Macron, Le Pen spar over disability allowance in TV debate

With Macron voicing his change of heart so close to the elections, Baudot believes it is a calculated manoeuvre. [EPA-EFE/LUDOVIC MARIN]

Incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right contender Marine Le Pen clashed over the current practice of taking into account the partner’s income when calculating the allowance for disabled adults in a debate ahead of their final face-off on Sunday (24 April). EURACTIV France reports.

The issue was raised just fifteen minutes into Wednesday’s televised debate.

“You have decided to oppose the fact that you can grant the [disabled adult] allowance regardless of the spouse’s income,” the far-right Rassemblement National leader told Macron.

Macron acknowledged that but added: “You didn’t vote for it either, you weren’t there”.

The allowance for disabled adults, commonly known as AAH, is a financial aid that can go up to €904 per month. It is meant to provide disabled people with a minimum income, in particular, to help them become more independent. Around 1.2 million people in France receive the AAH.

All candidates except Macron and far-right candidate Éric Zemmour promised that the partner’s income would no longer be taken into account when calculating the AAH.

Since the adoption of the Social Security Financing Law, the AAH now operates through a flat-rate allowance system, which still does not guarantee the independence of disabled people.

Several associations and collectives have denounced this method of calculation: “Placing the person receiving the AAH in a situation of dependence on his or her spouse is to deny his or her existence as an autonomous individual,” APF France handicap said in November.

However, making sure the disabled have autonomy is crucial, including for their survival.

“If a disabled woman is beaten by her husband, who works, and therefore does not receive the AAH, she will not have access to her own resources to leave her home,” Pierre-Yves Baudot, co-author with Emmanuelle Fillion of “Le handicap, cause politique”, warned in an interview with EURACTIV.

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A debated issue

The AAH has recently turned into a highly political issue despite being a “very old demand of disabled people”, Baudot, who is also a professor of sociology at the University of Paris Dauphine, also said.

Lawmakers also grappled with the issue.

Jeanine Dubié, deputy of the Radical Left Party PRG, tabled a bill proposing to stop basing the allowance on the spouse’s income. However, the proposal was blocked by the majority in December 2021 after six months of backs-and-forths between the National Assembly and the Senate.

On 15 April, less than ten days before the second election round, the issue came back as Macron told the France Info broadcaster that he wanted to “move” on it.

“We must move on this point. Today, whatever the benefit (…), we look at your family situation and the couple’s ability to contribute. What is true is that this creates an aberrant situation for people with disabilities. So we’re going to move it,” he said, without giving further details.

A few months earlier, Disability Minister Sophie Cluzel also hinted that a proposal to reform the AAH could be considered during the next five years.

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Macron now wanting reform? 

However, during Wednesday’s televised debate, Macron confirmed he is now “in favour” of correcting the “side effect” to achieve greater autonomy for people with disabilities, echoing the path he proposed on 15 April.

Baudot said Macron voicing his change of heart so close to the elections could be a calculated manoeuvre.

“It’s a very emotional subject. It’s complicated to say no. There is a logic of consensus that is automatically put in place. Macron wants to avoid being caught out on his lack of heart, his argument is planned,” he explained.

Reforming the AAH so as to stop taking into account the spouse’s income is also part of Le Pen’s programme, which also proposes an allowance raise to €1060 per month, a rise she has been advocating since 2012, Baudot added.

“It was surprising to see the issue come up so early in the debate,” said Baudot, regretting that disability issues, like the so-called Élan law or the accessibility of the disabled, were then dropped from the debate.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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