Basic notions on social protection (2023)

The Preamble to the Constitution of October 27, 1946 affirms that “the Nation provides the individual and the family with the conditions necessary for their development. It guarantees everyone, especially children, mothers and older workers, protection of health, material security, rest and leisure. Any human being who, because of his age, physical or mental state, economic situation, is unable to work has the right to obtain suitable means of existence from the community. ". In this logic, social protection refers to the collective provident mechanisms enabling individuals to cope with the consequences, in particular financial, of certain life events called “social risks (1). It covers several components (2). In 2015, the share of social protection expenditure represented 34% of GDP, or 746.6 billion euros. This is the main item of public expenditure in France.

  • 1. The delimitation of social protection
    • 1.1. The concept of “social risk”
    • 1.2. Possible means of social protection.
  • 2. Components of social protection
    • 2.1. Social Security
      • 2.1.1. Definition test
      • 2.1.2. The main stages in the construction of social security
      • 2.1.3. The dual German and British influence
      • 2.1.4. The notions of “regime” and “branch”
    • 2.2. Social assistance and social action
    • 2.3. Complementary or conventional plans
    • 2.4. unemployment insurance

The notion of social risk is at the heart of social protection. Several means can be used to protect individuals in the presence of such a risk.

1.1. The concept of “social risk”

Social risk threatens people living in society. It can take various forms: a loss of professional income following a physical alteration of the work force; an economic deterioration of the labor force (unemployment) or even an increase in expenses (medical, family, etc.). A social risk is thus qualified as what follows an event resulting either in an increase in needs or in a loss of resources.

Social risks are listed in particular by Convention No. 102 of the International Labor Organization: illness, maternity, invalidity, death, old age, accidents at work and occupational disease, unemployment and family responsibilities.

1.2. Possible means of social protection.

The means that can be envisaged within a social protection system to protect the insured against the occurrence of a social risk are diverse.

Individual savings are conceivable. However, it is a rather inefficient means insofar as vulnerable people cannot save, while the possible monetary erosion ruins the efforts of all. In addition, it is likely that the individual will not be able to cover all the risks that he personally incurs.

Assistance, also called charity, has long been practiced by the Church, the king, professional corporations or families. This logic can also be pursued by the public authorities, in order to establish solidarity between individuals to fight against forms of poverty. The services make it possible to deal with an identified situation of need. They are paid subject to resources, but not prior contributions. However, this assistance system is characterized by its optional nature: not all individuals can be covered.

Liability mechanisms can be seen as a means of dealing with the occurrence of certain risks. However, this involves identifying a potentially solvent liable party and meeting certain legal conditions (demonstration of fault, damage and a causal link between the fault and the damage).

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Finally, insurance or risk pooling are other theoretically possible mechanisms. In these systems, the risk is spread over the group of beneficiaries by means of the payment by them of a premium or a contribution. They are based on a pooling, even a socialization of risk, between the members of a more or less extended group of individuals.

The French social protection system combines these different means.

In France, social protection includes social security, social assistance and social action, unemployment insurance and complementary and supplementary protection institutions. There are therefore many organizations that contribute to it.

Social protection is therefore distinct, by very definition, from social security stricto sensu. Moreover, unemployment is not included in social security but is part of the broader field of social protection. The institutions that manage the unemployment insurance system are not social security organizations (Pôle emploi: created by law no. 2008-126 of 13 February 2008 relating to the reform of the organization of the public employment service ). Beyond that, the rules concerning unemployment insurance are set out in the labor code and not in the social security code. Above all, unemployment insurance was not integrated into the social security system in 1945, but was gradually put in place and supervised by the social partners from the interprofessional agreement (ANI) on unemployment insurance of December 31 1958.

The social protection system offers diversified responses in the form of monetary benefits or services.

Social protection is financed mainly through social contributions (employer and employee), taxes and assigned taxes and public contributions from the State and local authorities.

2.1. Social Security

2.1.1. Definition test

There is no legal definition or general or universal definition of the concept of "Social Security". The definition given is not identical in all countries. Therefore, it can be difficult to define and gives rise to multiple interpretations.

