Bill on combating exclusion under discussion.
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On 26 February 1997, the French Cabinet adopted a bill aiming at rebuilding social cohesion, which is to be debated in the National Assembly some time in April 1997.
During the French Presidential campaign in March 1995 the main candidates, including the present President, Jacques Chirac, explicitly committed themselves to passing legislation to combat social exclusion.
In February 1997, the Minister for Employment and Social Affairs, Jacques Barrot, and the Secretary of State responsible for emergency humanitarian initiatives, Xavier Emmanuelli, presented their bill for social cohesion, aimed at making the rights to citizenship, employment, health and housing accessible to all. The most significant measures are centred around employment and housing, including, among other items, five-year programmes for:
- the creation of 300,000 "local initiative contracts" - employment contracts in the non-commercial sector, for a minimum of 30 hours a week for the most socially disadvantaged, which are subsidised by the Government for a period of five years;
- the creation for 100,000 young people of "personalised job-seeker programmes" - personalised employment assistance programmes over a maximum period of 18 months;
- support for associations whose function is the placing in employment of those most in need, aimed at increasing their job-finding capacity by 50%; and
- the creation of 100,000 new housing units for the homeless. A poverty watchdog and a committee to promote integration and to combat exclusion are planned in every département, together with a reform of the working practices and professional training of social workers.
The Government, which is continually concerned with budgetary limits, intends to finance the FRF 3 billion earmarked for the project (including FRF 1.4 billion for housing alone) partly by FRF 1.5 billion granted by the European Social Fund, but also by utilising the budget currently given over to welfare benefits for the most needy.
The Economic and Social Council, associations and trade unions are fiercely critical of the lack of funds for this project and especially of the planned redistribution of social benefits, in particular the FRF 470 million saved on Specific Solidarity Allowances (ASS) for unemployed people no longer entitled to unemployment benefit.
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