Hartz IV sanctions: does it make sense or can it go away?

It has been decided that almost all penalties for Hartz IV recipients will be abolished, and there should be no more sanctions by summer 2023.

Hartz IV sanctions: does it make sense or can it go away?

It has been decided that almost all penalties for Hartz IV recipients will be abolished, and there should be no more sanctions by summer 2023. The decision has triggered a discussion about the sense of the measures.

Sandra Schlensog has made a name for herself. The Karlsruhe native has been called a Hartz IV rebel, and has been for four years. In an online petition, Schlensog asked the then Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn to live on unemployment benefit II for a month.

Spahn had previously stated that anyone who had to live on Hartz IV was not poor. Spahn did not respond to Schlensog's request. But he visited her, brought a cake and was informed for an hour and a half about life in basic security. The minister at the time seemed a little relieved when he explained after the conversation: "Living with Hartz IV is without a doubt difficult, because it only covers the bare minimum as basic social security. It was helpful to talk to Ms. Schlensog about the concrete problems of her everyday life to discuss."

Only recently Sandra Schlensog was a guest on the RTL show "Stern TV am Sonntag". It was about the federal government's planned abolition of most sanctions against Hartz IV recipients. Schlensog was also affected by these sanctions, says the single mother of a 13-year-old boy. She was unable to visit the job center because her son injured his knee. Then you reduced her ALG II for three months - by ten percent. She could have objected, but she didn't know that.

There are two main reasons for the cut in Hartz IV. The job center can reduce the amount if a beneficiary does not appear on a specified date. "Violation of reporting and cooperation obligations", that's what the legislator calls it. Sandra Schlensog violated this.

The second reason is more serious. This is a "breach of conduct". Two examples: If the job center offers a reasonable job or training to a person living on Hartz IV, he must accept it, otherwise the salary could be reduced by up to thirty percent. This also applies if someone misses training so often that it has to be dropped. Before the corona pandemic, around 10 percent of the sanctions were imposed for this reason. Most penalties, about 75 percent, were for "skipping" the job center appointment.

That changed during the pandemic - there were fewer appointments, job center employees often called their clients at home. So it was almost impossible to miss an appointment. There were also fewer job offers during the Corona crisis. The number of sanctions has therefore fallen significantly since 2020, from almost ten to three and a half percent of Hartz IV recipients.

Those who do not obey the law will be punished. This also applies to recipients of ALG II, says Joachim Wolff from the Institute for Labor Market and Occupational Research in Nuremberg in an interview with ntv.de. "Sanctions are aimed at ensuring that certain obligations are met by recipients of unemployment benefit II. Their main purpose is to support counseling and integration work." The aim of the sanctions is therefore to try to put some pressure on the long-term unemployed who are not looking for a job or training.

The success of the measures can be disputed. Joachim Wolff knows of several studies on the subject. For example, Hartz IV recipients were asked a year after a sanction if they were currently looking for a new job. Their statements were compared with those of non-sanctioned test subjects. The study could not prove an increased search activity of sanctioned long-term unemployed. However, Wolff points out that those affected may have already found a job at the time of the interview. Then they would have no more reason to search. "Other studies have attempted to investigate directly whether sanctions lead to an accelerated start of employment," says Wolff. "Many studies have shown in the meantime that this is the case."

Sandra Schlensog now has a part-time job. It is doubtful whether their sanction contributed to this.

As far as penalties for the long-term unemployed are concerned, things are about to change. The Bundestag recently approved a new law. After that, most sanctions are to be put on hold. Only those who miss an appointment at the job center will then lose part of their basic security, and only if they miss the second of this kind. The law is to come into force on July 1 and will be valid for one year.

However, the idea has met with clear criticism from the employment agencies. "It's a catastrophe," the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" quoted a job broker as saying. According to the newspaper, in the view of practitioners, possible sanctions are the reason why they adhered to them at all for twenty percent of benefit recipients. The "Handelsblatt" quotes from a statement by the Federal Employment Agency, according to which the job centers "need a handle" "if individual beneficiaries completely refuse the joint efforts to reduce the need for help, for example by not accepting reasonable job offers".

Social organizations such as the German Parity Welfare Association see things differently. The association calls for “basic security without sanctions”. The moratorium that has now been decided is a first step, but it is not enough. The general manager of the association, Ulrich Schneider, says: "This type of cane pedagogy is inhumane and neither up-to-date nor effective. Social law is not criminal law. The sanctions should be completely abolished - that not only requires reason, but also humanity."

So far, the principle has actually applied: Anyone who does not comply with the law will be punished. But what if a "turning point" were also introduced in social law and, for example, instead of punishing those who do not comply with conditions, instead rewarding those who look intensively for new jobs or training or who successfully complete them with particularly good performance ? Perhaps that could motivate Hartz IV recipients to take more initiative?

Anyone who gets ALG II and starts a new job can already get certain benefits, says Joachim Wolff. "On the one hand, we have the additional income rule. So when I start work, the first 100 euros are not counted towards unemployment benefit II," explains the expert. If you earn more than 100 euros, you can keep 20 cents of each additional euro you earn up to an amount of 1000 euros. Wolff also points out the "entry allowance" that job centers can grant to the long-term unemployed. That's a good 10,500 euros at most. According to Wolff, up to 70,000 long-term unemployed have benefited from this every year in the last four years.

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