Minister of Labor Hubertus Heil (SPD) voted in favor of citizens’ income in the roll-call vote in the Bundestag.Image: IMAGO / Political Moments
“Poverty excludes” is the basic finding of the distribution report of the Economic and Social Science Institute of the Hans Böckler Foundation. The report was presented at a press conference on Thursday. Aim of the study: Finding out how income poverty affects the social participation of those affected. Spoilers: not good.
Even before the corona pandemic, the financial deficit of households below the poverty line compared to the median income had increased by a third in 2019 compared to 2010. This means that poverty in Germany reached a peak in 2019 – Corona, war and the energy crisis have further worsened the situation.
Poor people have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and inflation.Image: dpa / Frank Molter
The authors of the study, Dorothee Spannagel and Aline Zucco, come to the conclusion that social participation is even significantly restricted by poverty. To do this, the poor would have to go without everyday necessities, live in smaller apartments and have poorer health. SAs early as 2019, long before the energy crisis, 5 percent of those affected by poverty could not heat their homes properly.
Spannagel and Zucco assume that the situation has worsened. They refer to a study by the Parity Welfare Association, which reported a new poverty high in 2021.
The authors summarize the situation as follows: The poor are less satisfied with their lives and they have less trust in the actions of political actors.
Distributive injustice can harm democracy
This distrust is also reflected in the assessment of the state system: 68 percent of people who live below the poverty line consider democracy to be the best form of government, the authors write. 59 percent think democracy in Germany works well. According to Statista, the overall German average is here 71 percent.
According to the authors of the study, trust in democracy is declining among those affected by poverty.Image: IMAGO images/ Emmanuele Contini
The survey basis for the distribution report was data from the repeat surveys of the Socio-Economic Panels (2019) and the life situation survey the Hans Böckler Foundation (2020), as well as a representative survey conducted by the Institute for Macroeconomics and Business Cycle Research (IMK) of the foundation from August 2022.
“Poverty and social polarization can shake the foundations of our democratic coexistence, especially when they become entrenched,” says WSI director Bettina Kohlrausch. Commitment against poverty is therefore not only necessary to help those affected – but also to keep society together.
“This is all the more true because in times of high inflation there is a risk of social decline, even for people who have had little to worry about over the past decade. It is therefore good that citizens’ income is coming quickly.”
What the WSI boss regrets, however, is that the trust period was canceled after the agreement between the traffic light and the Union. Because this proposal, Kohlrausch assumes, could have strengthened trust in state institutions. However, where she sees the possibility of a paradigm shift is the abolition of priority mediation. This means that in the new basic income concept, qualifications should be placed in reasonable work through mediation.
The government and the Union were able to agree on a compromise on citizen income.Image: IMAGO images / Christian Spicker
Citizens’ income: In part, the chance for a paradigm shift
This gives people in particular, whose precarious situation is also due to a lack of qualifications, the opportunity to continue their education. What also belongs to the truth: Germany lacks qualified specialists. In the end, however, even now that the traffic light coalition and the Union have reached an agreement, the question is how the new citizens’ income – including its measures – will work out in practice.
However, Kohlrausch makes it clear: “Money helps against poverty.” In the end, poverty-proof protection in the sense of higher standard rates must also be discussed – as well as rising wages in the low-wage sector. Even if that means thinking about redistribution. The WSI boss makes it clear that not only the poor would benefit from such a redistribution, but society as a whole.
The authors of the study also come to the conclusion that the compatibility of family and career must be further promoted. Both families and single parents would benefit from this. Both groups that are at risk of poverty. This would require more flexible working models and easier access to childcare services.
If the traffic light coalition has its way, it should be the socio-political reform of the decade: the introduction of citizen income. From 2023 onwards, this would mean more money, fewer sanctions, more freedom and less pressure for those drawing unemployment benefits.