“In Austria there is a citizens' insurance scheme. Everyone pays into it,” Petra Vogel told the Chancellor on a live show on public broadcaster ZDF on Thursday.
Vogel, a cleaner in a hospital in Bochum and trade unionist, went on to explain that if Germany had this too, she would not have to live in poverty as a pensioner.
After more than 40 years of work, Vogel said that when she retired she would receive a monthly pension of €654, adding that she needed to pay health insurance on top of this.
She asked Merkel why Germany was one of the richest countries in the world but still couldn't ensure that there was no poverty among the elderly.
At first the Chancellor tried to find a point of compromise, saying “I believe that the Austrian pension system is really better on this point.”
She then suggested that Vogel should look into a state-backed private scheme. But this didn't satisfy the cleaning lady, who replied “How can I on €1,050?”
Vogel then received support from a lady behind her, who hollered “Mrs. Merkel, that's a joke what you're saying.”
Old age poverty has been one of the central themes of the election this year, as recent studies have shown that pensioners are ever more threatened by a life on the bread line.
The normal retirement age of people in Germany born after 1964 is 67. Upon retirement, a person receives roughly half to two-thirds of net income as pension. About 85 percent of workers in Germany are enrolled in this comprehensive social insurance system.
The average monthly pension received is around €1,052 for men and €521 for women in west Germany, and €1,006 for men and €705 for women in east Germany.
A study released by the Bertelsmann Foundation in June suggested that every fifth German aged 67 will be threatened by poverty in 2036, as many people who have lived off mini jobs will have failed to put contribute enough to state pension funds.