Back to work via chat (

The long-term unemployed often cannot afford a computer.

The long-term unemployed often cannot afford a computer.

Foto: Aleksandr Davydov / Alamy Stock Photo

When the then red-green federal government introduced Agenda 2010 at the beginning of the 2000s, increasing impoverishment and impoverishment were the foreseeable consequences for those affected. How extraordinarily difficult it is in the year 15 after the introduction of Hartz IV to bring those who have been excluded from any social participation back into society, is shown by a scientific study in which the Federal Agency itself is involved.

At the Institute for Business Analytics at the University of Ulm, researchers have long been studying how participants in a so-called peer group, i.e. a group of like-minded people with the same interests and aspirations, exchange ideas via digital chat in order to achieve common goals. Research director Mathias Klier names the topics of weight loss, parenting and health as positive examples. In a preliminary project with the Federal Employment Agency, it was found that digital peer groups also help young people to find work, training and study.

From this, explains the holder of the Péter Horvát Endowed Professorship for Business Administration (BWL) to »nd«, the common idea for the DIGIPEG project emerged: a voluntary offer to make digital peer group exchange accessible to older unemployed people over 50 .

Chat in groups with up to 30 participants is anonymous. Interested parties can download a specific app on their smartphone or laptop and communicate with each other at any time of the day or night without having to disclose their names, addresses or other private information. A moderator from the employment agency supports you in the event of problems or answers questions about training opportunities, financial support and the like. The participants should benefit from their mutual experiences, develop a common motivation or receive support that is difficult to find otherwise.

All participants must fill out a questionnaire at the beginning and at the end of the three-month project. The scientists from Ulm University then evaluate the content of the anonymous chats. So far, around 500 “customers” from 15 Baden-Württemberg employment agencies have participated in 25 chat groups in the project, which the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Economics, Labor and Housing is also supporting with almost 200,000 euros, according to a research assistant. Business mathematician Mathias Klier was impressed by the first interim results to »nd«: »The participants in the digital peer groups improve their application activities significantly and are invited to job interviews more frequently.«

Specifically, the mean number of submitted applications among the participants rose by an average of 40 percent, and the number of job interviews doubled. This development was scientifically analyzed with the inclusion of a control group, which showed a constant development for both sizes. “This enabled us to demonstrate significant positive effects of the digital peer group counseling,” explains the head of research.

In times of the pandemic with closed employment agencies and job centers, in which long-term unemployed people cannot be invited to review their application activities at regular intervals as usual, it makes sense to enable the chat options also for Hartz IV recipients, thought research and administration. However, they had imagined the response to this to be somewhat different. The job center Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald with 240 registered long-term unemployed over 50 years was selected. As Dagmar Manser, managing director of the job center, announced in response to an nd request, all eligible people were written to, informed about the project and asked to participate. “About five,” said the manager, were ultimately ready to do so. The project then had to be expanded to four other job centers in the country in order to even get a chat-capable size.

So it was possible to start with 13 participants on October 5th, and by the end of October six more people could be persuaded to take part. When asked about the reasons, the manager said: »The notifications were made at short notice with little in advance. In particular, there is always very little response to voluntary measures, especially from those who have been receiving benefits for a long time. If you had been able to invite people beforehand, the response would certainly have been greater, ”Dagmar Manser is certain.

Inge Zeller, advisor to the Freiburg Initiative against Unemployment, is somewhat more skeptical about the response to the participation of Hartz IV recipients and the overall project. »The long-term unemployed are largely not financially able to equip themselves with the necessary equipment to take part in such projects. In addition, of course, they lack the knowledge and know-how to participate in digital projects, «reported Inge Zeller from the field.

With regard to the guaranteed anonymity, the counselor calls for caution. In addition, the fundamental question is not only how many of the unemployed are increasingly invited to job interviews, but also how many are actually hired and on what terms. Basically, the longer the people concerned do not find new jobs, the worse and worse the pay.


Hartz IV: Suggested freedom of choice (

Foto: imago/Future Image/Hardt

A new study by the Ifo Institute gives the impression that people in Hartz IV are lazy and have no incentive to work. According to the authors of the study, the personal, fundamental decision to work or not is an important factor when starting a job. For example, the incentive to work for people in Hartz IV will be reduced by offsetting money earned in excess of 100 euros per month against the standard rate. The amount of the Hartz IV standard rates also plays a role.

