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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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MONEY

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. 

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