How do you survive on a low income

"With 600 euros you can survive, but not really live"

Jürgen Liminski: According to a definition of the European Community, “individuals, families and groups of people who have so little material, cultural and social resources at their disposal that they are excluded from the way of life that is the minimum acceptable in the member state in which they live are considered poor ". What is the minimum in Europe, in Germany? Now there will not always be a relative minimum. On the phone, I would like to welcome Ms. Erika Biehn, Vice-Chairwoman of the National Poverty Conference, to answer these questions. Good morning Mrs. Biehn!

Erika Biehn: Good Morning! - Of course there will always be a relative difference. It has existed in all centuries. But it is always important to see what the current situation is like, and they are always very different. The National Poverty Conference is based on a life situation concept. That means if someone is undersupplied in several areas such as home, work, income or training, job, i.e. has too little of what the average is, he is then referred to as poor. This certainly includes - as the EU definition says very clearly - if someone has too little money or lives in a very poor apartment, that person is then poor, although there are of course connections.

Liminski: So you start from a life situation concept. Is that the core element of your definition, so to speak?

Biehn: Exactly!

Liminski: What then belongs to the minimum of this life situation concept?

Biehn: According to what we have today, the minimum is at least what is in the SGB II benefits, which is really the absolute minimum. The National Poverty Conference is even calling for this standard benefit to be increased because it is clearly too low at the moment. So that's something: With just under 600 euros someone can survive, but not really live. He is actually largely excluded from society, because with this little money you can no longer afford the recreational opportunities that others [do] on average. This is not about a trip around the world or the like, but really only about smaller leisure activities such as going to the cinema, going to a theater and the like. All of this is no longer possible at all with this money, and that's why we say that it needs to be significantly improved.

Liminski: The keyword is "excluded". Obviously, poverty is not just a question from above and below, but also from inside and outside. Ms. Biehn, you are the second chairman of the Federal Working Group of Unemployed and Social Welfare Initiatives and, at the same time, the National Poverty Conference. This dual role is probably no coincidence. Is unemployment the greatest risk of poverty today because it excludes and exclusion from the working society is the indictment of poverty par excellence?

Biehn: It is certainly the case that unemployment is a very important aspect and a major reason why many people are poor. This can also be seen in the number of unemployed, which has risen steadily over the past few decades. The base unemployment rate was getting higher and higher. But I think it's an important aspect, but not the only one. If you look at each other: Single parents are one of the risk groups par excellence. That does not mean that every single parent is poor, but quite a lot of single parents have their income problems because they earn too little. The majority of single parents are gainfully employed and are still often dependent on SGB II benefits because their income is too low or because they do not have the opportunity to look after their children in such a way that they can take on a full-time job. In this respect, unemployment is certainly one aspect, but not the only one.

Liminski: You have now mentioned the word SGB II for the second time. Maybe you tell us what that is.

Biehn: This is the Social Security Code II, known to the general population as Hartz IV.

Liminski: We now have social assistance. Where does the exclusion start? Social assistance is supposed to help to stay anchored in society, so to speak.

Biehn: That is true. This is what the CDU has always maintained over the years. But the problem is: in order to really participate in society, you definitely need a certain amount of money. The social welfare initiatives, but also the National Poverty Conference, say that what is granted there has always been too little. The paritarian has calculated that clearly and we have received no contradiction from the ministry that the calculation made by the paritarian was wrong. In this respect, it has always been very clear at this point, and has been for many years, that the standard rate in social welfare - and it is accordingly also with Hartz IV - has always been too low and we have always called for an adjustment there , an increase must be made. But so far that has been too expensive for any government.

Liminski: What does adaptation mean in concrete terms? Name a number.

Biehn: An increase in the control power by 20 percent. That would be a standard rate of at least 420 euros.

Liminski: So that afterwards you come to around 700 with the rent?

Biehn: Exactly. That's roughly how it is, yes!

Liminski: The poorest in the poverty reports have been single parents for many years - you just said it - and so are the large numbers of children. Now the government is boasting about the parental allowance. Does that change the situation for the risk groups?

Biehn: No, not at all, because 67 percent of 1000 euros is 670 euros. The single parent can hardly survive there. In this respect, that's basically not an improvement for me. The problem is: for those for whom it is intended - namely, the high earners - it is certainly progress, no doubt, without a doubt. In my opinion, this is no progress at all for the low-wage earners, because they now get less money for a shorter period of time.

Liminski: Ms. Biehn, the at-risk-of-poverty rate has risen continuously in recent years and is now 13 percent in Germany. But the federal government says we're doing fine because the average rate in the EU is around 15 percent. Is the reality, namely the cracks in society, being whitewashed with statistical data?

Biehn: In my opinion, definitely because the poverty rate is really something very statistical. One must not forget: People who earn very well, for example, also go into this poverty rate because that is always an average. So I think politicians are hearing at the moment that there has been an increase in poverty, but this increase in the poverty rate has been going on for years. I think it's a brief outcry, but nothing really is being changed and changed for the benefit of the people so that it will continue to do so in the future.

Liminski: Do you see social peace at risk if this continues?

Biehn: Yes, I definitely see it at risk. It is still the case that the big protest has not yet come because many fear that if they protest that they will then have greater difficulties with the offices and some actually experience it that way. That is why the outcry comes very late, if at all, and I fear that it will then come in a form that would not be good for the Federal Republic of Germany.

Liminski: Has poverty also to do with emotions, for example with the ability to even perceive poverty, I would say watching the old man who walks past the meat counter in the supermarket with a sad look and gets three eggs for it, or to the welfare recipient believe when he says he's saving two years for a new pair of shoes?

Biehn: Of course, poverty also has something to do with emotions. I believe that poverty is not viewed with pleasure because many people fear that they will fall into poverty themselves. Some say it's their own fault, that can't happen to me, and they keep saying that until it actually happened to them. I do believe that on the one hand there is this, I would say, rather neutral view, but on the other hand there is certainly also the emotional side, although I experience very differently in politics how this is perceived. There are politicians who take it seriously and other politicians pass it over with a smile.

Liminski: Isn't this country threatened by a new form of poverty, namely emotional impoverishment, keyword loneliness?

Biehn: I don't know if you can really say that. I don't think that's actually the case because we've had this phenomenon for decades. At least as long as I am in association policy, I have experienced it exactly that way and so I do not believe that there will necessarily be brutalization, or whatever you want to call it. There will always be people who take a closer look and others who don't.

Liminski: Today is World Poverty Reduction Day. What would you recommend politicians do on that day?

Biehn: On this day? - One thing is what you just alluded to, namely to actually listen to people, to believe them that poverty is very difficult to fight and, above all, to cope with. On the other hand, I would like the associations that have been fighting for many years to improve the situation for these people to actually be heard and to decide accordingly, namely to increase the standard benefit.