Because of impending sanctions, people in Hartz IV have no choice at all to reject an unsuitable or poorly paid job. The compulsion to accept any job is also shown by the fact that after the introduction of Hartz IV, more and more people had to work for low wages. Today there are over a million top-ups, i.e. people who work but also have to receive social assistance.

Some will interpret the results in such a way that the standard rates are too high and thus reduce the will to work. Or demand an increase in the amount of money that can be earned without being offset against the standard rate. However, both would lead to even more low-wage incomes.


Hartz IV in Corona times: In different packaging

Hartz IV is currently being politically advertised as a “civil right” for corona victims. That changes little in terms of the conditions.

Federal Labor Minister Hubertus Heil: It sounds really nice Photo: Felix Zahn / phototek / imago

BERLIN taz | You feel cared for, almost like a privately insured patient at the doctor’s. Hubertus Heil himself speaks to those seeking advice in a video from the Ministry of Labor. Heil answers your questions! It sounds really nice. “Access to basic security has been made easier and less bureaucratic,” says the Labor Minister, “let us help you. You have the social civil right to basic security. ”You can apply online. A “simplified application” for basic security can be downloaded from the employment agency. “If in doubt, you can use the opportunity to call the job center,” says Heil.

For Hartz IV recipients who, looking for job center contact on the phone, ended up either in endless waiting loops or with callous call center employees, it sounds like music – a little sweet and a little strange.

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The “basic security for job seekers”, popularly known as Hartz IV, is currently being politically advertised as a lifeline for corona victims, as if it were a state basic income that one should not be ashamed to claim. The request is aimed in particular at the self-employed and freelancers who are in need due to the corona restrictions and for whom neither the bridging aid II nor the new November aid apply.

Some things were made easier: Anyone who applies for Hartz IV benefits in the period up to March 2021 will be reimbursed for half a year by the job center, regardless of how much. Single people may own up to 60,000 euros in assets. Anyone who is self-employed and not in the statutory pension insurance can add an additional 8,000 euros to the property tax allowance for each year of self-employment. Incidentally, self-employed persons insured through the KSK (Artists’ Social Insurance Fund) do not have this allowance because they pay into the pension fund.

Fear of the “double system”

The sound of advertising for new applicants has a political reason: professional associations are calling for a state “entrepreneur wage” for the self-employed, for example for consultants, seminar lecturers, tour guides who are practically not allowed to work due to the corona restrictions or who lose orders and therefore have little or no income. Social politicians, including those from the SPD, do not want a “double system” alongside Hartz IV, but prefer to refer to the simplified basic security.

The new PR for Hartz IV sounds different from the harsh words of the then Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement (SPD), who warned of a “take away mentality” shortly after the introduction of the basic security in 2005, that the “inhibition threshold for social fraud” had fallen is that one must urgently prevent “undesirable developments”.

The run of solo entrepreneurs on Hartz IV is, however, limited: In October the Federal Employment Agency only recorded around 52,000 so-called non-unemployed self-employed people with Hartz IV, even in June it was only 69,000.

That is little in view of the four million self-employed people in Germany. The standard rate of 432 euros per month plus housing costs is probably too meager. The partner income and any small income from work are also meticulously offset against the standard rate.

Unattractive for the self-employed

“Hartz IV does not suit self-employment,” says Max Hilgarth, managing director of the Association of Founders and Self-Employed Germany (VGSD). Many self-employed people would have small incomes even in times of the Corona virus, and some of the money would always have to be set aside for investments, for example in new computers, in further training. If this earnings were to be largely deducted from the already low standard rate immediately, this would make social benefits unattractive for the self-employed.

In November there is now calm for many of those affected – many benefited from the new “November aid”, with which the self-employed in some industries can compensate for their slump in sales. The question is: what comes after? Then when the “November aid” is over, but Corona is still there. And the keyword “entrepreneur’s wages” is reappearing on the political agenda.


Hartz IV recipients report: “14 euros more is a joke”

The federal government wants to increase the Hartz IV rates by a few euros. Those affected report to the taz why the money is still not enough.

