Deconjugalizing the AAH: when the welfare state manufactures autonomy

In an opinion piece, a group of academics and researchers believe that the bill on the deconjugalization of the AAH submitted to the Assembly on Thursday, February 17, is an opportunity to guarantee the fundamental rights of people with disabilities and to allow social protection instruments to truly achieve their objectives.

Deconjugalizing the AAH: when the welfare state manufactures autonomy

The current method of calculation of the Allocation Adulte Handicapé is contrary to the spirit of this benefit created to guarantee the financial autonomy of disabled people. On June 17, by examining a bill to de-conjugalize the AAH, the National Assembly will have the opportunity to substantially modify the method of calculation of this benefit and to propose a system that is truly in line with the stated objectives of this social benefit. Indeed, in 1975, the creation of this benefit was intended to give access to a minimum income and a dignified and autonomous life to people who cannot ensure their subsistence through a salaried activity because of their disability. Today, the way this benefit is calculated has the opposite effect of what was intended. Taking into account the income of spouses, whether or not they are married or in a civil union, means that for many recipients living as a couple, their benefit is reduced or even completely lost. For a couple where the beneficiary has no other income than the AAH, the allowance starts to decrease from 1016,55€ of the spouse’s net salary, until it is completely cancelled beyond 2271,55€. An amendment to the bill to deconjugalize the AAH, tabled by the government and the majority, proposes to raise the decrease threshold to 1276.20€ and to leave the cancellation threshold practically unchanged at 2280.20€, leading to significant losses for some couples with children. For example, for one child these losses would be spread over the 2300- 2850€ salary bracket, and for two children over the 2350-3500€ salary bracket.

Since the beginning of the year 2020, a citizen’s movement, led by the people concerned themselves, has succeeded in putting on the political agenda the demand for the deconjugalization of the AAH: no longer taking into consideration the spouse’s income is a major issue for several reasons.

As shown by the many accounts collected over the past year, the victimization studies analyzed by DREES and certain qualitative studies, the financial dependence generated by the conjugation of social benefits increases the probability of domestic violence. People who are deprived of their AAH because their spouse works are in great difficulty when they leave their home if they are exposed to domestic violence. How can they pay for a hotel room to escape their spouse if they have to ask their spouse for money?

Moreover, conjugalization places children in the delicate position of being the ones who will deprive their disabled parent of his or her allowance: children represent a half-tax share in the calculation of income taken into account in the calculation of AAH rights. When they reach the age of majority for tax purposes (20 years old in this case), this share disappears and the parent can then lose the benefit. However, nothing has changed in their disability situation or in their income from work, and most young adults at age 20 are not yet financially independent and continue to need their parents’ support.

Moreover, far from contributing to the autonomy of disabled people, conjugalization hinders access to couple life and makes them pay the full price of love. This type of calculation favors dependence on others and limits equality in the couple. By deconjugalizing the service, the legislator would, on the contrary, offer the conditions for real solidarity. The stories collected over the past year by militant groups often indicate this. Self-esteem, shame, withdrawal, psychological suffering, suicidal thoughts, sometimes followed by action: social policies have direct effects on the way individuals live, on their resources, but also on their social status and on the image they have of their situation. It is the legislator’s duty to fully consider this statutory and symbolic dimension of social protection systems, to move away from purely accounting and financial approaches, to look at the structural effects of these benefits.

Finally, the conjugalization of the calculation of the AAH produces effects that are the opposite of those desired by social protection systems that do not aim to maintain dependence and lock people into poverty. Is it necessary to remind this? For people considered unable to work, the maximum amount of the benefit (903.60 euros) is, for a single person, close to the poverty line, calculated without taking into account the additional costs linked to the disability. The deconjugation of the AAH is finally the best way to make the political intentions – tirelessly repeated by everyone: to favor the autonomy of disabled people – coincide with the actual functioning of the social policy instruments put in place.

Pierre-Yves Baudot, sociologist, University of Paris-Dauphine

Nicolas Duvoux, sociologist, University of Paris-8

Didier Fassin, anthropologist and sociologist, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, Chair of

Public Health at the Collège de France

Emmanuelle Fillion, sociologist, École des Hautes Études de Santé Publique

Emmanuelle Kristensen, CNRS research engineer

Dominique Méda, sociologist, University of Paris-Dauphine

Anne-Cécile Mouget, sociologist, University of Caen

Isabelle Ville, sociologist, EHESS

Hélène Périvier, economist, Sciences Po Paris

Muriel Pucci, economist, University of Paris 1

Kevin Polisano, CNRS research fellow in applied mathematics

Michael Zemmour, economist