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Politicians defend Hartz IV following high court ruling

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Politicians defend Hartz IV following high court ruling
File photo of a child on Hartz IV benefits. Photo: DPA
12:33 CET+01:00
Senior government figures defended the maligned Hartz IV welfare system on Wednesday as political fallout continued following the German high court's ruling that the programme is unconstitutional.

They also cautioned that a review of welfare payments for children of unemployed parents did not necessarily mean the government would throw more cash benefits at struggling families.

After Germany's highest court ruled Tuesday that the way payments for children were calculated breached the constitution, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière became the first senior member of the government to openly attack the decision.

“The ruling suggests a problematic tendency towards exaggerating isolated cases rather than taking a reasonable overview,” de Maizière, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel's, told daily Bild.

Federal Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen defended the Hartz IV welfare reforms against attacks from critics, telling broadcaster Deutschlandradio Kultur that the aims of the reforms were sound.

But she admitted many of the system's details had been put together in a “hasty and sloppy” way, leading to outcomes that were “not very fair or just.”

She also criticised the court's demand that lawmakers review the system of payments by the end of this year, branding it an ''exorbitantly high time pressure.”

A review of the system by December 31 should not automatically mean more money for unemployed families, she said. Rather, non-cash benefits and greater services needed to be considered, she said, citing as an example extra school tuition for struggling children.

The Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday that the rate of unemployment benefits under Hartz IV was not transparent in the way it was calculated and not gauged according to real-life circumstances.

In particular, the method of calculating children's payments as a percentage of benefits given to adults was unconstitutional. Rather, benefits should be calculated to ensure welfare recipients could at least live according to minimum humane standards, the court ruled.

At present, benefits for children of unemployed families are calculated as a percentage of the €359 per month – not including rent – awarded to unemployed adults. Children aged up to five get €215 per month – 60 percent of the adult rate – and children aged six to 13 get €251 – or 70 percent of the adult rate.

Hartz IV was introduced in 2005 by the former Social Democrat-led government of Gerhard Schöder and has been continued under Merkel's government.

After the ruling Merkel herself welcomed the “clarity” on Hartz IV provided by the court.

Andrea Nahles, general secretary of the centre-left Social Democrats, said: “The new government must now create an independent regulation for the rate of payments to children. I would welcome that. We have not in the past done all that was necessary to ensure transparency.”

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