14 euros more Hartz IV is not enough for many people affected Photo: Sebastian Wells / Ostkreuz

BERLIN taz | On Thursday, the Bundestag will discuss a draft law on the amount of Hartz IV rates in the second reading. It will mainly be about numbers. Because on January 1, 2021, the rates are to rise: These are numbers that are supposed to set a decent subsistence level in Germany. Numbers that determine poverty and participation in this society. About how well or how badly a person who gets into a social emergency can live. What do those affected think?

“Totally excluded from society”

“I communicate openly that I am receiving Hartz IV. But I feel really bad about it. When I noticed that I was now entitled to go to the blackboard with the Hartz IV rate, I hit a low point. I feel helpless. If it were just a transitional period, it wouldn’t be so bad. But in perspective I don’t know anything. I’m always under extreme pressure to have to do something.

I finished my training in summer 2020. Even then I had to go on short-time work – because of Corona. During my apprenticeship, I topped up because my apprenticeship pay wasn’t high enough to make a living from. After completing my training, I received unemployment benefit I, but had to apply for Hartz IV because of the low salary. Also, I had no idea what bureaucratic hurdles I would face. I didn’t know, for example, that the job center and employment agency are completely different authorities. That was often relatively difficult for me, I didn’t know: who am I sending which information?

Due to Corona, my professional uncertainty is very great. It is unclear when events will take place again. Everything is in the balance. I just want to go back to work, but if that doesn’t improve in the next few years, I’ll have to switch. Otherwise I can’t do it psychologically. I haven’t had anything to do since March, and I can’t stand it for another year. If you are not working you are totally excluded from society. In many industries, people can just work and don’t even notice that there are people who just can’t do that. The stress around because they can no longer go on vacation. If that is the biggest problem, then we really have no more talking point.

14 euros more Hartz IV do not bring much. I would prefer it if there were better communication with the authorities and more information on how what works. “

Lara Tieme (name changed), 30, from Leipzig completed her training as an event technician in 2020

“As if I were undressing in front of the office”

“We were fully booked for almost the whole year until March, but the slump came with Corona: My wife and I can no longer practice our profession as a freelance photographer. All trade fairs and events were canceled, we no longer had any sources of income. We immediately applied for Hartz IV because we had no reserves. This enables us to ensure payments such as health insurance.

It’s weird to reveal so much information about yourself in front of the authorities – it feels like I’m undressing. We get child benefit and the lowest Hartz IV rate. We have to deal with that. But I’m still happy to have insurance.

We had to restrict our buying behavior considerably. It was a relearning to no longer buy the expensive milk from the health food store or the expensive bread from the organic bakery – in short: adjust to Hartz IV. It is only in the past three months that we have started talking to our friends about our situation. That makes you vulnerable, first of all it is a social decline. We treat the children as openly as possible. I don’t want to hide anything from them. You can’t tell your kids, ‘We’re going to eat now, we’re going to swim, we’re going on a trip or a trip.’ That falls flat.

The customers just don’t get in touch any more. And then you think: ‘Have they forgotten me?’ That scratches the soul.

The uncertainty grows every day, I don’t plan anything anymore. That it will stay that way and that at some point we may no longer be able to live in this house or our social environment will collapse. A stable family background helps to endure this. If the Hartz IV rate is increased by 14 euros, that is not essential. If we’re talking about 50 euros, that’s one more shopping basket a week. But under there, that’s not enough. That is more of the wrong signal. “

Max Senneburg (name changed), 47, is a photographer and lives in Berlin with his wife and two children

“The poor have to beg for every penny”

“Two of my children live with me, one with their mother. The children know me as two different dads. When I’m at home unemployed and when I work. That’s why they know it’s easier to get by on money when you have a job. I believe that education is important in order to have a good job and a decent income. That’s why I always encourage the three of them to be hardworking at school.

I worked for a citizens’ association in Leipzig until December 2019. There I advised people about which services they can use at the job center. I have also been active in the Leipzig unemployment initiative for a long time. We look after and advise people, for example when submitting applications to the office. That’s why it was easier for me to understand the processes when I became unemployed myself. You know how to deal with the authorities. It is much more difficult for people who are in such a situation for the first time and have never had to deal with it before.

