French court under fire for claims poor parents blow school supplies cash | France

Right-wing opposition MPs in France have been accused of stigmatizing poorer people by suggesting that low-income families are fraudulently using an allowance for school supplies.

Government spokesman Olivier Véran said some families spent the money on televisions and alcohol was “discrimination” and “an old chestnut”. He rejected suggestions parents should be given basic supplies or coupons to specific stores to reduce the possibility of fraud.

“The back-to-school money is useful and fair. It is a valuable help for 3 million families to finance supplies for the children and cover the expenses for the start of school. Stop stigmatizing them,” Veran tweeted.

Fourteen MPs from the opposition Les Républicains party submitted a draft law earlier this month aimed at “controlling the use of school materials and combating fraud”.

The signatories pointed to the “absence of control over what the money is spent on”, saying this allowed recipients “to use this benefit for purposes other than their children’s educational needs”.

Instead, they want families to receive a set of basic school supplies for each child, along with “vouchers that allow parents to buy the clothes or equipment needed for their schooling”. Most French schools do not insist on uniforms.

Laurence Rossignol, the former family minister now vice-president of the Parti Socialiste (PS) in the Sénat upper house, said allegations of fraud by the parents were a “year-old chestnut”.

“Every year parents are accused of buying flat screen TVs, new wheels for the car, smartphones … it’s the same old story of the poor drinking their welfare money,” Rossignol said.

Another critic of the proposals, Sandrine Rousseau, a member of parliament for the Europe, Ecology, Les Verts (EELV) party, added: “Behind this proposal are doubts about the ability of the poorest parents to take care of their children. And this is serious.”

The annual list of supplies scolaires (school supplies) is an end-of-summer headache for parents of school-aged children. Students are expected to arrive on the first day of term in September with the exact number, size and color of exercise books, pens, pencils and folders specified by various teachers. At this time of year, supermarkets and stationery stores are full of frustrated parents looking for packs of single/double A4 paper with small/large squares that are perforated/unperforated.

For families with a low income, the cost is reduced with the benefit, paid in August, to parents with at least one child of school age. This year’s allowance has been increased by 4% to take account of inflation and is €392.04 (£332) for each child under 10, €413.69 for each child aged 11-14 and €428.02 for each child of 15-18 years. It is paid to households whose income is lower than €25,730 with one child, €31,225 with two children, €37,080 with three and €42,935 with four or more.

As well as school fees, the French government has approved an “exceptional” extra payment of €100 (£85) plus €50 (£42) for each child to families on minimum incomes in September to help with the rise in living costs.

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