It goes without saying that decent life conditions in the center of Paris require high earnings. But, as far as I know, there is another end of the scale. Those people with a lousy salary, council housing, tax exoneration, social benefits and free health care. A career drop-out Finnish mum and tired of fruitless job seeking in Paris, I realized that the freeloader’s profile applies to me. It was a question of survival for me and my 6-year-old daughter, but I also felt unfair to be always the one who contributes as some other people might just drop in social services and get money for nothing. After many years of taxpaying, I wanted to find out what it takes to be a taker under Paris skies.
The French public assistance is praised as generous. And it is, even compared to the Scandinavian welfare state. However, claiming income support benefits and other related allowances is made so complicated that only half of the people manage to get their due, despite the numerous non-governmental organizations which help people fill the claim forms. The tricky system simply goes over an average social worker’s head. The unclaimed income benefits also mean more than four billion euros yearly savings for the government’s social security budget. Why not take my part of the cake?
RSA, HLM, CMU - what the hell is that?
The goal was already clear in my mind. I targeted the famous trio of combined benefits: RSA – HLM –CMU. The French income support benefit is called RSA (revenue de solidarité active), HLM (habitation de loyer moderé) means council place and CMU, in other words universal health care, is the French version of the US Medicare.
The main obstacle to my social parasitizing project was the current unemployment benefits claimer status. As my unemployment prolonged the benefits dropped to now derisory amount but no other benefit could be claimed simultaneously. Unfortunately I still had six months ahead. I spent many sleepless nights thinking about how to get rid of the disadvantageous status. Finally, the answer was right there. I had a check-up meeting with my employment counselor once a month. That Monday I headed to the employment office by feet as I had no metro tickets left. It was one of those bright winter mornings, when you can smell the whole mix of typical Parisian aromas: freshly baked croissants, limestone, cigarettes, metro, a Croque Monsieur’s burned Gruyère icing, roasted chicken, dog shit and exhaust fumes.
When I arrived, I found the door closed. The employees were on strike. My appointment was neither counseled nor postponed and the no show was banished. My file was ejected by the system. A week later I was happy to receive a letter stating that I was no longer an unemployment benefits claimer.
Here we go! The next step was to claim the minimum income support benefit, RSA. I didn’t underestimate the challenge and the red tape. However, I was convinced that being from the North makes me an ideal claimer as people who have grown up in a cold place have the frozen patience needed for French bureaucracy.