If you refer to Hartz IV, you shouldn’t be ashamed. I encourage all people to seek government assistance. For example, there are many single parents who do not have the courage to apply for housing benefit. I think the support that is available should be used for yourself and the children.

During the corona pandemic, it is once again noticeable how the funds are distributed: The large companies and workers receive state subsidies. The poor – those who already have little anyway – have to beg for every penny in principle. Therefore, the increase in the Hartz IV rule rate can be summarized very briefly: It’s a joke. It is ridiculous.

Everything is getting more expensive: tickets, clothes, telephone bills. What are 14 euros for? Politicians have to send a clearer signal that they want to support poor people. “

Perry Feth, 55, has three children and worked in a Leipzig citizens’ association

The details of the bill:

The draft law by Federal Social Minister Hubertus Heil provides: Individuals living alone should receive 446 euros per month from next year – that is 14 euros more than before. That must be enough for food, electricity, new winter shoes or even a visit to the cinema – even if cultural participation seems far away in the Corona period.

The rate is rising the most for teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17: in future they will receive 373 euros per month, 45 euros more. The rate for children up to 5 years of age increases by 33 euros to 283 euros, 6 to 13-year-olds, however, hardly benefit: They should get 309 euros – exactly 1 euros more than now. The Federal Ministry of Social Affairs stated that this age group had “benefited disproportionately” from the last recalculation for 2017. Nevertheless: The logic of the numbers is not necessarily comprehensible despite the clear calculation methods.

On the one hand, the standard rates are adjusted annually to the development of net wages and to the price development of “regular requirement-relevant” goods. In addition, the legislature is obliged to recalculate the standard rates every five years if the Federal Statistical Office has carried out the sample of income and expenditure. It is a survey of income and expenditure for all income groups.

To determine the Hartz IV rates, the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs only uses the average expenditure of the lowest income, the poorest 15 to 20 percent of society. Items that are not considered to be “relevant to requirements” are also deducted from their expenditure. These include, for example: expenses for alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, food for pets, flights, maintenance costs for a car or the costs for house plants. The sum is therefore consistently reduced.

This is what social associations and the opposition say:

Associations, trade unions and scientists have been criticizing this calculation method of the federal government for years. Because statistical calculations do not have to match people’s reality. It often looks like this: Hartz IV recipients: inside use what the food banks offer to make ends meet.

Anja Piel from the German Trade Union Confederation considers it “dishonest and cynical” to sell the recalculations to the poorest as “an increase”. Even with the new standard rate, the Hartz IV performance level is “below the official poverty line”.

The Paritätische Gesamtverband describes the planned rates as “unrealistic, not needs-based and far too low” and accuses the federal government of “statistical trickery and outrageous small calculations”. According to calculations by the Paritätische Forschungsstelle, a poverty-proof standard rate for an adult living alone would have to be 644 euros. Almost 200 euros more per month than planned.

The opposition is largely in agreement that the rates calculated by the federal government are not enough to live with. By artificially calculating the need, those affected would be condemned to a life of poverty, criticized Left-wing chairwoman Katja Kipping at the first reading in the Bundestag.

The Greens’ social politician Sven Lehmann explained: “An increase in the standard rate by 14 euros for adults essentially compensates for the increased prices and thus fizzles out.” Both parties have therefore recalculated: The Left wants the standard rate for a single adult is increased to 657.55 euros. The Greens are demanding 603 euros per month.

The social policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group, Pascal Kober, on the other hand, wants a fundamental Hartz IV reform. “In the end, increases in euros do not lead to any further progress,” he says. The FDP calls for higher additional earnings limits so that those affected can keep more of the money they have earned themselves.

According to the Federal Employment Agency, 5.6 million people lived in benefit communities this October. The corona pandemic is likely to result in a significant increase in poverty and unemployment. This will soon also be reflected in numbers – and behind these are people who have to calculate whether they can pay their electricity bills or new breathing masks.


Hartz IV: »Questionable image of man« (

Save on a bike, a smartphone or a fridge for years?  Hartz IV means doing without what is necessary.

Save on a bike, a smartphone or a fridge for years? Hartz IV means doing without what is necessary.

