets must give away their unsold, expired food. Food waste is a global problem. After a unanimous vote by French Members of Parliament in 2015, supermarkets must now give away unsold food that has reached its sell-by date and are banned from destroying older food products. These unsold food products go to associations that collect and distribute the food to those in need. About 5,000 charities receive the unsold food throughout France. This law helps save up to 66 pounds of food per person every year.
  10. The 2018 World Cup brought hope to impoverished, immigrant, suburban French youth. Nineteen-year-old Kylian Mbappe is one of the newest stars on the French Soccer Team. Mbappe, and many other French teammates, are from mainly non-white suburbs that surround major cities in France. Mbappe is from Bondy, which is less than ten miles away from Paris, yet seems almost like a different world. The mayor of Bondy says that Mbappe’s success is “marvelous because so often people talk about suburbs in negative terms.” Other French soccer players are from suburban areas as well, like midfielder Paul Pogba, from the Lagny-Sur-Marne in the eastern suburbs of Paris.

These 10 facts about poverty in France shed light on the growing poverty problem in a place that seems as perfect as a postcard. Even first-world countries, including France, The United States, and Japan, can have poverty issues that the media does not focus on. However, with the work of the governments, charity organizations and the community, there is hope to alleviate poverty.

– Ariane Komyati

Photo: Flickr

poverty in FrancePoverty in France is rising once again, creating a larger financial gap between citizens. The poverty rate in France is around 14 percent, totaling 8.7 million people, according to a COMPAS study in 2012. Border towns are seeing percentages closer to 49 percent, while wealthier cities have rates as low as 7 percent.

In 2012, some metropolitan areas saw higher rates of poverty. The inequality gaps were most obvious in Paris, Hauts-de-Seine and Haute-Savoie. Single parents, large families and young family households had the highest rates of poverty in France.

This escalation of poverty in France is concerning in regards to the percentage of children that are living under the poverty line. 8.8 percent of children are living in a household that makes less than 50 percent of the national median income. This is an increase to three million children in France living under the poverty line.

Education, health and social and professional integration are areas of concern regarding children in France. Migrant children are deprived of most of these basic rights, living in slums and experiencing more severe discrimination and no ability to gain French aid. Children in these impoverished households in France lack a way out of poverty, leaving it up to the state to provide aid.

In 1989, France adopted the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) resolution which drew a link between extreme poverty and human rights. Through this council, principles were adopted to reduce and eradicate extreme poverty by looking at how to respect, protect and realize the human rights of people living in extreme poverty.

While the HRC exists, many of the French aid programs do not specifically target poverty and the need to reduce domestic poverty. France participates in foreign aid policies and programs, such as the Development Assistance Committee of OECD, but domestic aid by the state is left mainly to the Human Rights Council and a few other organizations.

The organizations that are combating poverty in France are mainly grassroots foundations. One foundation is the Action Contre La Faim, or Action Against Hunger, founded in 1979 by French intellectuals to eradicate hunger worldwide after seeing the issues caused by the emergency in Afghanistan. Another French charity, Antenna Technologies, works locally and internationally to simplify technologies to make them more accessible to the most underprivileged populations, while also fighting malnutrition and supplying access to drinking water.

People within France are taking action through organizations to fight poverty. Through these efforts, malnourishment, water scarcity, sanitation and education are being addressed and progress is being made. Their continued work can help improve the lives of those most in need in France.

– Bronti DeRoche

Photo: Flickr

A new report by UNICEF France has revealed that over three million children in France live in poverty. In a span of four years, the number of children living under the poverty line increased by 440,000. Also touched on, was the high level of discrimination and human rights violation of poor migrant children. The report also addressed France’s failure to implement a strategy for children, and suggested 36 policy adjustments.

We often think of France as a sturdy, developed world power, but the widening gap between the rich and the poor, lack of policies aimed at children and widespread discrimination against migrants, show that developing countries aren’t the only places for progress to be made. In fact, many European countries face higher rates of child poverty and an estimated 1 in 3 children lives in poverty in both the United Kingdom and Spain.

These findings seem astonishing, especially for a country with the financial status and power as France, but it goes to show how important policies are. Without the proper policies in place, countries will not make progress. This new report and the investigation as a whole will provide a prime example for governments all over the world. Policy is what gives a country the power to grow. For example, we have seen poverty reduction programs go into developing countries with the good intentions of providing or creating capital only to see it stop there because of a lack of regulation or policies in place to continue growth, and to protect that growth.

The lack of policy aimed at French youth is alarming from any standpoint. The high rate of poverty among children suggests a lack of investment in youth, which will hurt France in the long term. With 3 million impoverished children, the outlook on the future working generation is not good. The rates of homelessness and school dropouts should be a serious wake up call for the French government. As more and more children fall below the poverty line, fewer children are enrolled in school, which translates directly to less economic and political participation in the future. The decreased participation will make for a less productive nation and France, as a whole will face a number of resulting problems needing urgent attention.

France has a reputation for discrimination against migrants and foreigners and this report as a part of a broader investigation and the changes the French government makes as a result should hopefully loosen some of those longstanding divisions. In order to succeed and grow as a nation, France desperately needs to become more progressive. There needs to be less marginalization and more positive policy aimed at children and at migrants to encourage them to succeed, which will in turn help France as a whole to grow.

– Emma Dowd

Sources: Eurostat, France 24, Newsweek, World Bulletin
Photo: FarsNews