A blog entry by Camille Allard
While Brexit was, and still is, at the core of all political conversations in the UK last year, another subject was catching the eye on the other side of the Channel. The so-called Yellow Vests social movement was throwing French political life into a deep crisis. In an attempt to resolve the issue, the government took several measures. One was about ‘carers’, family or friends who support a loved one who needs care. Evoking the issue of misrecognition and “misrepresentation” for some of the most vulnerable parts of the population, including carers, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his willingness to build and reinforce carers’ rights in the future.
Some of these measures, like the implementation from October 2020 of ‘carer leave’, compensated at 40-43 Euros per day for all – employees, the self-employed, civil servants and unemployed people – has been long awaited and was warmly welcomed by many carers’ associations.
However, compensated care leave seems to be available only for a maximum of three months in an entire working life, far too restrictive for long-term carers. Moreover, the pensions reform plan unveiled by the French Government at the beginning of 2019 could also threaten the consistency and continuity of carers’ support. The new reform, planned to replace the current system comprising 42 different pension regimes, would establish a universal system of points, where “a good pension would be the reflection of a good career”. The new system would in fact be established in parallel to the current system of 42 regimes, meaning that new workers entering the labour market would face a different pensions system, compared to other workers, potentially creating more divisions in the workforce and more inequalities in regard to care.
As the population ages, these new workers will be expected to participate in the workforce for longer periods, perhaps with greater care responsibility for their ageing relatives. As a result, their working life could be more disrupted by care and more precarious, due to their inability to build a protective pension for themselves and their own future care needs. Moreover, not everyone has the same opportunity to access secure long-term employment, and the constraints and social norms of care mean women, still the majority of carers, and young people from deprived backgrounds, will be most affected. Even if the retirement age remains unchanged, people will have to work longer before leaving the labour market with full pension rights. Again, for carers, this could mean an entire life spent in work while maintaining their care responsibilities and building their own pension rights.
The Government presented this new plan as a way of offering greater flexibility and choice about retirement – but the choice is biased, especially for carers. Further, the value of the Government’s new pension points will be prone to fluctuation. This could mean that, irrespective of their working contribution, carers could find themselves subject to arbitrary financial loss caused by macro-economic factors beyond their control.
Promising in the future to integrate some tools into the new system to take account of potential disruptions linked to life and care events, the Government will act as a ‘compensation mechanism’. However, access to this may be restricted and insufficient for long-term carers. Will it be enough to guarantee decent treatment for carers – or will it worsen their “misrecognized” situation and bring even more divisions between people?