Photo: Adobe Stock

At the hearing of the Bundestag Committee on Labor and Social Affairs on Monday, there was a lot going on. For around 385,000 people who are currently receiving standard benefits according to the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act and for 3,894,008 people who receive Hartz IV, the aim is to increase the money that they will receive from 2021 to secure their livelihood.

The standard rates are recalculated approximately every five years. For this purpose, an income and expenditure sample (EVS) is carried out, which in turn serves as the basis for the adjustment. The federal government’s draft law provides for a standard rate increase of 14 euros for single adults from January 2021. This draft was the subject of the hearing.

The positions are disputed. Unemployed people who receive Hartz IV should not get so much that they can get at those who live on a low income, said Anna Robra from the Federation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA). After all, there is a need to keep a distance from wages in order to create incentives to work.

Above all, however, the hearing was about using hidden poor people as a reference group for calculating the Hartz IV standard rates. In the EVS, the income of the bottom 15 percent of the population is used as a statistical basis. These include, for example, people who themselves live below the subsistence level and would have to top up their low earned income with Hartz IV.

Both the Left had demanded in an application that such computer tricks be stopped and the regular needs calculated properly, as did the Greens, who had titled their application “Reforming the regular needs assessment”. “The decision as to how the procedure is structured is not ours,” said a representative from the Federal Statistical Office at the hearing. In the future, however, there should be a household book app in order to simplify the collection of the EVS and to be able to process it a little faster.

According to many present, the criticism of the calculation is not directed at the Federal Statistical Office anyway, but at the way the policy is designed. Alexander Nöhring from the Zukunftsforum Familie, for example, questioned the correct application of the statistical model. It is a problem that hidden poverty is not excluded. According to Robra from the BDA, it would not be possible at the moment to take into account the extent of hidden poverty when calculating the standard rates. Petra Zwickert from the Diakonie, on the other hand, named several ways to remove people living in poverty from the reference group.

Andreas Peichel from the Ifo Institute also said: “I think there are a number of things that could be done to improve that.” The data available for calculating the standard rates is fundamentally very poor. A representative from the German Association for Public and Private Welfare also stated: “There are numbers of cases that are statistically no longer sustainable.” In some cases, there are only 14 reference cases, i.e. 14 people, whose information includes some expenditure items for the Hartz IV – Rates are set for millions of people.

The elimination of expenditure items from the standard rates was also criticized from many sides in the committee. “The EVS calculation is not suitable to get people out of poverty,” said the long-time Hartz IV critic Inge Hannemann. “It highlights costs, especially for children, which in my opinion are at least important for socio-cultural participation.” For example, when calculating the standard rates, it is assumed that people have a bicycle, which is not always the case be. She calculated that those affected by Hartz IV would have to save 76 months or six years for a used bicycle that costs 100 euros.

Nikola Schopp from the Zukunftsforum Familie said with reference to the standard rates: “It is not enough to let children and young people participate in the lives of their peers.” For example, educational inequalities would be exacerbated by the expenditure items removed. Petra Zwickert from the Diakonie also stated: »Existential needs are being met less and less.« In relation to the alleged need for a gap between low wages and basic security, she stated that behind this was a »questionable image of man« of the work-shy benefit recipient.


Heil wants to extend the easier Hartz IV purchase until the end of 2021

BUnemployment Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) wants to continue simplified access to Hartz IV benefits in the corona crisis until the end of next year. The easier application is currently limited to the end of 2020, but that will not be enough, the SPD politician told the newspapers of the Funke media group (Friday). “The regulation must be extended until the end of next year.”

The minister explained that the measure is aimed particularly at many self-employed people who have completely lost their earnings in the pandemic, as well as at employees who had not earned well before the pandemic and who now have severe loss of income due to short-time work and need supplementary basic security. “We don’t want to bother these people with an asset test from January 1st or with the question of whether their living space is possibly too big.”

The government had only extended easier access to Hartz IV until the end of 2020 at the beginning of September. The assets of those affected are thus only checked to a limited extent by the job centers. Actual costs for accommodation and heating are recognized. There are simplifications for the approval of provisional benefits.

