Social researcher on citizen income: "The withdrawal of benefits is degrading"

Citizens' income, which is to replace Hartz IV in the coming year, is provoking fierce criticism.

Social researcher on citizen income: "The withdrawal of benefits is degrading"

Citizens' income, which is to replace Hartz IV in the coming year, is provoking fierce criticism. The pressure on beneficiaries to look for a job will be reduced, they say. According to the research director of the Institute for Economic and Social Sciences of the Hans Böckler Foundation, Bettina Kohlrausch, this criticism is based on false assumptions.

Citizens' income, which is to replace Hartz IV in the coming year, is provoking fierce criticism. Conservatives complain that beneficiaries face fewer penalties and are allowed to keep more assets. The pressure to look for a job is reduced. Work is often no longer worthwhile. According to Bettina Kohlrausch, research director of the Economic and Social Sciences Institute of the trade union-affiliated Hans Böckler Foundation, this criticism is based on completely false assumptions. The criticism of citizen income raises fundamental questions about social security. Behind this is the fear that many would no longer work at all if they were not threatened with immediate, severe sanctions and recipients of social benefits are not financially significantly worse off than workers in the low-wage sector, for example. Is that so?

Bettina Kohlrausch: Apart from the fact that the discussion of the past few days was based on incorrect numbers, and it is actually the case that in Germany you have more if you work than if you don't: This demand for constant pressure on beneficiaries is based on the assumption that people only go to work for the money. But work is much more. People want to work because participation, recognition, integration into the community and much more in our society are largely based on gainful employment. Of course there are exceptions where work doesn't offer that, for example due to the sometimes degrading working conditions in the meat industry. If such work is also poorly paid, it is of course unattractive. In order to change that, however, wages and working conditions must be improved, and not reduced social benefits! This is still a completely inhumane logic!

Much of the discussion revolves around sanctions for beneficiaries who are not actively looking for work or who do not accept reasonable job offers. Is the threat of benefit cuts an effective way to get people to seek and work?

At least I don't know of any study that proves the effectiveness of sanctions against beneficiaries. On the contrary: the withdrawal of benefits from benefits, which in any case hardly cover a subsistence level, is degrading. As a result, less cooperation with the employment agency is achieved. In addition, these sanctions are inefficient because they tie up a lot of capacity among agency employees. These capacities could be better used to provide individual support to jobseekers to help them overcome the real barriers that prevent them from taking up work.

What are these obstacles?

All in all, mass unemployment is not a problem at all at the moment, but on the contrary the shortage of skilled workers. Nevertheless, there is a group of long-term unemployed who do not make it into the labor market. The problems of these people are individual and psychosocial in nature. Without support, they often cannot take up work. Pressure doesn't help, any more than threatening a paralytic with punishment because he doesn't walk.

This pressure should initially disappear with the new citizens' income. There should be no threat of sanctions in the first six months of receipt, and the assets that the recipients are allowed to keep will be significantly increased. Critics speak of a "fatal signal" that suggests to those affected that they can rest first.

On the contrary! Losing a job is a drastic experience because it is accompanied by a loss of participation and social integration. For most of them, this is sufficient motivation to start looking for a new job as quickly as possible. Such a grace period sends out a very important signal, not only to those affected, but also to everyone who fears losing their job. In times of change, multiple crises and the resulting great uncertainty, the state promises protection: Even if you lose your job in this crisis, you don't have to fear for your apartment or your savings for old age. This creates a basic trust that is important for the change in society and economy. If that trust in the state is lost, we are in much bigger trouble than a few more or fewer beneficiaries.

Max Borowski spoke to Bettina Kohlrausch.