France set to cut welfare benefits for families

France set to cut welfare benefits for families
France looks set to cut parental leave in a bid to save money. Photo: Myllissa/Flickr
The French state has long been considered fairly family friendly when it came to handing out welfare benefits, but the desperate need to cut its budget is threatening to make it far less amenable in future.

One of the reasons regularly put forward for France's healthy birth rate is its generous welfare payments for families.

But with France's social affairs minister Marisol Touraine revealing this week the country's social security system is €11.7 billion over budget in 2014, the government is under pressure to make savings.

It has been reported that Touraine has set in her sights on two key family benefits – parental leave and one-off payments handed out for the birth of children.

With the government in desperate need to tighten the purse strings it is expected to slash by almost half the amount of maternity leave mothers can take.

Currently mothers are allowed to take two and half years’ parental leave during which they are paid €530 a month by the state. The father is then eligible to take a further six months, paid at the same rate, to bring the total length of parental leave up to three years.

But on Monday the government was expected to announce that the length of time will be cut to 18 months for mothers with the father also then able to take up to 18 months paternity leave.

Although the changes have been billed as a way of promoting equality by encouraging fathers to take a greater role in raising their kids, the government knows that most men simply won’t take up the option, enabling up to €500 million to be saved.

Women's rights groups have blasted the government over the expected changes.

"This is extremely negative for women. The government reduced parental leave not to ensure equality between men and women but to save money on the backs of the most vulnerable women," said Claire Serre-Combe, spokeswoman for Osez le Féminisme (Feminism dares).

In a further measure that will see families lose out, the government also wants to cut the bonus it pays out for the birth of a second child, known as the “prime de naissance”.

Currently the state pays out €923 on the birth of a child. The payment is designed to help families cover the cost of equipment such as prams and cots etc.

But the Socialist government wants to cut this one off payment for the birth of the second child, for the most well- off families.

The austerity measure could save around €200 million a year and has been justified by the argument that most families will already have the required equipment from the first child.

Needless to say the muted reforms have not gone down well with organisations representing families.

“We want to know from what point is a family considered well-off,” Patrick Chrétien, the president of Families of France told Metro news on Monday.

“Because if the birth of a first child is expensive then that of a second is equally costly,” he said.

Chrétien regretted the fact the government budget for families will be reduced “to little more than a trickle” adding that he was worried about the “intentions of  the government”.

“When will they stop this repeated scrimping and saving,” he added. 

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