In a study of opinion polls between 1989 and 2009 (see below) by the French Research Centre for the Study and Monitoring of Living Standards, the Credoc, public opinion in the country has increasingly moved towards the belief that receiving a subsistence benefit such as the RSA encourages idleness (54% claimed this in 2009 against 29% in 1989).
Graph above (click to enlarge) shows 1989 - 2009 evolution of polled public agreement with one or other of the following statements: ‘Minimum subsistence benefit (RMI) gives people a necessary boost to get by' - (top of graph) - and ‘Minimum subsistence benefit (RMI) can incite people to stay put and not look for work'.
Yet, other than one study by French national statistics institute INSEE which met with criticism over its methodology, there is no proof of that assertion. A 2009 study by the French Public Treasury Office of 7,000 beneficiaries of either the RMI, single parent benefit, and the ASS (Allocation spécifique de solidarité, aimed at free-lance workers and long-term unemployed) found that only 4% of those polled said a loss of benefit income was the reason they had not found work. According to France's National Office for Family Allowances (CNAF), only 1% of beneficiaries refuse a job because of financial loss.
The studies agree that even if the financial gain is minimal, beneficiaries of subsistence benefits generally prefer to take a job, and they often will take a job even if they incur a financial loss. The primary motivation for refusing work is not monetary.
In an article in French daily Le Monde, the former High Commissioner for Active Solidarity Against Poverty and who created the RSA, argued that the idea that beneficiaries of subsistence benefits wallow in idleness is all the more erroneous because "beneficiaries of the RSA are required, barring serious health problems, to seek a job and to be signed up at the [State Job Centre]" and thus "must comply with the requirement to accept two reasonable job offers".
A study by the Ministry of Finance showed that if one fourth of RMI beneficiaries didn't seek employment, it was primarily for reasons of poor health or personal constraints including the feeling of being unemployable due to a long period out of work, lack of a vehicle or child-minding issues.
The great majority of the beneficiaries of the RSA see their situation as a "stigma," said Nicolas Duvoux. Indeed, one million eligible low-wage earners don not even request it. The fault also lies with the very personal nature of the questionnaire required to obtain the benefit, Duvoux added.
Rather than blaming the alleged laziness of beneficiaries of subsistence benefits, others blame the sluggish state of the job market, the sad state of professional training; the poor support provided to the unemployed added to the crisis at the national employment centres1 (Pôles emploi), or the institutional maze intrinsic to the system. For example, training depends on local authorities, the RSA being delivered at the county (département) level while unemployment benefits are obtained from the national Employment centres.
Terra Nova's Oliver Ferrand said the Socialist Party manifesto for the 2012 presidential and legislative elections would propose introducing "a professional social security system with personalised monitoring and adapted training" and that "a contract would be made with the job seeker with a logic of rights and duties," he added. It remains to be seen, given the cost, whether such a measure garner the support needed to pass in the legislature.
1: In January 2009 the Job Centre (ANPE) and the Unemployment Benefits Office (Assedic) were merged into a single entity (Pôle Emploi). Badly organised, the merger disorganised a system already overloaded by the economic crisis causing delays in both benefit payments and in filling available positions.