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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La misère à sa plus haute vague

by Jérôme Skalski

Wave of Poverty Cresting

Translated Saturday 30 November 2013, by Gene Zbikowski

Clermont-Ferrand, from our special correspondent – The Secours populaire français, a charitable organization, issued a call on Nov. 23 during its congress here to “sow happy days” in the face of “the tidal wave of poverty and precarious living conditions.”

“We’ve gone from helping fewer than 500 people to over 5,000 in just five years,” explained Matthias, from the Gers départemental federation of the Secours populaire français (SPF). “This year, an additional 1,000 people came to our committees for food aid,” the delegate added.

This phenomenon, which affects both rural and urban areas, was underlined at the 34th congress of the SPF, which was held on Nov. 23-24 in Clermont-Ferrand. Nearly 1,000 delegates attended. The congress reported a “tidal wave of suffering, poverty, precarious living conditions and social exclusion, which has reached its highest point since the creation of the charitable association in 1945,” in the words of Julien Lauprêtre, who was re-elected president of the SPF on Nov. 24.

Many delegates bore witness to this tidal wave from the speakers’ platform. What is new, compared to previous years, is that no region of France is spared the “disaster” of poverty. On average, the number of people helped increased by 22% between 2009 and 2012. The same rate has been observed this year.

In 2011, there were 8.7 million people living below the poverty line in France, which amounts to 14% of the population, nearly 900,000 more people than in 2008. This year, over 3.6 million people live in substandard housing, are living with friends, or in a squat, or in a camping trailer or automobile. Over 130,000 people are living in the street. Their situation is worsened by inadequate heating and a lack of health care.

“Among the 8.7 million poor, 3.5 million get food assistance, and 1.4 million of them get it from SPF,” Julien Lauprêtre pointed out. This is a 12% increase over 2009. Despite this assistance, almost 2 million people say they have not had a square meal for at least one day in the preceding two-week period,” he added.

80,000 volunteers to collect donations.

In the face of this situation, the association is seeking to optimize its organizational form and its geographic localization. This was the main theme discussed by the delegates to the congress.

A point was also made regarding the disappearance of the European Union’s “most deprived persons program,” which has mobilized the SPF since its last congress, in 2011. Renamed as the EU’s “most deprived persons fund,” the question of the amount of European aid was the subject of careful debate.

After participating in different workshops, the delegates all underlined the fact that requests for assistance are flooding in from parts of the population which, until now, have not faced precarious living conditions. In the past, these requests came primarily from single-parent families, poor and jobless workers, young people, women, and retirees, today many artisans and bosses of small companies have joined their ranks in turning to the SPF for help.

“We’re trying to respond to the effects, and not the causes of poverty,” a delegate from Marseilles explained. He intends “to be a ‘goad to the public authorities’ to sound a warning.”

The fact is, with 1250 local offices to provide assistance, 99 départemental federations and 80,000 volunteers to collect donations, the SPF is the charitable organization that covers France with the tightest network. “We are active in other domains than food or clothing assistance,” the general secretary of the Puy-de-Dôme départemental federation underlined. Housing assistance, holiday assistance, cultural activities, health promotion activities and international solidarity are among the SPF’s many fields of activity.

On the 70th anniversary of “Happy Days”, the program put forward by the National Council of the French Resistance, the SPF has issued a pressing appeal for all to help, as a partner, a donor, or a volunteer.

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