Looking at the French decentralisation of social welfare

This major congress which took place in Angers, France, on 26-27 March celebrated and reflected on 30 years of decentralisation of social welfare in France. With participants from central and local government, universities, institutes and associations, it explored three questions:

  • How to prevent the deterioration of the social fabric?
  • How to empower citizens in vulnerable situations to take control of their lives?
  • How to promote social welfare in all its diversity?

ESN’s Chief Executive John Halloran spoke on the future of social services in Europe in light of the crisis. You can read his remarks in English and French. He warned: “There is of course a danger in reform initiated in a financial crisis which might further disadvantage and stigmatise those on the margins, but I know from your debate and from other countries that the thinking goes much wider and deeper than a 10% reduction here and 20% reduction there!”

John was struck by a presentation by ODAS on rising welfare spending by the Conseils Généraux:

  • Social welfare spending by the Départements was 11.8 billion in 2001; in 2011, it had risen to 23.7 billion (this is largely because the Départements became responsible for new benefits relating to employment, disability and old age.
  • The number of recipients of the basic welfare benefit (RMI-RSA) has risen from 2.6 million in 1990 to 3.1 million in 2010, a rise of 20%.
  • The number of children in contact with child protection services (ASE) has risen by 6.4% from 1992 to 2009.
  • Housing spending rose from 6 billion in 2001 to 10.9 billion Euros in 2011.

This was contrasted with shrinking revenue, notably in the level of central government coverage of certain benefits. Senior managers of social services at the congress were challenged by these statistics, which underlined the urgency of reshaping welfare to be based on the empowerment of vulnerable people.

John closed his remarks: “Your debate rejoins that of colleagues across Europe as to how we might reconfigure the social contract [and] provides an important contribution … as we seek to ensure that social values are not lost but rather re-energised for the next decade.” 

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