Want to support Global Action on Aging?
may give up bank holiday to fund elderly care
By Jon Henley, The Guardian
August 28, 2003
The French government,
struggling with the aftermath of a deadly heatwave this month that killed
up to 13,600 mainly elderly people, yesterday suggested cancelling a
public holiday to fund better care for the aged.
The secretary of state for the
elderly, Hubert Falco, said the idea was one of the possibilities being
explored "to try to establish genuine solidarity in the nation. It
would be a holiday on which people would work in the cause of national
Mr Falco said the additional
social security payments and taxes that the government would receive from
an extra day's work could be used to set up and finance a special fund for
the aged, as has been done in Germany. In a snap poll, 81% of respondents
said yesterday that they approved of the plan.
The centre-right administration
of prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has come under heavy public
criticism for its handling of the two-week heatwave, with polls showing
more than half the population feel it failed to respond adequately.
Jacques Chirac has refused to reprimand his government and instead
promised to avert similar catastrophes in the future by patching up the
most obvious failings in the national health system and boosting the
emergency services' funding.
But Mr Chirac also said the
tragic consequences of the freak weather showed French society had to
become more "responsive and attentive" to the vulnerability of
the aged and unwell - a notion which could well explain the unusual
proposal to scrap one of France's 13 public holidays.
There remains the thorny
question of which holiday to cancel. The most likely appears to be May 8,
which marks the end of the second world war in Europe. Picking Armistice
Day, November 11, would be too sensitive a choice in a country which lost
1.4 million men in the first world war; May Day would be politically
unacceptable on the left; and the religious feast days are out of the
The suggestion was greeted with
enthusiasm by the employers' federation, whose chairman, Ernest-Antoine
Seillìre, said it was "a great novelty in France to believe that
problems can be solved by working harder".
But the head of the powerful
Force Ouvrière union, Marc Blondel, said the idea smacked of the Soviet
Union and was a "wholly unmodern" approach to the problem.
· A 325-year-old tree known as Marie Antoinette's oak has become the
oldest victim of France's continuing drought. The tree - planted at the
Palace of Versailles outside Paris in 1681 - was saved from uprooting in
the late 18th century by Marie Antoinette, the soon-to-be-guillotined wife
of Louis XVI, who liked to sit in its shade. It finally succumbed last
week, the palace gardener said.