By Richard Lough
PARIS (Reuters) – France should stop plowing large amounts of cash into a welfare system that fails to rescue the poor from poverty, President Emmanuel Macron said in a video clip released by his office that critics said showed he was uncaring.
The clip showed Macron discussing his ideas for revamping the welfare state with his communications team hours before a televised speech he was due to give on social benefit reform.
“Look where we are on welfare. We plow a chunk of cash into subsistence benefits, and people are still poor. There’s no way out. People who are born poor stay poor,” Macron said in the clip, which was released by the Elysee Palace on social media.
“I’ll spell out where we’re at, that we’re piling too much dough into a welfare system that’s focused on corrective treatment,” he said, littering his language with slang words that many French would consider unbefitting of a president.
In the clip, he advocated full reimbursements for healthcare that focuses on preventing illness, a move he said would save costs further down the line.
“That’s why we’re doing it (the reforms). It’s about the smaller things, basics like rudimentary dental care, eye glasses – those things carry a cost socially. And it’s politically contemptible.”
Macron was elected a year ago with a mandate to open up the economy and create a more effective welfare system, but there is simmering discontent on the left of his centrist party where his policies are seen as favoring the wealthy. His blunt assessment of the welfare system’s failings and the need for politically brave reform came on the day that the National Assembly was due to put a final stamp of approval on the biggest reform of the state-run railways in decades.
Macron’s opponents and left-wing voters who paint the 40-year-old as an economic liberal and a Thatcherite-in-disguise pounced. It was, they said, a further reminder that Macron is a “president of the rich” who talks down to the poor.
Macron’s office shrugged off such criticism.
“The issue is not to spend more but to better take care of people, because what is at stake is not helping people survive despite their poverty, but hauling them out of their poverty,” an Elysee official told Reuters, commenting on the video.
It was, however, as much the tone as the message that touched off a firestrom on social media.
“‘Make people responsible for getting themselves out of poverty’. The message there is they’re sitting comfortably. Disgusting,” said one Twitter user.
Others backed Macron for talking frankly about a welfare system that eats up billions of taxpayers’ euros annually.
Macron later set out his critique of the benefits system in a speech in the southern city of Montpellier. He said the state would fully cover glasses, dentures and hearing aides from 2022.
(Reporting by Richard Lough and Brian Love; writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Gareth Jones)