Leading Germany’s kids down a dead-end street

Germany’s highest court has ruled Hartz IV welfare payments unconstitutional because children only receive a percentage of adult benefits. But Tissy Bruns from Der Tagesspiegel doubts the decision will end up helping poorer kids.

Leading Germany's kids down a dead-end street
Photo: DPA

Children’s lives are not worth a fraction of their parents’ lives, according to the Constitutional Court. The justices in Karlsruhe on Tuesday also reminded us that German society has committed itself to ensuring everyone has a basic level of subsistence. An illustrious ruling, yet it was still a depressing day.

In regards to Germany’s children, it’s never been so vital to stick to the principles of the welfare state – yet it’s never been so difficult to do so. The high court indirectly confirmed this by stressing it did not wish to provide concrete answers, preferring to leave this onus to the country’s politicians.

The decision simply highlights the problem at hand: 1.7 million children under the age of 14 currently live from Hartz IV welfare benefits. That’s every sixth child in Germany and growing. Berlin is a perfect example. The parts of the city with high levels of unemployment are also blessed with an abundance of children. But those who would consider the future of these kids exclusively the responsibility of their parents should think otherwise. If we let them head down a dead-end street, we will waste our only natural resource – creative and productive minds. These “problem children” are the demographic hope of the German welfare state.

But social and educational dead-end streets are not solely the product of lacking means – they also occur through the exclusion caused by child poverty. Such childhoods are deprived of music classes, sport and other extracurricular activities. Worst of all, they won’t have the example of self-sufficient working parents to follow. That’s why simply increasing Hartz IV benefits would be the wrong answer to the court decision, and not only because it would be prohibitively expensive. That would be the same indifferent attitude taken towards people on welfare before the Hartz IV reforms: We’ll pay for these people, but not give a damn about them.

Five years on, it would appear Hartz IV has failed to make the German social security net – facing strains from both demographics and globalisation – fit for the future. The latest court decision does not change the underlying impetus that pushed Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s centre-left coalition to these reforms. Social benefits must first and foremost be financed by taxpayers. Each welfare payment makes the cost of labour higher – which in turn makes the job market more difficult.

The principle of helping people in need while demanding that the able-bodied work only functioned for a short time before being blindsided by cold, hard reality. Firstly because companies used the labour market’s new flexibility to exploit temporary workers on a grand scale. Then the global financial crisis devoured the rest of the modest headway that had been made in putting people back in work. After that, there wasn’t much money left over with which to help people.

The consequence? Welfare payments for growing children probably never should have been calculated as a crude percentage of support for adults on the dole. Healthy food, theatre, music and sport at full-day schools would be more beneficial to them. Politicians must finally find the answer to our educational lethargy and use our meagre public funding were it helps children best. They should also implement a minimum wage to halt workers’ income from spiralling further downward. But this is the most depressing aspect of the Constitutional Court’s utterly predictable ruling.

The federal government should have seen it coming, yet has chosen to waste what precious little money it has for children. The recent decision to raise the Kindergeld child subsidy did not apply to the 1.7 million kids on the dole and it won’t help them either at home or in school.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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Woman on trial over killing spree at Potsdam care home

The trial began on Tuesday of a woman accused of stabbing four residents to death and severely injuring another at a German care home for disabled people where she worked outside Berlin.

Tributes laid where four people were killed at a care home in Potsdam.
Tributes laid where four people were killed at a care home in Potsdam. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Soeren Stache

Named as Ines Andrea R., the 52-year-old suspect is charged with four counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder following the bloodbath at the Thusnelda-von-Saldern-Haus facility in Potsdam, Brandenburg, in April.

The victims, two women and two men aged between 31 and 56, were found dead in their rooms after being stabbed with a knife, with police saying they had been subjected to “intense, extreme violence”.

Ines Andrea R. is also accused of trying to kill two further residents and of seriously injuring another, a woman aged 43.

She was detained immediately after the incident and placed in urgent psychiatric care due to what prosecutors described as “pertinent evidence” of severe mental illness.

Around 100 police officers were involved in recovering evidence at the scene.

READ ALSO: Women in custody over killings at Potsdam disabled home

The Thusnelda-von-Saldern-Haus, run by the Lutheran Church’s social welfare service, specialises in helping those with physical and mental disabilities, including blind, deaf and severely autistic patients.

It offers live-in care as well as schools and workshops.

Around 65 people live at the residence, which employs more than 80 people.

Germany has seen a number of high-profile murder cases from care facilities.

In the most prominent trial, nurse Niels Högel was sentenced in 2019 to life in prison for murdering 85 patients in his care.

READ ALSO: Missed chances: How Germany’s killer nurse got away with 85 murders

Högel, believed to be Germany’s most prolific serial killer, murdered patients with lethal injections between 2000 and 2005, before he was eventually caught in the act.

Last year, a Polish healthcare worker was sentenced to life in prison in Munich for killing at least three people with insulin.