…French social policy is not overwhelmingly redistributive, and it is not financed with progressive income taxes, as in Denmark and Sweden, nor is it financed with a mix of progressive income taxes and payroll taxes, as in Germany, Canada, and Britain. As in other corporatist/continental consrevative welfare states, French social spending is financed with a mix of regressive payroll taxes, regressive sales taxes, and, for a little over a decade, a smaller "general social contribution" tax…
From the 1950s until roughly 1980 France was the leader in income inequality among OECD nations….in France the top 20% of income earners received 24% of transfer payments and the bottom 20% of earners only 18%. By 1991 French social policy was slightly more progressive, but French manual workers "remain[ed] in virtually the same relative position…"
…France remains a highly stratified society in both the social and economic sense. The wealthiest 10% of the French income ladder are 50% richer than their Swedish counterparts and the upper quarter of the French income ladder is not brought down by the tax system the way it is in Denmark, Sweden, and Germany…today many of France’s wealthy citizens occupy privileged spots at the core of the "welfare state." This is one of the key reasons they tend to support it.
That is from Timothy Smith’s recent and excellent France in Crisis: Welfare, Inequality, and Globalization since 1980. The tale is told from a center-left perspective, and yes he also explains what the French get right. Highly recommended, it is the best book I know on the contemporary French economy and polity.