Verdi boss Frank Werneke is also demanding a bonus for Hartz IV recipients for the time of the existing partial lockdown in Germany. Since the provision of food by the food banks is currently not working, many recipients of basic security are unable to make ends meet, said Werneke. Therefore, there should be a surcharge of 150 euros on the standard rates at least for the month of November. Werneke thus joined the corresponding demands of charities. Extensive contact restrictions to contain the corona pandemic in Germany will apply from next Monday.


Poverty researchers on the consequences of Corona: cardinal problem of wealth distribution

Corona works like a burning glass, says poverty researcher Christoph Butterwegge. The real virus of inequality is neoliberalism.

A corona test station on the A8 from Munich to Stuttgart Photo: Daniel Biskup / laif

taz: Mr. Butterwegge, the second corona wave is sweeping across the Federal Republic. What social impact will that have?

Christoph Butterwegge: That of course depends on how hard it hits us. Much will depend on whether social life has to be shut down again. In any case, experience with the first wave shows that socio-economic inequality will continue to grow.

What are you up to?

That inequality worsened during the lockdown and economic slump is evident on three levels. First of all, there is the health level with the infection itself: Before the virus, all people are ostensibly the same, but there is a causal connection between income and immune deficiency. The poor are exposed to a higher risk of infection because their working conditions are generally poorer and their living conditions are more hygienic. In addition, they often suffer from social pre-existing illnesses, which increases the risk of getting seriously ill with Covid-19. In addition, there is the psychological stress: Those who have a large apartment survive a quarantine much more relaxed than a family whose members do not have their own rooms.

born 1951, has been researching economic, social and political inequality in Germany for decades. The political scientist taught as a professor at the University of Cologne until 2016. A member of the SPD from 1970 to 1975 and from 1987 to 2005, he ran for the office of Federal President in 2017 as a non-party member at the suggestion of the Left Party. His latest book “Inequality in Class Society” has just been published by PapyRossa Verlag.

And the second level?

That is the economic one. Radical infection control measures are necessary, but leave behind economic collateral damage that does not affect all strata of the population equally. Rather, the corona crisis has made some people richer and many poorer. There is a social polarization between those who suffer severe financial losses due to lost earnings, business termination, short-time working or job loss, and those who have a company or a job that the recession cannot harm. Some industries such as online trading, logistics companies and delivery services even increased their profits during the crisis.

The lockdown phase in the spring made it clear that a large proportion of the people living in Germany are barely able to make ends meet financially if their regular income is lost for a few weeks. Right down to the middle class, there is simply a lack of reserves. Ultimately, it is not your income that counts, but your wealth. It is particularly unevenly distributed in this country and is concentrated in 45 hyper-rich families who own more than the poorer half of the population – over 40 million people. Around a third of the population has no wealth worth mentioning and is therefore only one resignation, a serious illness or a new lockdown away from poverty.

But haven’t the federal and state governments cushioned a lot with their multi-billion dollar aid programs?

This brings us to the third level. I am far from condemning the state aid packages, rescue packages and subsidy measures in their entirety. Much of it was needed. But their distribution policy imbalance is striking and worthy of criticism. There is a clear overweight in favor of the large companies, which are supported even when that is unnecessary.

Can you give us a specific example?

Take BMW as an example. I am a supporter of short-time work benefits because it can prevent mass layoffs. But I think it’s a scandal when the Federal Employment Agency takes over a large part of BMW’s wage costs by paying short-time work benefits, even though there was enough money to pay shareholders a whopping dividend of 1.64 billion euros. The richest siblings in our country, Susanne Klatten and Stefan Quandt, took in more than 750 million euros.

Denmark and France make bridging aid subject to the condition that a company does not distribute profits. I would like that for Germany too. On the other hand, those most in need were given far too little attention by the relief efforts. The willingness of the state to help varies depending on the social status.

However, Parliament has also passed two “social protection packages”.

North Rhine-Westphalia, Wuppertal: People stand in a long queue in front of the entrance to a new Corona Walk-In test center in a parking lot.

