In France, as you may have vaguely heard somewhere, there are very generous allowances for people living on low incomes.
Which is nice, as almost everyone here is poor.
These allowances (or rights) include: x hundred euros a month to help pay rent or a mortgage; x hundred at the start of the school year (per child over x) to help pay for new shoes and a school bag (or what mountaineers would normally call a rucksack); x per day during school holidays for activities clubs, so parents can carry on working to pay their eye-wateringly high social charges; x for having a baby; x a month for having a child under three... you get the gist.
Now, you’d think that earning minimum wage while supporting a family of four, plus over a dozen other animals, qualifies you as someone on low income and entitles you to some or all of those rights. But you’d be wrong.
In fact, you’d be wrong by a couple of years.
You see, rights in France are calculated on the household income made from January to January the year before last. Which means, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate, it’s possible for the unwitting immigrant to fall into a bit of a hole. Especially when coming from a country with a tax year that runs (seemingly arbitrarily in retrospect) from April to April.
Our hole went like this: In March 2008, we hadn’t earned any money since July 2007. We’d been here over six months, in very expensive (by French standards) rented accommodation, with no idea if or when our World’s Most Luxurious Eco-Friendly Family Yurt Campsite project would get on the ground – and money was running out fast. We went to social services and were told that, because of our income in 2006, we were entitled to precisely no euros and no cents.
Which didn’t make any sense at all.
When pressed as to why the system is calculated in this way, we were told with a shrug: “So it’s fair for everyone”.
(If any Daily Mail readers have stumbled onto this screen by mistake, you should know that this kind of bureaucratic lunacy is not confined to the non-English. A friend of ours from Brighton told us about a time she was immobilised by an inexplicable failure of the leg. Her doctor signed her off and told her she’d be entitled to incapacity benefit. But because of the contributions made between this date and that, she was not entitled to a bean – French or otherwise. “But that was when I was on maternity leave!” she exclaimed [the punctuation’s a bit of a giveaway]. “What about all my years of contributions before and since?” The social services simply shrugged and said: “This way, it is fair for everyone.”)
Why am I telling you all this (except to make up for a sizeable lack of blogging in recent months and the fact that it was raining outside when I started this post)? Because since Christmas either Her Outdoors or the Liddle Chillen have been at home, sick. Because next week the Liddle Chillen are off school for two weeks and, as someone on low income, my manager told me yesterday I couldwouldshould be entitled to an enormous discount off the activity club, which wouldcouldshould mean we can spend some time on the land preparing for the opening of écovallée in July. All we needed was something called a Passeport Loisirs from the social services in Bergerac.
We went this morning. I was feeling pretty confident, having calculated our 2007 household income was a paltry (by English standards) 26,000 euros.
Sadly, it seems this is still far too high to entitle us to any financial help from the government. We will have to wait until 2010, to take advantage of our truly poor 8,800-euro income from 2008. By which time, if our new venture is the success we believe it shouldwouldcould be, we won’t need the extra money at all.