However, it seems possible to define social security as "an institution or set of institutions whose objective is to guarantee the economic security of individuals in all pecuniary conditions, and to prevent and protect them against "social risks"".

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The guarantee is exercised by the affiliation of the interested parties and the attachment of their beneficiaries to one (or more) social security scheme.

The concept of social security thus aims at a collective organization, an expression of national solidarity. Indeed, at the origin of social security, the idea prevails that solidarity must exist between people because it would be unfair for chance to penalize individuals who are not necessarily responsible for what happens to them.

Since 1isJanuary 2016, universal health protection (PUMa) was introduced.

The PUMa guarantees everyone who works or resides in France a right to the payment of health costs without any particular procedure to be carried out. People who work no longer have to justify a minimum activity: only the exercise of a professional activity is taken into account. This protection allows support without breach of rights. Indeed, it is insured even in the event of a change in professional, family or residential situation.

With regard to people without professional activity, they benefit from the coverage of their health costs solely on the basis of their stable and regular residence in France. There is no longer any need to be attached to an eligible insured. In principle, however, minors continue to have the status of beneficiaries.

Universal health protection replaces the basic universal health cover (CMU) which was instituted by law no. 99-641 of July 27, 1999 creating universal health cover.

2.1.2. The main stages in the construction of social security

The first major laws marking the imprint of the State in the social field appeared at the end of the 19th century: the law of April 9, 1898 on compensation for industrial accidents, the law of April 5, 1910 on worker and peasant pensions , the laws of April 5, 1928 and April 30, 1930 drawing up social insurance legislation and finally the law of March 11, 1932 on family allowances. These texts mark an “insurance turning point” consisting in compensating victims on the basis of risks. However, social security was only really established in 1945 with the French Social Security Plan drawn up by Pierre Laroque.

2.1.3. The dual German and British influence

Two major conceptions of social security will have a certain influence in France during the establishment of the contemporary social security system: the insurance conception of Bismarck and the British system of Beveridge.

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Within the framework of the Bismarckian system (Germany, end of the 19th century), the idea is that the State must intervene. This intervention must however be relayed by the professional world through the insurance technique. Social insurance therefore corresponds to an adaptation of ordinary insurance: the benefits provided will be financed by contributions based on the income of the insured and distributed between employer and employee. This is compulsory insurance. The Bismarckian system is related to work.

On the other hand, according to the conclusions of Lord Beveridge's report on the reform of the British social protection system (1942), a generalized, single, uniform social security system must be set up, regardless of the professional situation of the insured.

France will collect these two contradictory legacies throughout its history. If the French social security system is based above all on insurance (benefits paid in return for contributions deducted from the payslip), the manifestations of a logic of assistance are increasing. France will thus build a hybrid, united and redistributive system, combining universal protection and autonomous management by the social partners (social democracy).

2.1.4. The notions of “regime” and “branch”

Social security is made up of several schemes: the general scheme (employees, assimilated workers and beneficiaries), the agricultural scheme (farmers and agricultural workers) and the special schemes (civil service, RATP, Mines, Banque de France, Ministers of religion , etc.).

Since January 1, 2018, the social protection of self-employed workers - previously managed by the Social Regime for the Self-Employed (RSI) - has been entrusted to the general social security system. The notion of “branch” is also structuring. In the administrative and financial organization of a scheme, it corresponds to the same set of institutions (national fund and basic organisations) in charge of managing a particular social risk. The notion of branch is therefore defined in relation to the social risk which transcends the regimes.

For example, the general scheme provides coverage for four branches of risk:

  • the sickness-maternity-invalidity-death branch;
  • the old age branch;
  • the occupational accidents and diseases branch;
  • family benefits.

It is traditional to add the “recovery” branch, referring to the fundamental role of URSSAF (Union for the recovery of social security contributions and family allowances), responsible for collecting contributions and social contributions, redistribution to the funds and the fight against fraud.

