Universal activity income: how candidate Macron wants to put it (gradually) in place

He did not give up on the idea. If he is re-elected, Emmanuel Macron wants to implement the reform of the universal activity income that started on September 13, 2018 at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris. Although he did not use the acronym RUA during the official presentation of his program on March 17 in Aubervilliers, the head of state clearly revealed his intentions. Faced with an audience of journalists, he said he wanted to “reform” and “simplify” the most important social assistance. Namely the active solidarity income (RSA), the activity bonus, housing benefit or even family benefits.

At the start of the five-year period, the original ambition to create a universal activity income (RUA) was threefold: to guarantee a minimum threshold of dignity for the most vulnerable households; make the French social system readable and fair; and combat the lack of use of social assistance. The project got off to a flying start. A major consultation of citizens had even been launched in the spring of 2019, but the onset of the health crisis stopped the project’s progress in its tracks. Suspended work was finally resumed a year ago, in February 2021. This culminated in the submission privately a few weeks ago of a (first) version of a “configuration report” of the reform to Prime Minister Jean Castex.

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First step: automatic payment of benefits

During the presentation of his program, candidate Macron outlined the path that the reform should take to achieve universal activity income. In a logic of simplification of the system, the first step should be that of an automatic payment of the services of the administration (also called payment with the source). The contact tells the candidate’s campaign team to Capital that “the payment of support at the source will initially relate to RSA, the activity bonus, the housing allowance, the specific solidarity benefit as well as family benefits”. Because Emmanuel Macron no longer wants situations where “compatriots do not have access to assistance when they would be entitled to it because it is too complicated, there are procedures (…)”.

Although work is still needed on the case, the candidate’s team also clarifies that “it will be enough to give your consent to the administration or simply to make the request for the first time that the benefit is paid when you are allowed”. In addition, one of the innovative ideas, defended by Fabrice Lenglart, senior official responsible for coordinating the reform of the RUA, would be to create a reference social income (RSR), equivalent to reference tax income (RFR), which the French find on their tax return. A single indicator that would have the benefit of clarity for households and administration.

Gather instead of merging services

It is only about the second time that the time of the universal activity income comes. For a long time, the merger of “most possible services” * kept the line, but now officials are working more on unifying the systems. As a reminder, there are about fifteen social benefits, including ten social minima (RSA, solidarity benefit for the elderly, etc.), for which the resource scales taken into account are not identical. A headache for the recipients that leads, as Fabrice Lenglart herself admits, to “a non-use of aid (…), undermines confidence in the system subject to all possible comparisons, and which few understand how it works”.

Despite all the work already done, the reform will take time to realize. As Fabrice Lenglart recalled during a Senate hearing on 5 January: “Many questions arise that are technical and eminently political: should the system be family-based or individualized? (…) We must also agree on the scope of those resources , to be taken into account, and on the way to measure them. ” The senior official clearly indicated to parliamentarians, “that it is not technically possible to switch from one system to another from one day to the next (…) We need readability and therefore only provide a transition over some few years “.

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Ultimately, even if this is not the stated goal, the universal activity income should make it possible to save money. Today, the total social benefits paid out amount to approximately 60 billion euros per year (2019 figures). Whatever the cost, President Macron seems determined to implement this major reform. And this while respecting five imperatives which in his eyes are essential: dignity, simplicity, transparency, justice and accountability.

* The Loneliness of the Palace, Laurence Benhamou (Robert Laffont)

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