Friday, March 03, 2017

Germany's Poverty

A new report has shown the poverty rate breaking new records in Germany, even as GDP continues to grow. 

The poverty rate in Germany reached the new record level of 15.7 percent in 2015, according to a report, entitled "Human dignity is a human right."

German Gross Domestic Product had also risen at the same time, by 1.7 percent on the previous year.

"Growth is what the economy produces, but for years now that hasn't reached the poor population," said Erika Biehn, deputy chairwoman of one of the charities that presented the report in Berlin. "Because they don't have the right education - I had the same experience myself. I was poor, my mother was poor, so I had it harder in school. It's been the same problem for the past 50 years."

Much depends on how poverty is defined. Germany's official statistics office, says a poor person is someone who earns 60 percent or less of the country's median income.

Christoph Schröder, senior researcher at the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW), didn't agree with the report. “Of course, if there's a high rate of people with a relatively low income, then there is a social problem that should be taken seriously," he added. "But I wouldn't put that in the same category as poverty. There is always the question: what defines a minimum living standard - is it really only proportional to income?"  Critics say the fact that certain social groups, such as students, are often included in the standard definition of poverty even though their living standards are relatively high. In other words, the poverty rate is artificially inflated. In other words, the poverty rate is artificially inflated.

The report's head Ulrich Schneider  took issue with what he calls an attempt to "reduce poverty to misery," by focusing only on the lack of basic needs such as food, clothing and an assortment of consumer items that define living standards, such as a TV. This, according to Schneider, amounts to "an attack on an inclusive society" and Germany's constitutionally guaranteed respect for human dignity - which means participation in society.

"Poverty is when people, because of an insufficient income, can simply no longer take part in society ... and are forced to withdraw, and are de facto marginalized ... into sub- or parallel societies."

Schneider's response to that is that "hundreds of thousands of homeless people, and hundreds of thousands of care patients and disabled people" are not included in the statistics at all, which means that there is really an "under-estimate of the real dimension of poverty in Germany."

Each year between 2011 and 2015, electricity providers cut off power to at least 300,000 German households who could no longer afford to pay their bills, the government revealed on Thursday.

The number of houses which could not afford electricity payments varied between 312,000 and 352,000. The power cut-offs were normally due to poverty, with people on state welfare very often affected. Meanwhile in 2015, 44,000 households had their gas supply cut off.

"Energy poverty in Germany is a silent catastrophe for millions of people, especially in the cold, dark winter months,” said Eva Bulling-Schröter, energy spokeswoman for Die Linke.
While Germany is selling more electricity than ever before to other European countries, the government is turning a blind eye to the poor within its own borders who can’t afford their power bills, Bulling-Schröter said. “Many people are ashamed of the fact they can’t pay their bills. They are stigmatized and withdraw from society after their electricity has been cut, which is particularly damaging to children.”

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