Citizens’ income – that’s why the dispute about it doesn’t stop

Citizens’ income – that’s why the dispute about it doesn’t stop
Citizens’ income – that’s why the dispute about it doesn’t stop

Hardly a week goes by without a demand for citizen’s income. It’s not just the opposition that wants tighter rules or reforms, but also some coalition partners. How can that be? And what really makes sense?

The Green MP with the wild hair has been diligently taking notes for almost an hour. Now Beate Müller-Gemmeke looks around with satisfaction and says: “It’s good to discuss the topic calmly and not hysterically.” What she means: the citizen’s allowance. At the invitation of the Green parliamentary group in the Bundestag, around 30 MPs, local politicians and people from practice will meet in mid-June for the “ideas laboratory”.

The citizen’s allowance is controversial, but not in the round room with the ochre-yellow wall. You will wait in vain for the words “tougher sanctions”, “lower benefits” or “laziness”. Instead, questions of other support for language learning and better childcare are being discussed. In this respect, what is happening in conference room E300 in the Paul Löbe House of the German Bundestag is a kind of parallel world – if you compare it to the public political debate.

According to a report in Bild, the SPD wants to tighten sanctions for those who are found to be working illegally while receiving the citizen’s allowance. The finance minister is calling for more “incentives” to work and a “fairness update”. And the parliamentary manager of the Union is in favor of no longer paying the citizen’s allowance to refugees from Ukraine because it creates “completely the wrong incentives”.

Citizens’ income: “almost automatically a target”

The Citizen’s Allowance, the successor to Hartz IV, is only one and a half years old – but hardly a week goes by without calls for reform or even its complete abolition. It is by no means just the opposition that is drawing attention to itself with calls for tightening the Citizen’s Allowance regulations, but also the FDP and SPD, who introduced the Citizen’s Allowance. How can that be? And when will there finally be peace?

A call to Anke Hassel. The professor at the Hertie School of Governance has been dealing with the topic for a long time. “With the introduction of the citizen’s allowance, the traffic light coalition almost automatically offered the Union a target,” she says.

What she means: Questions of social security are always controversial in welfare states. For societies, it is about finding a balance between “support and demand” that is perceived as right. How much support do unemployed people need? How much do they have to do? How hard should this be demanded? “In contrast to parties on the left, conservative parties traditionally emphasize the work that unemployed people have to do in order to find work again,” says Hassel.

It was therefore perhaps almost to be expected that the Union would take action against the benefit that promises a new approach “on an equal footing” – even if it is of course true that it agreed to the introduction of the Citizen’s Allowance in the Federal Council (albeit only after a tough fight). In March, the conservatives presented their concept of a “new basic security” with which they want to replace the Citizen’s Allowance – including faster sanctions and a lower protected assets.

The SPD’s calls for tightening the rules may at first seem a little more surprising, as the Social Democrats were particularly concerned about the Citizen’s Allowance. It was also intended to help overcome the trauma that the party and its supporters suffered from the introduction of Hartz IV. The tough labor market reforms of the then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder triggered massive social protests in the early 2000s.

SPD wants to focus on the “working middle”

The fact that the SPD is now demonstrating its tough stance on the citizen’s income despite all this is probably also due to the fact that in times of tight budgets, debates on distribution are being re-opened, the situation on the labor market has worsened, and a majority in surveys regularly calls for stricter rules on the citizen’s income. The SPD’s slogan of placing a stronger focus on the “working middle” is also likely to be a contributing factor. This has been expressed frequently in the past, but it also seems to be the lesson learned from the recent loss in the European elections.

In any case, according to a report, the SPD now wants to tighten sanctions for those who receive the citizen’s allowance but work unregistered on the side, bypassing the state treasury. Labor Minister Hubertus Heil has also launched a “job boost” to get Ukrainian refugees from the citizen’s allowance into work more quickly (but it hasn’t really taken off yet). Last year, Heil also tightened sanctions for so-called “total objectors.”

Some of the headlines are intended to demonstrate tough action, even if in practice they are unlikely to have much effect, let alone bring about major financial savings, according to the experts. In the case of “total refusers”, because they only make up a very small proportion of those receiving citizen’s allowance. In the case of illegal work, because the problem lies primarily in uncovering the cases.

But the issue is not just about the parties’ fundamental orientation and what they hope to gain votes from. The fact that the citizen’s allowance is being discussed so controversially and is caught up in the public debate also has to do with the fact that the middle class is under pressure.

“The lower middle class has increasingly higher costs, think of inflation or housing,” says sociologist Hassel. In this context, it is worth arguing about whether the gap between what people on the Citizens’ Allowance receive and what people on low salaries have left at the end is actually big enough – even if it is the case that those who work end up with more in almost all cases than those who do not work. What gap is big enough?

Fewer people receiving citizen’s allowance are taking up work

In addition, effects of the citizen’s allowance that were not planned have recently become clear. It is not the case that the citizen’s allowance causes people to quit their jobs. However, a study by the Institute for Employment Research has shown that the citizen’s allowance leads to fewer recipients taking up work.

Scientist Enzo Weber, who conducted the study, therefore suggests, among other things, that the sanctions should be increased more quickly to the maximum of 30 percent set by the Federal Constitutional Court. In addition, the additional income limits in the citizen’s allowance should be increased, says Weber, which would allow people who work while receiving the citizen’s allowance to keep more money.

But it is unlikely that the coalition will seriously tackle such fundamental changes to the citizen’s allowance. Raising the additional income limit, for example, is politically tricky because it means that more people will be entitled to citizen’s allowance, and therefore the number of people will increase. The traffic light coalition is unlikely to want to send such a signal in the current situation.

The citizen’s allowance is likely to remain a bone of contention for the time being.

Source: Stern

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