When inflation undermines the right to vacation

“While prices are reaching levels not seen since 1985, inequalities in access to holidays will widen this summer. The alert is signed by sociologist Pierre Périer, a specialist in the holiday practices of working-class families. After a historic drop in the departure rate in 2020, the number of stays is on the rise again this summer. A sign that the French want to make up for the moments of escape lost because of the Covid.

Except that many remain by the wayside. According to a survey by the Observatory of Inequalities, published on July 6, more than 35 million French people indicate that they do not go on vacation each year, for lack of means, and not by choice, for half of them. Unsurprisingly, those who succeed are executives, twice as many as workers, according to the Research Center for the Study and Observation of Living Conditions (Crédoc). Problem: this fracture, far from resolving, is getting bigger.

More than eighty years after the introduction of paid leave, nearly four out of ten French people still do not go on vacation in the summer for economic reasons, according to the latest report from the Observatory of Inequalities, leading to large disparities between social circles. “Access to paid leave does not necessarily rhyme with vacation”claimed the yellow vests, who denounced systemic inequalities.

According to the same report, only 37% of people with monthly incomes below 1,285 euros can leave their homes, compared to 72% of people with incomes above 2,600 euros. « To leave, you have to have the means », confirms Tarik Touahria, the president of the Federation of social and socio-cultural centers of France (FCSF). Transport, accommodation, activities: holidays are expensive and a large part of households cannot afford them.

According to Didier Arino, the managing director of the Protourisme consultancy, the average cost of a ten-day stay is around 1,950 euros for a family of four, with two children. “That’s a month’s income for a middle-class household. »

Nearly three quarters of reservations in mainland France

However, inequalities continue to widen. The most modest leave less often today than twenty years ago (37% in 2022 against 41% in 2002), reports the Observatory of inequalities. A trend that galloping inflation can only aggravate. « The rise in prices, especially of gasoline, will heavily penalize the working classes »warns sociologist Pierre Périer. Those who have the best holiday budgets, the upper socio-professional categories, are not really affected by the rise in the price of pasta or petrol: their plans do not change or, on the contrary, improve, since 20% have seen their budget increase. »

An alarming observation that Didier Arino confirms, stressing that the purchasing power crisis does not really affect the reservations of French holidaymakers, because « the most affected by inflation are precisely those who do not go on vacation ». Especially since « one of the conditions for starting among the working classes is to have saved for months, which has been more complicated this year due to their post-Covid economic fragility and the explosion in prices ».

Behind the enticing figure of two million new starters (compared to 2021) therefore, these are in reality “fourteen million modest French people who remain doubly penalized this year”. Because, even for the luckiest, who will leave all the same this summer, stays will be marred by budgetary restrictions on catering (whose prices have increased by around 6%) and paid outings, assures the specialist.

The disparities in departure rates are in fact coupled with differences in the very nature of the holidays (duration, destination, type of accommodation and transport, etc.). The budget varies greatly depending on the place of stay with, at the two extremes, the trip to the French countryside, which allows you to leave without breaking the bank, and the trip abroad, which entails many costs.

This year, nearly three-quarters of reservations are made in mainland France, according to the Interhome report published in early May, which presented the outlook for summer 2022. And renting remains the preferred mode of accommodation for French people for summer vacation. But, in this period when purchasing power is at the heart of concerns, “Rental prices, the first criterion (73%) for choosing accommodation for the 2022 summer holidays, and transport have increased by 12%”emphasizes Didier Arino.

Once again, it is the working classes who suffer from this, since the better-off benefit more often, from friends or family, from free accommodation. Penalized by rising prices, holidaymakers on a tight budget “Priorize holidays at home or turn to less expensive, therefore local, destinations, with a very strong appetite for camping”he remarks.

A fundamental right

If the non-departure of the working classes is mainly conditioned by budgetary constraints, this is not the only reason for the persistent inequalities in France. « Going on vacation is also part of the sociability which is in fact the prerogative of the privileged categories who earn more of course, but who have also become accustomed to traveling with their parents »emphasizes Pierre Périer.

In fact, the defense of « right to quality holidays for all » has been far from being a political priority for more than thirty years. The last advance dating from 1998 with the registration of the right to holidays in the law against exclusions. “Holidays are cultural. People from precarious backgrounds do not even imagine or allow themselves to go on vacation”explains Houria Tareb, the national secretary of the Secours populaire français, which campaigns for holidays to remain a fundamental right, « in the same way as the right to work, health, education or housing ».

Because « the stays offered are bursts of hope for children, but also families, seniors, migrants and people with disabilities, to whom precariousness prevents access to this fundamental right ». Aware of these issues, many associations take over from the State in the field by supporting and informing low-income families about the aid available.

Holiday vouchers, the Vacaf system and social aid from the National Family Allowance Fund (Cnaf) are the three pillars of social justice claimed by defenders of the right to holidays for all. « In all the schemes, the national criterion insists on the financial participation of the family »explains Juliette Demoulin, the national delegate of the Federation of social centers of France in charge of the right to vacation.

Work on self-financing capacity is the cornerstone of the social aid system for French holidays, which requires that they come to meet the financial contribution of families, with the latter generally assuming 10 to 20% of the total cost of their holidays.. “Which can put a stop to certain inclinations to leave, because the financial aid for holidays is insufficient for households whose budget is already consumed by the constrained charges”she points out.

The various social actors all deplore the fact that Cnaf aid is not harmonized at national level and that it is “accessible exclusively to regularized families”, recalls Sandra Tison (Family coordinator of the Goutte d’Or social center), pointing out the exclusion of undocumented families from these measures. Another vector of inequality: Vacaf aid is calculated according to the family quotient. Only the most precarious are eligible, but not the lower middle classes.

“Some are too rich to be helped, and too poor to go on vacation”summarizes Didier Arino, recalling that a household living on the Smic cannot afford a holiday without aid. « Even if the holiday vouchers allow families who do not meet the CAF criteria to finance part of their leave, the system is threatened by its extension to tourist agencies », warns Houria Tareb, regretting the disappearance of social and family tourism in France. Because by privatizing this market, the distribution of Chèques-Vacances will no longer be the quasi-monopoly of the National Agency for Chèques-Vacances (ANCV), at the risk of reducing their amount and constraining their use.


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