Cannons at Sparrows
The Gossip about Misuse of Income Support
By Martin Staiger
[This article is translated from the German in: Evangelische Kommentare 11/2001. Martin Staiger is a theologian and journalist in Esslingen.]
Income support is one of the dominant themes of conversation tables and politicians seeking votes. The numbers speak a very different language.
Discussions about income support often follow the same pattern. First, everyone knows someone who receives income support and lives well. Instantly the income support grants are added together. Then someone hears that the social welfare office also pays the rent. Instantly this is added. At the end, this sum is compared with working income. The result is that one can live almost as well from income support - which is not bad - as from a job. Agreement exists at conversation tables: whoever works is stupid or an idiot. After indignant nodding, another round of beer is ordered!
What most do not know (or want to know): As soon as receivers of social security have children, they have an income according to the social security law. Children's money is calculated at 20 marks and deducted from the social security. A family with two children dependent on benefits from the social welfare office receives 500 marks less than most... Power is nothing. The main point is to leave welfare; income support is too high.
What is the reality? A household entitled to social security in the old Germany receives on the average 540 or 560 marks per month. An adult person receives 80% and children according to their age between 50 and 90% of this regular amount...
Increasing Social Envy
A couple without income with two little children dependent on income support needs around 1700 marks a month. Including Stuttgart housing- and heating costs and deducting 250 marks children's money per child, this family receives 2100 to 2300 marks per month from the social welfare office...
The social envy of persons who must live for years from the social welfare office has massively increased in recent times even though the number of receivers of social security has continually fallen. Income support is 9 percent below the "social subsistence level". The question whether receivers of social security can live dignified does not especially interest many people. Discussion around the "basket of goods and services" necessary for dignified life almost falls silent...
The comparison with other facts of misuse shows that cannons are fired at sparrows in the discussion around income support and its alleged massive abuse. According to calculations of Roland Klinger of Baden-Wurttemberg, the amount of misuse of income support is "one to two percent". If this sum is projected to all Germany, 40 billion marks of the total volume of income support is misused per year...
A glance at other redistribution processes reveals that trifling amounts are involved in the income support discussion. The redistribution of interests for banks and lenders at 80 billion marks is almost twice as great as the total annual social security payments or a hundred times the damages through abuse of social security. The doubling of private financial assets in the nineties to 6.7 trillion marks shows that expenditures for income support did not plunge citizens into poverty.
The German Income Support law entered in effect in 1962 with the goal of "enabling the receiver of assistance to life a life corresponding to human dignity" and "to live independent of assistance". Nevertheless receivers of income support are increasingly degraded to beggars or criminalized in sweeping statements. Many honest recipients of social security psychically burdened with their situation are not helped. The normal reaction to constant discrimination is a loss in self-awareness.
Less than every tenth receivers of social security receives income support longer than five years. Most overcome their situation. The social welfare office has the task of effectively helping them. However the consciousness must grow that the solidarity of the well-to-do with the poor must be a matter of course in a community that defines itself according to the constitution as a "democratic and social state".