Apple: the next iMac would adopt a new design and an Apple Silicon processor this year

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Grande-Synthe, laboratory of universal income

The first municipality to experience a form of basic income, the former dormitory town born from the steel industry near Dunkirk puts ecology at the service of social redistribution.

Basic income, a utopia? Yes, and yet not quite. In the commune of Grande-Synthe, on the outskirts of Dunkirk (North), a guaranteed social minimum (MSG) has been tested since April 2019. It is not yet known whether it will be sustained after the next municipal elections, but this single income in France is clearly going against the plans to overhaul the social minima which, behind the stated objective of simplification, are part of a logic of reduction in benefits.

The former HLM dormitory, wedged to the south by the A16 motorway and encircled to the north by the steel complex which brought it out of the ground in the 1960s, is known for the reception of migrants set up by the ex-environmental mayor Damien Carême, still a member of the municipal council and now an MEP. It was also he who spurred the city's green shift: redesigned and airy neighborhoods, energy-efficient buildings, free buses, 43-kilometer cycle paths. The municipality of 24,000 inhabitants has become the model of a social ecology in action.

Partly thanks to the savings generated by the transition to green energy (75% of municipal energy expenditure comes from renewables), Grande-Synthe has been funding the guaranteed social minimum since the spring. The goal is to provide each month to the 17.2% of the most precarious Grand-Synthois with an income corresponding to the amount of the “low” poverty line 1: 855 euros for a single person, for a period of one to six months, possibly renewable. The latest landmark decision in Damien Carême's eighteen-year term, now implemented by his PS successor since May, Martial Beyaert, MSG was like a thunderclap. First, for its funding: 40% of the 1.2 million euros budgeted (for one year of application) comes from the savings made by replacing bulbs in public lighting with LEDs. The transfer of the health center to the urban community and the reallocation of municipal emergency social assistance finance the rest.

This creation came when the National Assembly had just rejected a basic income bill, defended by thirteen departments on the left. "Faced with the lack of political will, Damien Carême wanted to show that it was possible to act, even in a very restrictive version, adapted to the legal framework and to the finances of the city", notes Clément Cayol, doctoral student in sociology and economics at the University of Lille (Clersé2 laboratory), which was recruited to follow the experiment, prepared since 2018 and which runs until the next electoral deadlines in March.

A known supporter of universal income, Damien Carême had to adapt his ambitions to the possibilities of regulation. The MSG does not replace social assistance (unlike the transition income offered by the departments), is not "unconditional", but is optional social assistance, carefully calibrated so that its allocation does not reduce the amount of the RSA or other helpers, but complements them. The name chosen by Damien Carême echoes that of the aid created by his father René, socialist mayor from 1971 to 1992, who inspired the creation of RMI in 1988.

Installed in the town hall of red bricks, the communal center of social action (CCAS) is the ground of the experimentation. It is here that recipients of minimum social benefits, poor workers, retirees, young people under the age of 25, all those living on less than 855 euros in monthly income, can apply for the MSG. By the end of 2019, 728 of the 1,091 applications processed had been validated: 68% of households with minimum welfare recipients with children. Like Brigitte3, who lives with her 16-year-old daughter, but had never contacted the CCAS.

“We are reaching a new audience. Invisibles who never asked for emergency aid and managed to manage by not eating three times a day, by not heating all the rooms, "said Juan-Manuel Del Pozo, director of the CCAS until December, which accompanied the ramp-up of the system. For Christophe Madacsi, his successor, "taking poverty as the key, rather than delinquencies, changes everything". "It doesn't show," says Brigitte. The experience interests: the communist town hall of Sallaumines (Pas-de-Calais) sent three delegations.

If the MSG raises certain reluctance on demand, it also helps to combat non-recourse. In fact, to benefit from this aid, which supplements the household income (wages, social benefits, housing assistance) and raises it to the poverty line, you must have "opened" all your social rights. The challenge is to alleviate the paralyzing anxiety at the end of the month by the visibility given, and to break the circle of precariousness by individualized monitoring. To help resolve the ball of difficulties (housing, isolation), enegotiate a search for training, employment or make the connection between two situations. If it is too early to measure the effects, "especially on the return to work", Christophe Madacsi notes a "appeasement" in the relationship with social workers, facilitated support. "The MSG changes the paradigm of social assistance," he continues. Its beneficiaries see their autonomy respected, especially in their consumption choices ”4.

A city in transition
A speech in line with that of the former mayor, for whom the MSG has nothing of a modern charity, but is a lever that "gives back autonomy to build" and is part of the continuity of his political project. Because Grande-Synthe is not just a city stamped as a "sustainable development demonstrator" by the Environment and Energy Management Agency (Ademe), which has integrated the ecological challenges of urban renewal into the city. 'all policies (housing, energy, transport), using the lever of public procurement. A city where we will visit the first “positive energy” stadium in France thanks to its sail wind turbine; take a stroll in the L'îlot des painters district, where passive housing, which produces more energy than it consumes, replaced the HLM bars, which were real energy colanders; see the site of the health center, expected in 2021, which will be 83% removable and recyclable.

The municipality has also been part of the movement of "cities in transition" since 2011, which relies on citizen dynamics to build a more united and sustainable development. A challenge, while the unemployment rate does not drop below 10.6%, that 31% of Grand-Synthois live on less than 1,060 euros per month. Hence the flowering of actions taking into account the material conditions of existence, also thought to reweave the social bond: network of exchanges and knowledge, buying group, repair coffee. Installed in a passive wooden house, the popular university is the spearhead.

"Health and food are good levers for mobilization. The autonomy to think is first built materially, "explains Julian Mierzejewski, coordinator of the popular university. An atypical municipal service which also supports "gardeners", these 170 families who cultivate, without pesticide, the six shared vegetable gardens, available at the foot of the building. "The whole issue is that of collective appropriation. A city in transition cannot be decreed, it is built over time, ”comments Jean-Christophe Lipovac, ex-director of the“ Ecological and social transition ”project at Grande-Synthe. The municipality instills and supports: 100% organic menus in school canteens since 2011 at a ridiculous price (0.40 to 1.85 € per meal), creation of an aid for the purchase of bikes and even a participatory budget of 500 000 euros.

"Exceptional" level of recipes
Generous ? The paradox is that Grande-Synthe was able to begin its ecological and social transition thanks to the windfall of the polluting steel industry (yesterday Usinor, today ArcelorMittal) from which it wants to extricate itself. A legacy from the father of Damien Carême, a CFDT electrician from Lorraine who came to work there and who, having become mayor, doubled local taxes in 1972. With ArcelorMittal's business tax (63% of the 65 million revenue 2018), Grande-Synthe has the budget of a city of 40,000 inhabitants, when it has half of it.

An "exceptional" level of revenue, recently highlighted by the Regional Court of Auditors, which finances "a high level of investment and operating costs". Clearly, which has made it possible to create room for maneuver for green orientation, without going back on the low-cost cultural and sports offer (€ 0.90 entry to the swimming pool) or on municipal employment, shock absorber social claimed. It remains to consolidate this transition, where the guaranteed social minimum is presented as an "additional step", before the windfall in this territory hit by deindustrialization runs out.

"We are aware of the limits and the fragility of the model put in place," recognizes Jean-Christophe Lipovac. A model that has yet to prove itself in terms of job creation. This will be the challenge of the next mayor. The current councilor, candidate for re-election, has already declared himself favorable to the continuation of the MSG.