Queue instead of Porsche in the drive-in: Corona test station in Wuppertal Photo: Caroline Seidel / dpa

They were also urgently needed. People who, for example, fell into Hartz IV as self-employed persons and small businesses were considered. The job centers grant you limited access until the end of the year without having to examine your assets, the size of the apartment or the rent. But that does not go far enough. A less bureaucratic approach should apply to every applicant, and in the long run. I consider it extremely problematic that the groups of people hardest hit by the pandemic have only been given marginal consideration. Homeless and homeless, refugees, migrants without a secure residence status, people with disabilities, people in need of care, addicts, prostitutes, unemployed, low-income women, low-income pensioners and transfer benefit recipients are hardly among the winning groups.

In your opinion, how exactly should they have been helped?

Let’s just take single parents and families in the Hartz IV relationship: They had the biggest problems because schools and daycare centers were closed and the free lunch that poor children there now get was no longer available. The state could and should have helped immediately and quickly. Why wasn’t they granted a premium of 100 euros per month for food, protective masks and disinfectants in the spring?

In the meantime there has been a child bonus of 300 euros per child, which is not counted towards unemployment benefit II or social benefit.

That helped those affected, no question about it. However, the one-off payment by the federal government in two autumn installments comes very late. In addition, of course, it does not replace permanent support. It seems to me more like a trade in indulgences with which the government frees itself from the actual obligation to provide continuous aid. It is also questionable that the parents from the middle and upper classes also receive the child bonus and only have to pay it back with the tax return.

But don’t you have to acknowledge that Germany has come through the crisis quite well so far?

Compared to other countries where there are many more Covid-19 deaths to complain about, the Federal Republic has so far got through the pandemic relatively well. But this does not change the fact that the already considerable inequality in Germany continued to grow during the exceptional pandemic situation and the gap between rich and poor widened even more.

Is Corona an inequality virus for you?

No, the real inequality virus is neoliberalism. Corona only acts as a catalyst. In the pandemic, inequality has worsened due to capitalist ownership and policies that idolize the “business location”, serve the interests of financial investors and therefore have a socially polarizing rather than equalizing effect. The cardinal problem of our society is the existing distributional imbalance.

Can you be more specific?

According to the criteria of the European Union, 13.3 million people in Germany are poor or at least at risk of poverty today – a record figure. You have less than 60 percent of the median income available – that’s 1,074 euros a month for a single person. At the same time, according to a recent study by the German Institute for Economic Research, 67 percent of total net assets are now in the top tenth, 35 percent are concentrated in the richest percent of the population and the richest per mille still comes to 20 percent.

This means that even among the rich themselves, most of the wealth accumulates in the hyper-rich. The richest man in Germany, Dieter Schwarz, owner of Lidl and Kaufland, already owned 41.5 billion euros in private assets before the pandemic. That has now increased by another 300 million euros.

As a consequence not only of the current corona crisis, you demand in your new book that “the capitalist economic and social system” must be fundamentally changed ”. That sounds quite a long way from social reality.

You don’t have to be a Marxist to realize that Germany is a class society with growing socio-economic inequality, the main reason being the persistent conflict of interests between capital and labor. If you want to fight poverty effectively, you have to touch private wealth. The pandemic state of emergency has shown many people the value of solidarity again. They notice that the fixation on the market and the competition is of little use in such a situation. This also includes the realization that further economization, financialization and privatization, especially of the health care system, would be a mistake.

Skepticism about the promises of neoliberalism is the basic requirement for critical social awareness. This is just as positive as the knowledge which professional activities are “systemically relevant” – but are not paid accordingly well. Whether it is about a decent collectively agreed wage, an increase in the minimum wage to at least 12 euros, the introduction of solidarity-based citizens’ insurance or a correction of course in tax policy – there is still a lot to be done if the gap between rich and poor does not widen further should.

You are considered the best-known poverty researcher in Germany. You have been analyzing the existing misery for decades. Didn’t that make you a deeply frustrated person?

No, not at all. Because I am concerned with poverty, its causes and manifestations, but also with enormous wealth. The critical analysis of social developments can be discouraging. Nevertheless, my will is unbroken to change the existing conditions in the direction of more social justice. I will not let myself be dissuaded from this by some setbacks and right-wing tendencies.


Higher electricity costs burden the poorest (

Hartz IV: Higher electricity costs burden the poorest

Photo: dpa / Sina Schuldt

In the first half of 2020, electricity prices rose by 6.8 percent compared to the second half of 2019 to an average of 31.94 cents per kilowatt hour, the Federal Statistical Office announced on Thursday. The statisticians attributed the reasons for the significant rise in electricity prices to higher network charges and higher costs for electricity procurement and sales.

