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‘Gilets jaunes’: Are French households any worse off than others in Europe?

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‘Gilets jaunes’: Are French households any worse off than others in Europe?
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Members of France’s “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) movement have been taking to the streets in recent weeks, rallying against rising living costs in the country.

The movement has galvanised people across different ages, regions and professions, with many complaining that they struggle to make ends meet at the end of each month.

But do French households really have less disposable income than those in other European Union countries?

‘A relatively weak cause for complaining’

Data released by Eurostat suggests that France is actually in the top four countries in the EU in terms of household disposable income.

Only Luxembourg, Germany and Austria fare better, and French households are shown to have far more money in their pockets than the European average.

“In short, the average French person is better off” than most in Europe, Iain Begg, a professorial research fellow at LSE’s European Institute, said of the data.

“It tells you that the average French household has a disposable income among the top handful in Europe. There is a relatively weak case for complaining about it,” he told Euronews.

Meanwhile, Greece, Hungary and Latvia were among the EU countries with the lowest household disposable incomes.

Begg noted that the results came as little surprise, with disposable income levels typically falling in line with GDP.

But with many “gilets jaunes” saying they are struggling to feed themselves and fear for their futures, are these figures really telling the true story?

‘Some are doing well under Macron’s policies, some are doing worse’

The data is calculated in PPS, an “artificial currency” that adjusts for differences in price levels to allow for comparison between countries.

Begg explained that this “normal statistical manipulation” means that the data can’t show the full picture of people’s experiences.

“The PPS adjustment is a national adjustment, and it's very often computed in the capital. [This means] it’s probably not taking account of the higher cost of living in some areas, and overstating it in others," he said.

"If you are a 'gilet jaune' living in a high cost area you will be significantly worse off than someone living somewhere in a low-cost area with the same income".

“It’s capturing an average across all households — [but in reality] some are doing well under Macron’s policies, some are doing worse”.