Re-thinking the French soldier’s social services

Pauperisation, problems finding a civilian job, an explosive rise in the number of divorces… the intensity of recent operations is now putting military personnel under new pressures and these require a different sort of social accompaniment. “An army in times of peace does not require the same social support as a fighting army,” remarks Geneviève Gosselin-Fleury, the co-rapporteur of a parliamentary report on the social protection of soldiers submitted to the National Assembly’s Defence and Armed Forces Commission on 22 February.

Continuous mobilisation and remoteness are two new parameters that must now be taken into account in order to rethink the social protection of the French soldier

 

Not only did the numbers of deployed soldiers quadruple in 2015, but the average number of days spent on deployment either abroad or in France “increased by 43% over the same period” to as much as 220 days for some units, notes Gosselin-Fleury. This operational context, as well as the changes affecting French society, have put the social accompaniment measures “under new tensions,” that can have serious consequences for the soldiers’ family life, according to the report. And yet, in his New Year message of 9 January, didn’t President François Hollande declare that it was necessary to pay “a lot of attention to the situation of families because they also live under military constraints: they must be accompanied.” ?

Considered as the soldier’s “rear base”, families are put under severe strain because of the multiplication and acceleration of transfers. These force soliders to pack and unpack regularly, making it difficult to settle in one place, threatening their children’s education and unfortunately leading to the break-up of the family unit. In addition, almost 51% of these moves are announced with less than three months’ notice, leaving little time for families to organise. As a result, even if 72% of the military are in a partnership, separations are numerous, and “by the age of 30, a quarter of soldiers have already broken a partnership at least once,” the report regrets.

Gosselin-Fleury and her co-rapporteur, Les Républicains Deputy Charles de La Verpillière, explained that it was imperative to rethink what is today an inadequate social model.

Heavy, contradictory, limited, and – surprisingly – unknown to French soldiers, the social package offered them needs “its offer to be simplified and its mode of communication modernised,” explains de La Verpillière. The two parliamentarians propose a dozen recommendations “to better take into account military families in their diversity.” The report insists that the rate of transfers needs to be slowed down and the corresponding timetable adapted. It suggests, for example, that families should be notified by January at the latest of a move during the summer so that they can take the necessary measures in terms of school enrolment, finding new housing, etc.

The housing policy of the Ministry of Defence must also be rethought in order to better respond to two often contradictory objectives, namely to “promote the mobility of all military personnel” while conducting “a social policy towards the military with the most modest incomes,” says de La Verpillière. This policy is now at a crossroads, the report says, and proposes to conduct a study on “the expectations of staff in terms of housing.”

So are we on the eve of a major social advance? In any case, the evolution of the accompaniment of soldiers should in no way deny their ‘militariness’ by giving them exactly the same rights as those conferred to civilians, concludes de La Verpillière. If it is impossible to cancel all the constraints linked to this ‘militariness’, the State apparatus must instead try to compensate for them.