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POVERTY

German food banks struggle to cope with rising demand

The war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living has led to food banks in Germany almost reaching their limit. 

An employee brings bags to a customer at a Tafel Frankfurt distribution point.
An employee brings bags to a customer at a Tafel Frankfurt distribution point. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

The number of people going to food banks in Germany is on the rise.

There are over 960 food banks across Germany which rescue surplus food, organise donations from supermarkets and distribute these to people in need.

Demand for the service, which provides free groceries for those in need, began rising last December, but has sharply increased since February this year as the cost-of-living crisis began to hit. 

Since March, demand has risen even further as inflation reached a forty-year high of 7.3 percent and more and more families who have fled the war in Ukraine are also turning to food banks for help.

READ ALSO: German inflation hits post-reunification high at 7.3 percent

The food banks in big cities, in particular, are seeing more demand for their services, according to the Federal Association of Food Banks. In Berlin, for example, they report lots of new customers from Ukraine. 

But the rise in demand is happening all over the country. Wolfram Schreiner, the managing director of the food bank in Kusel in Rhineland-Palatinate – a town with less than 5,000 inhabitants – recently told Taggeschau that more 100 new customers have used their foodbank in the last eight weeks.

Increasing pressure on food banks

The nationwide increase in demand, combined with rising fuel and grocery costs, as well as food shortages, is beginning to impact the food banks themselves, with many reporting that they are stretched to their limit. 

A long-term volunteer at Frankfurt’s biggest food bank told die Zeit that donations from supermarkets have recently fallen by between 60 and 70 percent, as the supermarkets are having to plan more carefully and are having fewer leftovers. 

READ ALSO: The products getting more expensive and harder to find in Germany

As Jochen Brühl, Chairman of the Federal Association of Food Banks, explained: “The sharp rise in fuel and energy prices is causing high additional costs that food banks cannot cope with without additional donations.” 

The Covid pandemic is also causing food banks to struggle, says Brühl: “We have 60,000 volunteers doing incredible work. But many have put their activities on hold because of Covid – simply out of fear of infection.” 

In order to ease the situation, the Federal Association of Food Banks is calling on the German government to provide a €100 monthly subsidy for those claiming housing benefits and receiving the basic old-age pension.

READ ALSO: German Bundesrat votes on heating subsidy for low-income households

They are also appealing for financial donations as well as food, as increased energy and fuel costs have already forced some food banks to suspend or limit their services.

The long term goal, however, must be to reduce the demand for food banks, said Jochen Brühl: “Feeding people is the task of the state. We from the food banks are only a support – we are not a lifetime assistance. Our concern is to support people in need in the short term”.

Vocabulary

Food bank = (die) Tafel

demand = (die) Nachfrage

donation = (die) Spende

steigen = to increase

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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ENERGY

EXPLAINED: How much will Germany’s gas levy cost you?

On Monday, gas operators in Germany announced an additional charge of 2.419 cents per kilowatt hour which will come into force in October. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How much will Germany’s gas levy cost you?

What’s going on?

Households in Germany will face significantly higher gas prices this autumn and winter.

The gas transmission system operator, Trading Hub Europe, announced on Monday that German gas suppliers will be allowed to add 2.419 cents per kilowatt hour to the price of gas from October onwards, to help them cope with hugely increased procurement costs. 

The surcharge is aimed at sharing out the soaring costs borne by energy importers after Russia drastically decreased gas supplies to Germany after the invasion of Ukraine.

Gas importers have so far taken on the additional costs themselves, but a new rule agreed by the government allows them to pass on ballooning costs via the levy to households from October 1st.

How much more are you likely to pay for gas?

For an average family house of 160 square metres, which uses 23,000 kilowatt hours per year, this surcharge would amount to around an extra €556.

Those who live in an apartment of 85 square metres, which uses an average of 12,000 kilowatt hours per year, will be likely to pay an extra €290 annually.

Those living in an apartment of 50 square metres are likely to pay an extra €121 to €169 per year.

The levy will primarily affect property owners with gas heating, as well as tenants living in households that have floor heating and their own gas contracts.

What is not yet clear, however, is how households in Germany supplied with Fernwärme (district heating) will be affected by the levy. 

A gas bill in front of a meter, which reads: “your gas bill in detail”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Weißbrod

In many places, this type of energy supply comes from gas-fired power plants and operators of such power plants are supposed to pay the surcharge.

So far operators have no legal means of passing on these costs to their customers, but the German government wants to look into this issue, so this is likely to change. 

Will VAT be charged on the levy?

The German government wants to waive the value-added tax on gas, but it needs permission from the EU to do so. Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) wrote to the Commission on Friday asking for an exception to EU law to be granted so that Germany does not have to charge VAT on the state gas levy.

READ ALSO: Germany pledges inflation relief tax package worth €10 billion

In a letter to Finance Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, the FDP politician wrote: “VAT on state-imposed levies drives up prices and meets with increasing resistance from the population, especially in the current, exceptional situation.”

It is not yet clear how the Commission is likely to respond to this request.

Haven’t gas prices already increased?

Yes. Numerous gas suppliers have already increased their prices more than once throughout the course of the year.

Most recently, suppliers such as Rheinenergie, Wuppertaler Stadtwerke and Energieversorgung Oberhausen announced significant rate increases. “There is a major wave of price increases,” says energy expert Udo Sieverding from the consumer centre of North Rhine-Westphalia.

In the case of Rheinenergie, for example, an average household, with 15,000 to 20,000 kilowatt hours of annual consumption, is already paying just under €2,000 in additional annual costs after the latest round of price hikes, even before the levy.

Will there be government help for consumers?

Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) announced that the third relief package from the German government will be in place by the start of the levy on October 1st. The traffic light coalition has also agreed on a reform of the housing allowance and is planning a permanent heating allowance for low-income households.

In addition, the new ‘citizen’s allowance’ – a replacement of the current unemployment benefits system – is due to come into effect next year, and promises higher standard rates for the unemployed. 

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

At the beginning of September, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) will meet with social partners and other experts as part of a concerted action to discuss relief measures. The main focus will be on supporting lower-income groups that are hit hardest by high energy costs.

The SPD and welfare associations are proposing, for example, monthly direct payments to recipients of basic security and housing allowances and a price cap for a basic quantity of gas is also being discussed.

Economics Minister Robert Habeck explained: “Especially for those who don’t have much, it’s a heavy burden that is impossible or difficult to bear.” 

On Monday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) tried to reassure people via Twitter that the government would help balance out the extra costs. 

In the tweet, he said, “we won’t leave anyone alone with the higher costs”. At the same time, Scholz admitted: “It’s getting more expensive – there’s no beating around the bush. Energy prices continue to rise.” So far, he said, government aid of more than €30 billion has already been agreed upon. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s Scholz pledges more relief for lowest earners

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