Minimum income support scheme extended to people aged 18–25
New French legislation has removed the age restriction on the entitlement to means-tested welfare benefits offering financial support to jobseekers resident in France and on a low income. The previous regime excluded people under 25 years of age. The new law, which came into force on 1 September 2010, removed the age restriction but added a precondition that recipients of the benefit aged between 18 and 25 years must have worked for at least two years prior to being unemployed.
In 1989, the French parliament introduced a new form of means-tested general income support called ‘minimum integration income’ (Revenu minimum d’insertion, RMI) for people who reside in France and have insufficient financial resources. Students were not eligible to receive these funds, and the allowance was made conditional upon conclusion of a non-binding agreement between the state and the beneficiary under which the latter committed to undertake specific actions to re-enter the job market. In practice, many beneficiaries are either single, without dependent children and with no academic degree, or are young professionals with a secondary school qualification or university degree who are nevertheless unable to find a job. Recipients also include people such as single mothers and those with fixed-term employment contracts or working for temporary work agencies.
One of the contested features of RMI was the age limitation, which specified that only those aged 25 years or more were eligible for support. The age stipulation was criticised not only because it was contrary to Article 13 of the revised European Social Charter, but also because most young adults, such as current students or jobless former students, were left without any minimum income support.
When RMI was transformed into ‘active solidarity income’ (Revenu de solidarité active, RSA) in 2008 (Law 2008-1249 of 1 December 2008 (in French)), the new legislation strengthened the link between the allowance and a return to work. The goal was to encourage beneficiaries to take up a job by allowing the aggregation of the allowance (or part of it) with a salary when the salary is low (for instance, in the case of part-time jobs). RSA has become an additional source of income for the ‘working poor’ and attempts to address all forms of poverty by providing a decent level of subsistence for residents of France who are out of work. About two million people currently receive RSA.
New legal provisions
The age restriction remained in the 2008 law, but was subsequently amended by Law 2009-1673 of 30 December 2009 (in French). This was implemented by the Decree of 26 August 2010 and entered into force on 1 September 2010. Whereas some political parties and associations had argued for full removal of the age condition, the decree specifies an extension of eligibility to those aged 18–25 years only if they had prior employment. The government has set such a condition because it wishes to prevent RSA becoming a welfare benefit for students.
The decree sets detailed requirements of prior activity: claimants between 18 and 25 years of age (including students) must establish that they have worked for at least 3,214 hours (which corresponds to two years of full-time employment) during the three years immediately prior to their claim. The period of reference of three years is extended by six months if, before the request, the claimant received unemployment benefits or took advantage of retraining measures such as a convention de reclassement personnalisé or a contrat de transition professionnelle (CTP). All types of employment contracts are taken into account, including fixed-term and temporary contracts. Farming activities and self-employed activities are also included.
This reform is positive as young adults will have access to minimum income support as well as to public programmes for professional integration or reintegration into the job market. Nevertheless, the condition of prior activity required for residents under age 26 will reduce the impact of the age extension. At the moment, only 160,000 adults aged 18–25 years are expected to be eligible to receive the support; for instance, many students with only part-time employment will fail to qualify. Trade unions and other organisations in the civil sector have denounced the restrictive criteria laid down by the Decree of 26 August 2010 and believe that this reform does not address the very high unemployment rate among young adults. They also pointed out that the modification of the age condition of the RSA does not remove the need for a specific programme for students with low income.
Jean-Philippe Lhernould, Université de Poitiers, Héra