On 16 March 2016, the French government submitted its first request for proposals for social impact bond projects (contrat à impact social). Social impact bonds already exist or are in development in a few European countries, including Belgium, the UK, and Germany, but the question remains as to whether France will follow others or do things its own way.
The definition of a contrat à impact social in France follows the general mechanism of a social impact bond as seen in other European countries. According to the French government, the contrat à impact social will attract new private investment funds to offer solutions to social problems such as helping young people from unfavourable districts to get an education and to find a job, rehabilitation of former prisoners and prevention of recidivism, supporting young single mothers, and fighting addictions.
However, there are a lot of hesitations about the efficacy of such financing from parts of civil society. According to the organization of French associations (Collectif d’Associations Citoyennes), the cost of financing public services through social impact bonds is three times greater than in the case of financing by the State. Philosophical hesitations concern the role of the State in solving social problems, which is traditionally very strong in France, and the view that the social impact bond is just another form of public–private partnership, which have been criticised as inefficient according to a legal commission of the Senate which reported in 2014.
Will the contrat à impact social succeed and show that some of the most knotty social problems can be untangled? Time will tell.
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