Social protection refers to all the collective welfare measures designed to protect or support French citizens against the consequences of social risks, and also to cover certain types of expenditures for the population as a whole. Social Security benefits are managed by different branches. 

What is social protection?

Social protection encompasses all the collective welfare provisions that enable individuals or families to cope with the consequences of a risk or social need. Indeed, such events can lead to a drop in income or an increase in expenses. These events include illness, maternity, disability, loss of employment, old age, etc. The aim of these measures is to preserve human capital and guarantee the continuity of economic activity.

Social protection is made up of five components:

  • Payment of monetary benefits to individual contributors: reimbursement of healthcare expenses, retirement pensions, family allowances and unemployment benefits.
  • Social services that provide access to free or discounted services (daycare centers, hospitals, online services, etc.).
  • Universal protection, which grants certain benefits to all, regardless of income or contributions, such as family allowances.
  • Solidarity-based assistance to combat poverty: means-tested payment of a minimum income, even to individuals who have not previously paid contributions. This is the case, for example, with the Earned Income Supplement (RSA) and the Disabled Adult’s Allowance (AAH).
  • Prevention, to encourage positive behavior that promotes individual health, autonomy and family life, etc.

What does social protection cover?

Social Security is a key element of France’s social protection system. It provides coverage for the following risks:

  • Health: occupational and non-occupational illnesses, disability, work-related accidents.
  • Housing: housing subsidies (APLs) for declared tenants or sub-tenants, nursing home residents or those taking out a subsidized loan to purchase their main residence. The allowance is designed to reduce the household’s rent, monthly mortgage payment or service charge.
  • Family: family allowances, maternity and childcare benefits,
  • Old age: retirement or widow’s/widower’s pensions (survivor’s pensions),
  • Dependency of senior citizens and people with disabilities,
  • Employment: assistance with professional integration and reintegration, unemployment benefits,
  • Poverty and social exclusion: various benefits for the poorest households.

What are the different social protection organizations?

Social Security is divided into several branches which are financially autonomous in terms of their resources and expenditures. Each of these branches has its own specific role.

The « health » branch

The National Health Insurance Fund for Employees (CNAMTS) ensures that everyone has access to healthcare, including the most disadvantaged. The CNAMTS covers risks relating to illness, maternity, disability and death. It also has a specific branch for workplace accidents and occupational illnesses (ATMP). Finally, its preventive programs act to promote the good health of French citizens and to control expenditures to ensure that the national healthcare system operates efficiently.

The CNAM oversees the network of primary health insurance funds (CPAM) and general social security funds in the French overseas territories (CGSS). These agencies are responsible for memberships, identification of healthcare professionals and payment of benefits to the various parties involved. The retirement and occupational health insurance funds (CARSAT) are responsible for the prevention and assessment of workplace accidents, commuting accidents and work-related illnesses and risks.

The « old age » branch

The National Old-Age Insurance Fund for Salaried Workers (CNAVTS) works with the CARSATs to help people prepare for retirement, and to calculate and distribute the following pensions:

  • The basic pension for all active workers who meet the criteria for length of payment of contributions;
  • The minimum pension, which supplements small pensions (basic and supplementary) and the solidarity allowance for the elderly (ASPA) for the less well-off;
  • Survivor’s pensions for the spouses of deceased insured persons;
  • Support to enable senior citizens to age in the best possible conditions and to remain at home while having as much independence as possible for as long as possible (assistance with home improvements, for example).

The retirement branch also conducts statistical studies and analyses on aging to help public authorities choose the most appropriate courses of action.

The « family » branch

The National Insurance Fund for Family Allowances (CNAF) aims to make everyday life easier for families, especially the most disadvantaged. The CNAF decides on the industry’s important policy guidelines and is the main contact with the authorities. However, benefits are provided at local level by the family allowance funds (CAF), which are distributed throughout France. The CAFs pay the following types of benefits to households:

  • Infancy and childhood: birth or adoption, family allowances, back-to-school allowances, childcare (remuneration of an approved childcare assistant or home help), parental education allowance (APE) if one of the parents stops working to provide care for one or more children under the age of 6, family support allowance (ASF) paid to single parents who receive little or no child support;
  • Assistance for the disabled: disabled adult allowance (AAH) or special education allowance for children;
  • Housing: personalized housing assistance, relocation allowance, home improvement loans;
  • Solidarity: active solidarity income (RSA), assistance for single people and for those in precarious situations.

The CAFs also contribute to social action through investment grants for facilities and services (daycare centers, social centers) and the co-financing of local educational projects in partnership with local municipalities: childcare for minors up to the age of 18, organizing vacations for children from low-income families.

The « collection » branch

The Central Agency for Social Security Agencies (ACOSS) manages Social Security agency cash flow and coordinates the URSSAF network. They collect social security contributions at the local level from companies, employees and self-employed workers.

The collection branch redistributes the sums collected to the other branches of the general system (managed by the CNAM, CNAVTS and CNAF) to finance the various contributions.

The collection branch’s activities are supplemented by the Agricultural Social Mutual Fund (MSA) for the agricultural plan and by Agirc-Arrco for the supplementary pension plans.

How is social protection financed?

Social Security expenditures are financed by three main sources:

  • Social security contributions paid by employers and by employees and self-employed workers in order to be entitled to social security benefits;
  • « Earmarked » taxes: the Generalized Social Contribution (CSG), the Contribution for the Reimbursement of the Social Debt (CRDS), the Community Independence Contribution (CSA) dedicated to the autonomy of elderly or disabled persons, the payroll tax, a portion of the VAT, as well as « out of pocket » contributions such as excise duties on tobacco and taxes on alcoholic beverages or products considered to be the cause of many medical conditions;
  • Contributions from state and local authorities to cover solidarity expenses and to subsidize certain social welfare plans which are in difficulty.

Social protection under the wage portage system

Wage portage is an interesting alternative for independent consultants who want to be independent while still enjoying the advantages of salaried employment.

This status provides full social protection which is identical to the protection provided to conventional employees of companies (unemployment, social security, health insurance, retirement benefits, etc.).