What some do not even notice in their account balance brings others into great distress. For a person living alone who has to receive Hartz IV, according to the underlying income and consumption sample, 35.30 euros are provided in the standard rate for paying the electricity costs. The comparison portal Check24 had already calculated at the beginning of the year that the electricity costs of a single household, with a consumption of 1500 kilowatt hours, would amount to 43.17 euros per month on average. For those affected who purchase electricity from the local basic supplier, the gap between actual demand and the item in the standard rate is even larger. Here the average electricity costs are 48.75 euros per month, so those affected are missing around 161 euros per year.

The comparison portal Verivox came to a deficit of 197 euros a year at the end of August. Switching to a cheaper electricity provider is also not easy, especially for people in poverty, because of the credit check. And even if they can switch from the more expensive basic provider, they are not even allowed to keep the switch premium that is often paid. This is offset against them as income with the standard rate. This emerges from a judgment of the Federal Social Court in Kassel last week. Another problem is that the standard rate does not provide any money for new, energy-saving large electrical appliances.

While electricity costs have to be paid from the standard rate, heating and rental costs are paid according to actual needs. At the beginning of October, the Federal Network Agency announced that in 2018 around 289,000 households had their electricity switched off due to unpaid bills. “Energy is part of the subsistence level like a roof over your head,” commented Ulrich Schneider, General Manager of the Paritätischer Gesamtverband. The Left also calls for electricity costs to be paid extra and not as part of the standard rate. Consumer advocates called on the energy companies on Thursday to cut electricity prices.


Tax refund does not lead to less Hartz IV (

So the Federal Social Court (Az. B 4 AS 9/20 R). If existing overdrafting debts are only partially offset with the tax refund, the unemployed person does not have the one-off payment received as “ready means” to cover the subsistence level.

The job center may reduce unemployment benefit II by the amount of the tax refund received, but must at least grant an interest-free loan to cover the subsistence level for one-off payments that are “used up” and are no longer available.

In the case of dispute, a Hartz IV recipient from Herne received an income tax refund in the amount of 2382 euros in 2016. The money largely offset his two overdrawn checking accounts. The Herne job center evaluated the tax refund as a one-off income and reduced unemployment benefit II accordingly, spread over six months.

The BSG contradicted this. Basically, a one-time payment with the inflow to the account of a Hartz IV recipient would justify a reduction in unemployment benefit II. However, the one-time payment must be available as “ready means” to cover the essential subsistence level. This is not the case here. epd / nd


Job center pays the cost of work clothes for trainees (

Now there is an important decision in favor of those affected, announced the legal portal According to the judgment of the State Social Court of Lower Saxony-Bremen on May 26, 2020 (Az. L 11 AS 793/18), the job center is obliged to pay for the work clothes for trainees.

The then 17-year-old student, whose family receives Hartz IV benefits, sued the job center. He wanted to learn the profession of cook. To do this, he needed a set of clothing at the beginning of the entry-level school. A new set from hat to shoes cost 115 euros. A loan was not possible. The student now wanted to have the purchase price reimbursed by the job center. There was no other way to meet the additional demand, he argued.

The job center refused the application. The student is already receiving lump sums for school supplies. From this he has to finance all items that are necessary for school attendance. No further aid is provided for by law. Everything else must therefore be met from the standard requirement.

He complained against it with success. The regional social court sentenced the job center to take over the costs. The acquisition costs for school work clothing could not be covered by the standard requirement. A 17-year-old in need receives a monthly standard benefit of 306 euros. He could not save the cost of work clothing from this.

The court saw in this an obvious and evident need shortfall, with which the decent subsistence level is not guaranteed. Work clothing is also not covered by the school supplies allowance. This only includes personal equipment such as satchels and gymnastics equipment as well as materials for writing, arithmetic and drawing.

Because of this need, the court was forced to interpret the law in a constitutional manner. The legislature was clearly willing to cover the subsistence level of students. Since this is not possible with the wording of the law, the gap must be closed by the court. DAV / nd