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Berlin mayor backs ‘basic income’ to tackle capital’s unemployment

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Berlin mayor backs ‘basic income’ to tackle capital’s unemployment
Photo: DPA
09:49 CET+01:00
Berlin Mayor Michael Müller has called for an end to the controversial Hartz IV welfare system, saying that every jobless Berliner should have the right to a basic income.

The Social Democrat (SPD) politician told the Berliner Morgenpost that he wants to see an overhaul of the welfare system, with Hartz IV to be replaced by a “solidary basic income” model.

Hartz IV was one of the biggest components of the major labour market reform, which was adopted in the mid-2000s by the then red-green federal government under Gerhard Schröder (SPD).

The reforms significantly toughened the conditions under which people could claim welfare or unemployment benefits. They require recipients to regularly attend meetings and show they're actively looking for work. Recipients currently receive €416 a month.

While the reforms are credited with helping reduce unemployment in Germany to historically low levels, critics say they have widened the gap between rich and poor.

Müller told the Morgenpost on Sunday that, although the labour reforms had brought some success, there had also been “no social acceptance” of Hartz IV and said it was now time to “put an end to the existing system” and form a new way to work.

His counter-proposal was the introduction of a basic income which would amount to around €1,500 per month, some of which would be taken away as pension contributions.

But he emphasized that the model is not equatable to a universal basic income, as people would have to work to benefit from it. Furthermore the payments would not be available to everyone. It would rather be there for the unemployed, but only when they are prepared to do the work offered to them.

“Solidarity is practiced in both directions: the state is in solidarity because it supports people and gives them the work they need. And conversely, they bring in their labour in areas that benefit our community,” Müller said.

Muller said there were many positions that need filling in communities, such as caretakers and bus and train attendants, which could become jobs under a new system in the future.

However, the Berlin mayor added that it would be “by no means a forced labour”.

“It’s about volition,” he said.

Those not willing to do the work, he said, would still receive the current social security benefits.

There are currently around 160,000 unemployed people in Berlin, some 46,000 of whom have been out of work for longer than a year.

"This system wouldn't solve the problems of all 160,000 jobless. But if we create 5,000 or 10,000 jobs at first then we have already achieved a lot," Müller said.

He conceded however that he cannot implement his plan in the capital city without the support of the federal government.

"We rely for funding on our social security system which is financed by the federal government. This means that we need their consent," he said.

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