The results presented in this report form part of the research conducted in Open Society Foundations’ At Home in Europe programme examining the experiences of Europe’s white working class. The reports seek to identify and better understand the barriers to full and equal social participation and the factors leading to marginalisation. The aim is to identify and promote effective integration policies and practices in Europe.
This report on the situation of the majority French population in the city of Lyon, France, is based on 15 focus group meetings with 85 inhabitants in the 8th arrondissement (borough) of Lyon, alongside 20 individual interviews with stakeholders and an extensive literature review. The report covers a range of topics that provide the basis for exploring experiences of marginalisation and social exclusion: identity and belonging, education, employment, housing, health and social services, policing and security, civil and political participation, and the role of the media.
This report is part of a comparative study involving five other European cities (Aarhus, Amsterdam, Berlin, Manchester and Stockholm). This study is the largest and to our knowledge the only empirical study on the majority population that has been conducted in France.
Lyon’s 8th arrondissement, where this study took place, is among the most socially and economically challenged districts in the city. There are 76,000 inhabitants in the 8th arrondissement, of which the majority is considered to be in the lower socio-economic strata of society. There are several types of housing, mainly social housing (Habitat à Loyer Modéré, HLM) interspersed with higher-quality blocks of flats and areas where individual houses with gardens have been maintained.
Within France, Lyon is considered to be a role model for working actively with issues of inclusion and cohesion, a policy which is called the politique de la ville (urban policy). The Open Society Foundations’ research finds that French identity is under pressure and even in a crisis according to some focus group participants. To what extent this might be causally linked either to immigration or to the perception of immigration could not be ascertained. The discussion suggests that high immigration and a loss of national identity are simultaneous trends, with no clear link between them. Stakeholders suggested that people felt that the diminished presence of the state and its representatives in everyday life might lead to uncontrolled immigration on the one hand, and a feeling of abandonment on the other.
All participants in the focus groups felt proud to be Lyonnais, to varying degrees. In the 8th arrondissement, the Etats-Unis area has a particularly strong identity, perhaps because of its architecture and history. The strong local and city identity was reinforced by a sense that French identity was in crisis. For some, the identification with France was linked to how much the nation was seen as providing opportunities for improving their lives.
The diversity and density of Lyon, both of which are especially apparent in the Etats- Unis area, imply constant interactions and relationships between individuals of different backgrounds. This meant that focus group participants had at least indirect experiences with and insights into everyday racism and prejudice, even if they were not themselves the primary focus. The lived experience of diversity also meant that tolerance and non-tolerance seemed to live side-by-side.
Participants mentioned a growing sense of fracture in French society, but this appeared to relate to growing social inequality. One participant spoke about a French catastrophe when discussing the underprivileged majority population. He referred to the many former manual workers who had lost their jobs during the previous 20 years, whose children had been put through higher education in order to escape from these problems, but who were still unable to secure decent jobs.
Focus group participants were happy and proud about the good quality of local schools. However, feelings of discontent and anxiety were expressed about the behaviour of students inside and outside schools. There was a perceived lack of authority and discipline and a growing everyday incivility.
Lyon has many big commercial companies especially in the biomedical sector; it also has high-ranking schools and universities. The majority of focus group participants were in employment, or had been until recently. A significant number were working in the health-care sector, almost all of them women. The distribution of jobs and occupations followed classical gender lines in the Open Society Foundations’ sample, with most women working in services (nursing assistants, nannies, shop assistants, etc.) and most men in manual jobs. Only 5 percent of the focus group participants were currently looking for a job. Surprisingly few negative remarks were made about the economic situation or the job market, perhaps reflecting the strength of the labour market in Lyon compared with the rest of France. Remarks were made, however, indicating that people felt the situation was better in Germany or neighbouring
A recurrent theme in relation to both education and employment was the devaluation of vocational education and traditional skilled trades and professions. They argued that training should focus on real jobs such as mechanics, plumbers or horticulturists, rather than pursuing the elusive goal of a baccalaureate for everyone. Participants in low-status jobs also talked about the increasing lack of respect that they felt was shown to people who worked in such jobs. The difficulties of getting by on jobs that paid the minimum wage were also noted by a number of participants. Similarly, a number of older women who were pensioners said they were still working in order to make ends meet.
The Emplois Francs (literally, free jobs or tax-free jobs) were cited as an example of good practice. These are financial incentives given to companies that offer full-time employment to people aged under 30, who have been unemployed for over a year and who have been living in a priority area for at least six months. A very high percentage (90 percent) of the focus group participants lived in rented apartments, around half of them in social housing in the Etats-Unis area, a long, wide avenue with a recently inaugurated tram line set along it.
The city’s housing and regeneration policy aims to do away with areas with high concentrations of poverty and to create more socio-economically mixed neighbourhoods, through the dispersal of poor households. Most participants approved of this policy. Some participants voiced concerns about housing become too expensive and/or too difficult to obtain. But altogether, most stakeholders supported the municipal policy of developing areas around the city centre in order to increase housing opportunities for the growing population. Green areas were few and far between within the 8th arrondissement, but this was not seen as a big problem because an excellent public transport system enabled local residents to travel quickly to several large parks within a 5-km radius.
In conclusion, the report finds that although an area in Lyon may be regarded as marginalised and vulnerable, the residents were generally positive about the future and did not feel particularly disempowered. This may reflect the wider safety net of social protection that is provided by the state as well as the good position that Lyon finds itself in compared with other cities in France.