Posted by: kathandroger | November 20, 2010

Poverty in France

Last year we both got involved in the Restos du Coeur, a charity which helps the poor in France by providing food in the first instance, but also clothes, a warm place to have a coffee and meet people and in some cases accommodation and hot meals. The charity was set up 26 years ago by a famous comedian, Coluche, who unfortunately died in a motorcycle accident shortly after setting up the Restos, aged just 42. Since then it has become an institution in France.

That is Coluche with the famous logo. This week has been the week of inscriptions, when the needy come and sign up for the winter campaign. Having had a couple of days training, I joined the team of about a dozen who had the job of scrutinizing all the papiers  of the prospective beneficiaries and totting up their incomes (mainly benefits) and rents – quite an insight into the french social security system. Chatellerault is the biggest centre in the Vienne department, largely because it has a large immigrant population, but also because it is an industrial town which latterly has seen quite a bit of unemployment. This week we have accepted around 500 families, around 15 % more than the same stage last year and would therefore expect to exceed the 900 families we had at the end of the campaign last March. The threshold is really very low. For someone who has never really been involved in such matters this week has been a real eye opener. You read a lot in the papers (as you do in the UK) about people who play the system etc, but the great majority of the people we have received this week are genuinely in difficulty. For the first time we had direct access to the social security system by internet, so were able to check up when things didn’t quite add up, but these cases were few and far between. I have been struck by the number of young people, who are unable to get jobs and have no benefit rights, the number of retired people living on next to nothing and the number of older (50+) single women with children who seem excluded from the job market. Also, once you have been unemployed for more than a year your benefits are cut, leading to some people almost inevitably getting into debt. We’ve had a large increase in people coming for the first time – a sign I think that la crise is far from over. For some people coming to the Restos is a shameful experience – some break down in tears. Our role is to give them a warm welcome, make them feel that someone is prepared to give a helping had, even if it is a small one. Sometimes that makes them cry too!

I can’t say that it has been an easy week, but we have had some laughs, and have made some very difficult lives maybe just a bit easier. The campaign proper starts a week on Tuesday, then each week we will be back to handing out tins and packets and trying to make people smile!


  1. Keep up the good work,it must be very worthwhile and obviously much needed by the people who have fallen on hard times.It makes one feel humble when confronted with real despair.Keep up the good work.

  2. il y a effectivement beaucoup de travail a faire aussi de ce côté là ! hélas !

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