2.2. Social assistance and social action

Inspired by the principle of a duty of public subsistence with regard to needy citizens laid down during the Revolution, the foundations of modern social assistance were proclaimed in 1899 in a Charter of assistance: "Public assistance is due to those who find themselves temporarily or permanently unable to provide for the necessities of life. Public assistance is only due in the absence of other assistance. Public assistance is communal in essence. It is by the municipality that the beneficiaries of the assistance must be designated because, alone, it is in a position to know them”.

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In 1945, when the Social Security system was set up, it was not forbidden to think that the traditional policy of social assistance and action would gradually lose its importance and its raison d'être. Indeed, in the minds of the promoters, this system was intended to be extended and generalized and should provide, given the situation of full employment and economic growth, security for all at a satisfactory level. However, it is undeniable today that social assistance and social action are proving to be an essential complement to the global protection system by allowing it to maintain a relative efficiency.

Social assistance is generally defined as a set of benefits corresponding to subjective, specialized rights, of a food nature and granted without prior contribution from the beneficiaries. It is a community aid to the most deprived, a set of benefits in kind or monetary constituting a legal obligation for public communities, and which are intended to meet a state of need for the beneficiaries in the impossibility of providing it. It is an institutional response that creates a right for an individual. Social assistance is always based on public authorities, even if these may involve various actors, particularly private ones.

Social assistance differs from social security in that the latter subjects the receipt of social benefits to the payment of social security contributions. Social security is, in principle, a form of insurance, while social assistance is based on assistance.

Social assistance should be distinguished from social action, sometimes incorrectly called “optional social assistance” as opposed to legal social assistance. Social action is based on the idea of ​​free initiative by its promoters: it is a "set of interventions, freely or at the discretion of various actors, which either compensate for the shortcomings of other forms of aid, in particular social assistance, or intend to supplement or extend other forms of assistance”. It covers various forms: direct aid (financing of household help, etc.), indirect aid (aid for employment, etc.), setting up equipment or collective services (nurseries, etc.) . Social action is multi-institutional since it can be the work of the State, local authorities, public establishments, social security organizations and private individuals. It does not assume any prior contribution from the beneficiaries.

2.3. Complementary or conventional plans

Complementary schemes are superimposed on the basic coverage. This is for example the supplementary pension scheme for employees in the private sector. Became mandatory in 1973 and reformed in 2017, the Agirc-Arrco supplementary pension scheme makes it possible to benefit, at the time of retirement, from a supplementary pension on basic retirement. Supplementary pension contributions allow the insured to acquire points which serve as the basis for calculating the pension. The insured can request to benefit from his supplementary pension from the age of 62. So-called “supplementary” pension schemes are also set up within a company or a professional branch. Their purpose is to supplement the retirement benefits paid by Social Security and the mandatory supplementary schemes. Savings plans for retirement, individual or collective, can be created.

On an optional basis, provident schemes make it possible to guarantee additional cover to the benefits provided by the basic schemes for certain risks (incapacity, invalidity, death, dependency, for example). For self-employed or self-employed workers, there are also supplementary pension, provident and complementary health plans.

These schemes are managed by three categories of bodies: mutual insurance companies, insurance companies and provident institutions.

It is also important to emphasize that, since January 1, 2016, the generalization of supplementary health insurance requires private sector companies to provide their employees with collective coverage. This new company mutual covers a minimum of health costs: the minimum healthcare basket. The employer can however go further and choose superior guarantees for his employees. It contributes, in all cases, to the financing of the employee's contribution up to a minimum of 50%. The employee will be responsible for the remaining part. All employees of the company are concerned and must join the company mutual, except in cases of exemption.

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2.4. unemployment insurance

Resulting from the loss of employment, unemployment results in the reduction, even the disappearance of the income of the worker, unable to meet the necessities of existence. From total unemployment, we distinguish partial unemployment which results in a reduction in working hours, and gives rise to specific compensation measures.

Dealing with unemployment calls for both compensation measures (passive expenditure) and measures to help people return to work: prospecting for jobs, placement of job seekers, vocational training, skills assessment, etc.

These measures are governed by the labor code, but above all the unemployment insurance agreements which set the rules for compensating job seekers and tend to take into account changes in the labor market.


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