FRANCE: French Movement for a Basic Income contributes to Parliamentary Commission on social welfare review
Original Article by Jean-Eric Hyafil
On October 30, 2015, the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, asked MP Christophe Sirugue to write a report on potential social welfare potential (including the means-tested benefit known as Active Solidarity Income (RSA), and various benefits such as disability pension, elderly people pensions, etc.). The aim is to make the system fairer, more efficient and less complex in order to reduce the number of people eligible to these pensions and benefits but not redeeming them. Mr. Sirugue is due to give out his report by the end of March.
The French Movement for a Basic Income (MFRB) contributed to the report (the contribution in French is available here. The contribution has been written thanks to Robert Cauneau, Public finance expert, and Jean-Eric Hyafil, Economist at Paris I University, Jean-Marie Monnier and Carlo Vercellone, Economics professors at the Sorbonne University.
Given the transformation of labour, particularly due to the digital revolution, we recommend to replace the RSA, a conditional and stigmatizing aid given to individuals in poverty, with a basic income based on the principles of unconditional rights and independence.
Nevertheless, establishing a basic income goes along with deep tax reform, yet taxation is not among the missions attributed to Mr. Sirugue for this report. Indeed, his mission was focused on the reform of minimum social benefits.
A short-term reform of the solidarity income (RSA)
Taking into account the constraint of the Prime Minister’s request, the MFRB first formulated RSA reform proposals which could gradually lead to a basic income. For example:
- remove the mandatory status of job seeker to receive the RSA
- change the rule relative to alimony and as a consequence the principle of subsidiarity
- automate RSA payment to all the legal beneficiaries
- individualize the RSA
- pay the RSA ex-ante in order to suppress activation delays
Implementing these proposals would improve RSA’s efficiency in reducing poverty. Nevertheless, even if each and every proposal were implemented, it appears necessary to formulate a global reform integrating another redistribution mechanism: the income tax. Indeed, the first limitation is related to RSA ex-ante payment; this is possible if undue RSA payments could be directly debited to incomes. But such a process should be integrated to a system that allows for income tax withholding.
The second limitation is related to the RSA individualization. A complete individualization (i.e. payment to a person without income, even if he or she lives with a person with a substantial income) is not possible without changing the way the income tax is calculated for a couple.
A middle term reform of the income tax for an introduction of the basic income
The MFRB formulated a second set of recommendations including various proposals for the implementation of a basic income simultaneously with income tax reform. These proposals could be applied on a midterm basis, along with the creation of a withholding system for the income tax.
Following this logic, the MFRB suggests a range of options to show the spectrum of possibility to policymakers. With the introduction of a basic income, numerous reforms become possible, particularly fusions of the income tax for individuals (e.g. “impôt sur le revenu des personnes physiques, IRPP”) and the general social contribution (contribution sociale généralisée, CSG). Indeed, issues have been raised regarding tax exemption policies for income tax, and income splitting, that is whether the income tax apply to individuals or to households.
Fiscal expenses through tax exemption are largely used by wealthy households to reduce their income tax. Therefore, it seems wise to reduce their impact. Yet some of them also play a role in social protection, particularly for the poorest households. For example, tax credits given for paying a nursery school service, and other non-profit organizations.
The MFRB formulates proposals for an adjustment of fiscal expenses (through tax exemption) in order to keep a tax exemption level of around 34 billion euros (the 2014 figure) for the French households, after the merge of income tax and general social contribution (IRPP and CSG) and also a high tax rate (20 percent to 30 percent) from the first euro. Additionally, these proposals would allow shifting the advantage of tax exemption toward poor households.
The MFRB also formulated proposals to switch some fiscal expenses to mechanisms involving “service cheque“, following the principle of drawing rights developed by the tenants of unconditional autonomy. Such a proposal would actually allow the absorption of the benefits associated to the solidarity income (RSA), as discounts for public transportation, school restaurants, sports or culture.
Individualisation of the income tax or household taxing?
The second issue is the income tax individualisation. Nowadays, the income tax is applied to households. Should it be applied to individuals, simultaneously as the implementation of an individual basic income?
In this report, the MFRB presented two alternative solutions. The first considers the fusion of the income tax and the social contribution (IRPP and CSG) into an individual tax. The second integrates the basic income into the income tax system in order to preserve household taxation. This second proposal advantageously avoids a sharp tax increase for households where there is a large income disparity between the couple’s incomes.
Finally, the MFRB considered possibilities of converting some employment subsidies to a basic income, particularly the exemption of employers’ contributions aimed at low salaries (exonération “Fillon”).
With such a broad proposal spectrum, the MFRB wanted to put the minimum social benefits reform in the perspective of a broader and ambitious French redistribution system reform, which would associate the implementation of a basic income with fiscal reform.
The MFRB is pleased that the question of a basic income is currently being considered by French policymakers. On the one hand, this report provides an array of ideas regarding minimum social benefits. On the other hand, a Digital National Council report described the future of organisation in the context of the digital revolution. The expert assessment brought by addressing these issues puts increasing emphasis in the public discussion on the basic income and the new opportunities it brings.
Translated into English by Romain Garbage and Antoine Stéphany
Reviewed by Tyler Prochazka