PARIS, FRANCE. In my last dispatch, I gave some practical examples of how «socialism» or the welfare state, if you will, functions.
I should add that the price of visiting a doctor is about 30 dollars. Specialists cost a bit more. Doctors can stay in the government system or go independent and charge more, but that extra may or may not be taken up by the mutual. Every five years if you are registered with the Sécu, you are supposed to receive a letter giving you a free appointment for a complete checkup including blood tests. The system forgot about me for 15 years, and then last year I got my checkup, which was generally fine. I even had an interview with a nutritionist. Now, to my surprise, a year later I received another appointment. Maybe it is because I am over 60.
In France, people lose their jobs as in the U.S. The unemployed in France get unemployment benefits for a specified period of time, which can varie. During this time they continue to have medical coverage.
Since the banking crisis of 2008, more people have lost their jobs and unemployment has increased around at least 20 or 30% I think. It is particularly difficult for people over 50 or the young to find jobs and there are more and more long-term unemployed who have lost their indemnities. However, the government has a program of minimum payments, the RSA or revenue of active solidarity, to people who have no other income. It provides around 500 dollars per month for them.
Of course it is difficult to live alone on that, but if someone can live with their families or others, it is possible. In addition, if you are paying off a mortgage or rent a lodging, you can ask for aid with your payments or rent. If you have a modest rent, it can amount to even 70% . Families can get a bit more. If you qualify for the programs, you can also qualify for complete medical coverage and you can be eligible for lower prices on electricity and gas for the home and for your fixed-line telephone.
In addition, the unemployed and those with the RSA can get a pass for a greatly reduced price or even free for public transport on the bus and the Metro in the whole Paris region. The idea is that job-seekers need to be able to move about to go to interviews. Children and adolescents(just until 18)have had half-price tickets for years.
The concept of social solidarity is strongly anchored in French society and culture. Many of these programs have been created by the left, but I think some even come from the right. A rightwing government legalized abortion and a leftwing government ended capital punishment. These are hardly issues anymore except for a few small exremist groups and the Catholic Church for the first. Generally, the right is hesitant to eliminate programs because they risk losing elections. I will get back to that in a moment.
France also has the highest birth rate in Europe, in part because with the second and third child, families can get subsidies from the state. The state also gives families a payment at the beginning of the school year so that they can pay for essential material needed for the scholastic year. I am divorced and without children and don’t benefit directly, but I don’t begrudge those who do because I see it as a means of perpetuating a more just society.
As I said, even the right has accepted these programs. One exception is the current President Sarkozy who seems to be inspired by the neo-conservatives. But he doesn’t dare a direct attack on the programs. Instead, he reduces the number of employees. Though the French population is growing, he has reduced the number of school employees, mostly teachers, by thousands. He has reduced the number of hospital and other medical employees. Although he ran his campaign on more security for the population and still uses it as an argument, he has reduced the number of police by 12,000 and plans to replace only one policeman for two retiring. Go figure. But his policies are another story.