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Social security in France is divided into four branches: illness; old age/retirement; family; work accident and occupational disease. From an institutional point of view, French social security is made up of diverse organismes. The system is divided into three main Regimes: the General Regime, the Farm Regime and the Self-employed Regime. In addition there are numerous special regimes dating from prior to the creation of the state system.
From the Middle Ages, certain professional organizations provided limited assistance to their members. However, the abolition of corporations by the Allarde decree, in 1791, put an end to this early system of private professional collective security. It was nevertheless replaced by the sociétés de secours mutuels, or societies for mutual support, recognized and strictly regulated by the 1835 Humann law. These sociétés would thereafter be free from administrative control, and were encouraged by the law of 1 April 1898, referred to as the Charte de la mutualité, or Charter of mutuality. The 1898 law establishes the principles of mutualisme, as they are found today in French law; mutuelles—organizations for collective social insurance—were permitted to offer loans to any French person, even if at the beginning, interest rates were too high for the average person.
Alongside the movement for mutual, private social insurance, legislators pushed state-sponsored social aid, which tended to nurture the principle of national solidarity. The law of 15 July 1893, instituted free medical assistance; the law of 9 April 1898, considerably facilitated the worker compensation claims; the law of 27 June 1904, created the service départemental d'aide sociale à l'enfance, a childbirth assistance program; and on 14 July 1905, an elderly and disabled persons assistance program was initiated. France also had, by the 1900s, the most extensive network of child welfare clinics and free or subsidized milk supplies in the world.
The development of insurance companies, at the beginning of the 20th century, was also encouraged by legislation. (Note that insurance companies are profit driven, while mutuelles are cooperatives.) On 9 April 1898, legislators required that employers purchase insurance for indemnity payments to injured employees. Then, on 5 April 1928, insurance was extended to cover illness, maternity, and death. On 30 April 1930, the law was again extended to apply to jobs in the agricultural sector. The bill was supported by Pierre Laval, who went on to serve as the French Prime Minister from 1942 to 1944, in the Vichy government. As a result, historian Fred Kupferman has called Laval "the father of social security" in France.
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