The public debate about poverty is structured around the idea thzat the poor are responsible for their situation. This theme runs through the topics discussed when addressing poverty, including issues of financial incentives, accountability and benefit fraud.
The excessive focus on these issues, although they exist, leads to an unbalanced and ineffective approach to policies seeking to address poverty. The theory according to which welfare recipients refuse to seek employment on the grounds that to do so would be financially unattractive has never been empirically demonstrated. Before the unemployed can seek employment, they face a number of significant barriers such as a lack of qualifications and a lack of childcare or transport solutions. As for fraud, it is real but, in France, it only accounts for 2% of Caisses d’Allocations Familiales (CAF – child support benefit) beneficiaries and is overshadowed by the opposite phenomenon of non take-up.
Progressive parties must break with the idea that the poor are primarily responsible for their situation. They must adopt an approach that is both supportive and exacting, that does not negate the need for those involved to strive to overcome their difficulties, but that reasserts first and foremost government and society’s responsibility towards them. The interests of the most disadvantaged in society are often in line with those of society as a whole.
The report proposes concrete solutions through universal policies – such as the creation of a public body focused on early childhood, a school system more conducive to the success of all or improving career security – as well as more targeted measures such as implementing an investment program focused on reinsertion for people in difficulty. This investment program could be developed along three axes: intensive monitoring by qualified sponsors, access to skills training, and providing solutions to child care and transport problems.
Investment must also be directed towards organisations promoting insertion through economic activity, specialising in finding employment for those in difficulty. We must build an « industrial policy of insertion » to accelerate their development. In France, access to public procurement must be encouraged, together with access to capital and subsidized credit, which could be financed through regulated savings accounts. Another proposal is to index the level of the Revenu de Solidarité Active (RSA – a form of social welfare) on wealth produced rather than on prices.
The report takes inspiration from policies implemented in Europe: putting in place an evaluation process to determine the level of resources needed for a decent life (with a view to determining the level of RSA), as was undertaken in Germany, or the introduction of the principle of « no eviction without rehousing » to reduce the levels of homelessness, mirrored on policies implemented in the United Kingdom.
In addition to these fundamental reforms, it is necessary to focus on reshaping the way in which policies against poverty are developed, starting with the involvement of those in poverty in developing the policies that concern them. Finally, a consultation must be launched on reforming social work, including looking at ways of improving training for social workers and ensuring that they remain in tune with developments in public policy.
The report makes a number of proposals, including:
• Launch a social investment program for beneficiaries of the RSA, with three priorities:
- Increased support;
- Access to skills training;
- The removal of physical barriers to returning to work (childcare, transport).
• Develop access to capital for shelter organisations focused on insertion and enable those in serious difficulty to retain access to shelter for over two years, by imposing on such organisations targets focused on the average length of stay rather than an overall ceiling.
• Launch an assessment of the level of income necessary for a decent life.
• Create the conditions for the financial autonomy of young people, through a « training fund » for students and fixed unemployment insurance for those entering the labour market.
• Prevent evictions by establishing a compulsory social insurance against rental risks.
• Invest in the quality of sheltered homes to turn them into attractive places conducive to the initiation of a process of insertion.
• Build a range of services towards preventing homelessness in high-risk situations: release from prison, care, psychiatric hospital, or marital separation.
• Ensure the involvement of people in poverty in the development of policies that affect them at both national and local levels.
• Develop and make visible research into social work.
Report written by the « pôle Affaires sociales » of Terra Nova, Marc-Olivier Padis, on 08/06/2011
Summarised by Sophie Davis
Disponible également en :Français