In Germany, one of the richest countries in the world, more than 1.5 million children live in families that receive Hartz IV. Although more and more people are working, this does not help families. The number of children affected fell only slightly in three years, from 1.56 million in 2016 to 1.51 million last year. The German trade union confederation (DGB) published these figures last week from data from the federal employment agency.
To live in a so-called community of needs, i.e. to receive unemployment benefit II or basic security (Hartz IV), means far-reaching restrictions. Parents in the Hartz-IV-Bezug will receive 250 euros per month for their children under six years of age, and 308 euros per month for 6 to 13 - year-olds. With the exception of rent, the entire monthly costs must be covered. For example, the Hartz IV rate provides for 4.09 euros per day for food and drink for a 10-year-old child, 2.68 euros per month for books and 14.60 euros for shoes. For” leisure, entertainment, culture " 37.08 euros per month are planned. A visit to the swimming pool, cinema and football stadium, for example, is not possible in a month.
The ice cream parlour must also be reserved for special days. For the Federal Government of the CDU/CSU and SPD, the Kugel Eis from the ice cream parlour is a luxury item that children in need communities are not entitled to. In the derivation of the standard rates, this item has been deleted from the consumption expenditure of low-income households. The same applies, for example, to the Christmas tree incl. Advent decorations and pencils.
To this end, the Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO) discussed a long-term study commissioned by it last Friday in Bochum, which takes a deeper look at child poverty and its consequences. At least 2.5 million children in Germany live in poverty. Their families have to make do with less than 60 percent of their median income and are therefore considered “at risk of poverty”. “It is a sad reality that one in five of the small and weakest people in our society live in poverty,” Michael Scheffler, chairman of the AWO in North Rhine-Westphalia, lamented at the conference in front of 300 people.
Gerhard Bäcker, Professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen, described in his lecture how much child poverty is concentrated in certain regions. The poverty rate in NRW had risen from 14.4% when the Hartz IV laws were introduced in 2005 to 18.1% recently. According to Bäcker, the Ruhr region in particular has long been “the East in the West”. Every fourth to fifth inhabitant of the Ruhr Area lives in poverty. Cities such as Duisburg (27.4 %), Dortmund (23.9 %) and Essen (21.6 %) were severely affected, but Cologne (20.4 %) and the state capital Düsseldorf (19.3 %) also had high poverty rates.
The main victims, as so often, are the children. It is a sign of poverty that the number of children receiving basic security (Hartz IV) in NRW is continuously increasing, says Baker. In NRW, every fourth child lives in poverty. In Gelsenkirchen, the Hartz IV rate among under-15s is 40.7%. In the northern districts of the Ruhr area, these rates are even higher.
The long – term study “when child poverty grows up-how can we exit poverty?“was published at the end of last year, on Friday it was presented by one of the authors, Dr. Irina Volf from the Frankfurt Institute for Social Work and social education (ISS Frankfurt A.M.). The Awo commissioned the study at the ISS in 1997. For 20 years, from 1999 to 2018, the research project has accompanied children who visited AWO-Kitas in structurally weak districts or cities throughout Germany.
The results, which are also available online in a summary of the study, show a connection between poverty in childhood and adulthood. In the last survey in 2018, the study participants were 25 years old. 23% of them lived in poverty.
Poverty at this age of 25 is” associated above all with massive restrictions in basic material care and participation, as well as poor mental health, " says the study. The poor young adults were significantly more likely to have no savings and reserves, to abstain from holidays and to report more frequently on restrictions on their mobility and on too small or insufficient housing.
The cultural situation is impaired in 40% of the poor 25-year-olds, they have worse social networks and more often no firm partnership. The study shows that “child poverty does not necessarily lead to long-term consequences, but the risk is significantly increased”. In particular, persistent poverty in childhood and adolescence “carries a significantly increased risk of multiple Deprivation” in young adulthood. At the age of 25, 36% of the formerly poor six-year-old study participants were still living in poverty, while 20% of the non-poor six-year-olds were living in poverty in 2018.
According to the authors, the results based on the circumstances of life showed: “young people with experience of poverty in childhood and/or adolescence have fewer resources at the beginning of adult life, both material, social and cultural.” 25% of young people with experience of poverty, but only 3% without experience of poverty achieved a low level of Education (maximum Hauptschulabschluss).
Despite equal education, young women are twice as likely to be poor as their male peers. In 2018, 23% of the study participants lived in poverty, of which 73% were women. Young single women in particular are more likely to be poor. The statistics confirm this finding of the study: the at-risk-of-poverty rate of single parents in North Rhine-Westphalia was 45.2 percent in 2018. “One fifth of all families in NRW have a single parent. 40 percent of these families live on Hartz IV, " said the North Rhine-Westphalian AWO chairman Scheffler.
Young adults with experience of poverty are significantly less likely to be in work and are significantly less likely to work full-time than peers without experience of poverty. The statements of the young people with poverty experience made it clear that they were disoriented, especially in the phase of career choice. These 25-year-olds often have no role models, the parents “often cannot offer them support for lack of personal experience”.
Offers from the schools, the employment agency and especially the job centers, where Hartz IV funds are applied for, are no substitute. “Young people in particular, who have contact with the job centre because of their family situation, do not experience it as supportive, but feel pushed into paths they do not want to go.”
On Friday, everyone in Bochum agreed that child poverty means income poverty for parents. In order to combat child poverty, an important aspect is therefore a “good and secure work of parents”, as Alexander Nöhring, managing director of the Zukunftsforum Familie E.V. (ZFF) put it.
Far too many people in Germany work for far too little money. The economic upswing and the increase in the number of employees in recent years has not changed this. The upswing ends up in the pockets of the rich, not those of the working class.
For example, the DGB reported last week that the number of all persons in the Hartz IV reference had decreased by 10% to 5.6 million people, and for persons of working age between 15 years and the retirement age, the decline was even 13 %. In contrast, the number of Hartz IV recipients among children up to the age of 14 has fallen by only 3.1% since 2016. The majority of poor children, over 840,000, live in a household where at least one parent is employed, but earns so little that the wage is not enough to live on.
When DGB board member Annelie Buntenbach stands up and claims: “child poverty in a rich country like Germany is and remains an unacceptable scandal”, then that is more than cheeky.
The Hartz laws, especially the fourth, have created a huge low-wage sector. This was exactly the intention 15 years ago. The then red-green federal government under Gerhard Schröder (SPD) and Joschka Fischer (Greens) had commissioned Peter Hartz, then Chief Human Resources Officer at Volkswagen and former IG-Metall official, with a “Reform” of the unemployment and social assistance legislation, in order to force the unemployed quickly into any poorly paid job.
In 2004, the DGB had clearly and unequivocally opposed the Hartz protests. To this day, it is the DGB unions that provide the lowest wages.
The current evaluation of the Hartz IV figures by the DGB is primarily intended as a warning to the ruling class, which social powder keg is smoldering here. The AWO study proves this. The study participants stated that society is characterized by high social inequality and strongly polarized. Poverty and wealth are often to be found. The"principle of performance fairness in connection with equal opportunities is not fulfilled in your perception of society”. 25-year-olds who have experienced poverty in their biography “are less likely to believe in participation in elections as a democratic instrument of influence”.