If Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to condition South Africa’s activities on 15 to 20 hours a week has angered trade unions, the measure seems popular with the French. According to an Ifop poll for Le JDD, 80% of the population would support the proposal, including 45% “totally in favor”. Another survey, another river assessment, because, according to the CSA Institute, in a study for CNews on March 17 and 18, to the question: “In your opinion, should the RSA be reserved only for people who will devote fifteen hours a week to the activities of the French society ? “, 68% of the French answered “yes”.
The vast majority is asking the question: will our country be against aid to the most disadvantaged? Denis Colombi, a research educator and sociologist who specializes in the representation of the money of the poor, notes “the general tendency to interpret poverty as an individual rather than a collective problem.” This trend weakens during bad economic times, when volatility spreads to more people, and intensifies during periods of rising and falling unemployment like the one we are currently experiencing.
“The conclusion of March-April-May 2020 was marked by a very collective and much more conciliatory vision of poverty and economic problems,” the expert recalls. According to an Elabe poll for Unédic, in September 2021, 43% of French people felt that job seekers were responsible for their situation. Seven points more than in September 2020.
The Frenchman is a difficult creature to understand, not afraid of paradoxes. Having lived in the country for five years, Nikolaos Georgantzis, research professor of behavioral economics at the University of Burgundy Business School, has studied our people, who do not skimp on controversy, and notes: “For a capitalist country, France has one of the best aid and redistribution systems in the world, and provides public support, quite unimaginable in most other countries. »
Social security, “At all costs”, partial unemployment and many other measures are specifically mentioned by the professor. “This solidarity does not disgust the French at all, it is one of their prides. But because of this attachment, the population is very demanding about these benefits and these redistributions, wanting them to be used wisely.” In the land of romanticism, public assistance is like the beginning of a love affair: we are very attached to it, but we are always a little afraid of being hurt by history.
Pay less, want more
These wonderful feelings should not hide another, less stupid reality: the French do not like to pay and would like oil without giving money. “Because it is tied to its system of social redistribution, the French hate taxes and would like to pay less,” says Nikolaos Georgantzis. There is also a paradox here: wanting less taxes, wanting more help and public support.”
The political landscape is almost monopolized by discourse against social goods. In 2011, more than a decade earlier, Laurent Vauquies (Les Républicains), for example, called “assistance” a “cancer of society.” The constant discourse that has been growing since the 1980s and the emergence in France of the idea “that in order to fight poverty we must tighten the conditions of instability”, Denis Colomby regrets. Which reminds of the absence of counter-discourse. “How many measures are proposed to increase social assistance or increase public spending? Infinitely few. The prevailing discourse is clearly about restrictions and cuts in social benefits. »
Discourse ubiquitous, nuances nowhere
As evidence that ideas are strongly intertwined, the sociologist recalls that this discourse does not only affect the ruling classes. Even among a precarious population, this thought resonates. “There is such a nice idea of a form of distinction when a person knows for sure that he is poor, but believes that he is at least better and deserves more than another,” Denis Colombi supports. The same analysis of the ubiquitous speech of Nikolaos Georgantsis: “We live in a capitalist country, where work is considered necessarily worthy and deserved, and the lack of work, and therefore production, is a disadvantage. »
But be careful not to judge these polls too quickly, reminds Denis Colomby. The measure around RSA versus activity is still extremely vague and leaves the respondents to their imagination. “During weekday hours, we can also present training, re-education, internships, etc. Which would give a completely different reading of these 70 or 80% favorable opinions. “Even if he doesn’t deny it: “Some French people think that unreliable people are helped too much and do nothing to get out of it. »