Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, pauses during a news conference at the European Union (EU) leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium. (Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg)

Macron Unveils $9 Billion Anti-Poverty Push to Counter Critics

(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron presented an 8 billion-euro ($9 billion) plan to combat poverty, seeking to counter criticism that he’s favored the wealthy during his first 16 months in office.

The four-year push, coupled with a proposal to reshape a range of government benefits into a basic income, will target a lack of social mobility that keeps generations in poverty because of the French welfare system’s inefficiency, Macron said in a speech in Paris on Thursday.

“This is not a charity plan, this is not to live a bit better in poverty, this is about getting out of poverty,” Macron said. The idea is to “do more for those who have less,” according to a Twitter posting by the president’s office.

After defeating a populist challenger in last year’s election Macron has seen his popularity tumble, partly because early measures such as eliminating a wealth tax and liberalizing the labor market were seen as benefiting business and the wealthy.

Macron Unveils $9 Billion Anti-Poverty Push to Counter Critics
LIVE | Faire plus pour ceux qui ont moins. Stratégie pour relever le défi de la pauvreté en France. pscp.tv/w/1eaJbVARyYBJX

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Almost 14 percent of France’s population lived below the poverty line in 2016, and a third of the 9 million people living in poverty are children, according to official data.

His anti-poverty plan focuses on job training, getting the unemployed back to work and child care for poor families. He said the government also plans to introduce a new “universal income” in 2020 that bundles most social benefits for low-income French, though details still need to be worked out.

Government spending on day care, education, and nutrition will increase, Macron said. Measures presented on Thursday also include school breakfasts in poor neighborhoods and compulsory job training for school leavers until age 18.

‘Rebalancing’ Seen

“We need to keep the payments, and some will even rise, but we have to fight poverty through work,” Julien Denormandie, a junior minister for regional development, said on France2 television. He said Macron’s government has already taken action to help the poor, citing urban renewal projects and cutting class sizes in troubled schools.

The anti-poverty plan “is the beginning of a little re-balancing after the multiple gifts Macron has given to the most-wealthy French,” Francois Ruffin, a lawmaker with the opposition France Unbowed party, told France Info radio.

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