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.