Ernst told reporters in Berlin that Hartz IV, which came into force on January 1, 2005, had not fulfilled its own ambitions. What was needed was "a reform of the reform," he said.
He called the welfare changes, which have caused considerable controversy, a "poverty and low-wage machine," and pointed out that they had not reduced the number of long-term unemployed in Germany. He added that the new jobs Hartz IV had created were mainly "badly paid part-time jobs that you can't live on."
The leftist politician said, "We need a raft of immediate measures, because the economic crisis is now hitting the job market."
Ernst called for an increase in the standard payments for children and single parents, the extension of primary unemployment benefit (Arbeitslosengeld I) from 12 months to 24 months, and the introduction of a minimum wage. He also said that unemployed people should only be offered jobs appropriate to their qualifications.
The Federal Labour Agency (BA) also admitted that plenty of improvements needed to be made. BA management board member Heinrich Alt told news agency DPA that not enough job placement officers were properly trained. "We still have too few colleagues qualified as case managers," Alt said.
Independent researchers have recently criticised the BA for not providing an adequate individual case management service.
According to Alt, job centres need "sensitive employees who understand the social infrastructure, who can deal with the difficult life situations of some people, and who can get people back to work."
But he admitted it was often very difficult. "We have to deal with a lot of people who have not had a job for several years," he said.
Alt pointed out that many people who live on Hartz IV spend a lot of time looking after their parents or relatives, and that "we have many opportunities in social care." This is, according Alt, a potential that needs to be used.
Alt said another problem was that single mothers were often prevented from getting work because childcare was still orientated towards traditional working hours – 8 am to 5 pm. Very few jobs in the service industry, where there are also opportunities, stick to these hours.
"We have to cooperate with our partners and ask: how can we fit childcare to the flexible structures of our society?" said Alt.