German pensions to rise above forecasted level this year

Pensions in Germany are to increase more than initially expected, it emerged on Tuesday.

Schlosspart Pillnitz
An elderly couple sit on a park bench in Schlosspark Pillnitz in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

They will go up by 5.35 percent in western states and by 6.12 percent in the former East German states this July, the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs said.

The news will come as a pleasant surprise to pension-age people in Germany, who had previously been warned to expect a more modest increase of around four percent on July 1st.

The traffic-light coalition had reduced its forecasted pension increases in order to recoup some of the funds used to avoid a cut in pensions in 2021, when the Covid pandemic was still tearing through the economy.

This has been termed the “catch-up” factor. 

Instead, increases of 5.35 percent and 6.12 percent respectively will outstrip the high levels of inflation driving up the cost of living in Germany. 

According to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the increases still take the catch-up factor into account and will represent a smaller increase than usual. That will allow the government to recoup some the money used to avert a 2021 pension cut over time.

However, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil described the rise as “significant” and a fair increase for those who had worked in the country for several decades. 

READ ALSO: Germany plans reforms to avoid double taxation on pensions: What you need to know

“I am pleased that we can announce a significant pension adjustment today,” he said. “Especially in view of the current challenges – be it rising prices or the international crisis situation – it is important to see that our pension system works.”

The development of pensions should not be decoupled from the development of wages, Heil added. 

Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD)

Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) speaks in the Bundestag on March 18th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Britta Pedersen

Pensions linked to wages

The current increase is based on data from the Federal Statistical Office and the German Pension Insurance Association. 

According to the ministry, the development of wages is a crucial factor in determining the increase in pensions. 

This year, the Federal Statistic Office reported average pay rises 5.8 percent in western German states and about 5.3 percent in the former East German states. The actual wage development of people with pension insurance is also taken into account. 

“This has a clearly positive effect this year because periods of short-time work are also included in the contributions,” the Labour Ministry said.

With the short-time work (Kurzarbeit) scheme, wages for employees on reduced hours were topped up by the government to ensure that people did not have to suffer a large cut in wages.

This means that workers essentially earn a higher rate per hour, which also has an impact on pension increases.

But trade unions criticised the fact that the government would be increasing pensions at a lower rate than wages due to the catch-up factor.

Anja Piel, executive member of the German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB), warned: “Further price increases are imminent, especially in energy costs.”

She added that the DGB did not yet know what exactly the federal government had calculated in its complex formulas.

However, the unions would “fend off any attack aimed at further decoupling pensions from wages”, she said. 

An aging population

Germany has been facing challenges for the past few years as an increasing number of people from the baby boomer generation reach pension age.

However, in part due to a rise in skilled immigration and more women entering the workforce, the number of people paying into the pensions pot has also increased.

With a new wave of people expected to retire in the coming decade, the traffic-light coalition plans to tackle the questions of pensions and the country’s aging population by transitioning to a Swedish-style system.

READ ALSO: Pensions in Germany: How the new government plans to solve an age-old issue

This will see insured employees pay around two percent of their income into a private equity pension pot that will be invested in lower risk stocks. 

The other 16.6 percent of contributions will follow the traditional German model and be split between employees and their employers. 

Through this system, the traffic-light coalition has promised not to raise the pension age and to keep the rate stable at 48 percent. 

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Germany reaches agreement on Bürgergeld – with a couple of catches

Members of Germany’s traffic light coalition government and the opposition Christian Democratic Union party have reached an agreement in the dispute over plans for a new citizens‘ income. There will be tougher sanctions against benefit recipients and fewer discretionary assets.

Germany reaches agreement on Bürgergeld - with a couple of catches

Last week, the German government’s plans to reform unemployment benefits with its new “Bürgergeld”, or citizens’ income, proposals were blocked in the Bundesrat.

The legislation was held up mostly by members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU) which had been strongly opposed to the proposals for a six-month Vertrauenszeit (trust period) in which benefits claimants would not incur sanctions, as well as to the amount of assets recipients would be able to hold on to.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Will Germany’s controversial Bürgergeld still come into force?

On Tuesday, politicians from the traffic light coalition parties and the CDU/CSU reached a compromise on the proposed reforms which means that some of the key measures will be scrapped.

No trust period

The CDU/CSU was able to push through its demand for more sanctions for recipients and the six-month trust period will now be scrapped completely.

Instead, it will be possible to enforce benefit sanctions from the first day of an unemployment benefits claim if recipients don’t apply for a job, or fail to turn up for appointments at the job centre, for example.

The CDU and CSU also demanded that unemployment benefits recipients be allowed to keep less of their own assets when they receive state benefits. The original plan had been for assets worth up to €60,000 to be protected for the first two years, but the compromise reached has knocked this down to €40,000 for one year – during which time benefits recipients will not have to use up their savings.

Following the announcement of the agreement, Green Party later Britta Haßelmann said “I regret it very much”. According to Haßelmann, the trust period was the core of the reform designed to stop people from having to take up “just any job”.

READ ALSO: Bürgergeld: What to know about Germany’s unemployment benefits shake-up

Other traffic light colleagues were more optimistic, however. Katja Mast from the SDP spoke of a “workable compromise in the spirit of the matter,” while FDP Parliamentary Secretary Johannes Vogel said that it had succeeded in “making a good law even better”.

CDU/CSU leader Friedrich Merz, meanwhile, sees the compromise as a great success for his party, though he also praised the willingness of the parties in the government to reach an agreement.

“The coalition was very quick and – to my surprise – very largely willing to make compromises here,” Merz said. 

What happens next?

Tomorrow, the Mediation Committee of the Bundestag and Bundesrat will meet to discuss the proposals. If the agreement is confirmed, the welfare reform could clear the final hurdle when it is voted on Bundesrat again at the end of the week. According to the federal government’s plans, if it’s approved, Bürgergeld will come into force in January and replace the current Hartz IV system.