France's Macron unveils plan to combat poverty

French President Emmanuel Macron, often branded by critics as the president of the rich, has unveiled an 8 billion-euro ($9 billion) plan to tackle poverty.

Macron said in a speech Thursday: "I don't want a plan to help poor people to better live poor. I want them to be given the choice, and the possibility, not to be poor anymore."

The plan runs over the next four years. It focuses on better education for poor children and providing help to unemployed people to get back to work, rather than financial aid only.

Measures include places in nursery to free up parents for work or training, school breakfasts in poor neighborhoods and compulsory job training for school leavers under 18.

Another measure previously announced involves a smaller number of children per class between the ages of 6 and 8 in poor neighborhoods.

"Poverty must not be transmitted as a heritage anymore", Macron said.

Macron announced plans to change the social benefit system by 2020, so that one single minimum income for the poorest will replace the current complex system of benefits. Those who receive the payment will be asked to look for a job or training, he said.

After 16 months in power, the 40-year-old centrist leader has seen his recent popularity ratings reach a low.

Political opponents and unions criticized his pro-business policies as favoring the rich. He notably scrapped a tax for the wealthy and sought to attract big French and foreign investors.

Statistics agency Insee estimates that about 14 percent of France's population lives below the poverty line.