German government deleted passages from poverty report | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 15.12.2016
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German government deleted passages from poverty report

Newspaper reports say that the labor ministry deleted potentially controversial parts of a forthcoming report on poverty and wealth in Germany. The news casts doubt on the report's credibility.

According to a report in the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" (SZ) newspaper, the German government has watered down passages from the fifth edition of its Report on Poverty and Wealth. The report won't be officially published until 2017, but a draft was leaked to the press earlier this week.

The passages concern assertions that wealthy people in Germany have more political influence in Germany than poorer ones. The SZ article will only add fuel to the fire of critics of the report, which concludes that the number of poor people in Germany is growing.

The SZ says that the following passage was excised from an earlier version of the document: "Political change is significantly more likely if it's supported by people with higher incomes."

The document originally warned of a "crisis of political representation," concluding that "people with lower incomes forgo political participation because in their experience, politicians take them into account to a lesser extent when making their decisions."

Another deleted passage states that "not only do people in Germany with different incomes take part in politics to various degrees, but there is clearly a non-level playing field, to the detriment of the poor, in political decision-making."

Mentions of "the influence of special interest representatives and lobbyism" were also omitted.

Deleted passages available online

The report is based on external studies commissioned by the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry. One of the authors of the study that formed the basis for the expunged passages in the government report is social researcher Armin Schäfer from the University of Osnabrück.

He told Deutsche Welle that he has no information on why certain passages may have been left out from earlier drafts of the report and doesn't want to speculate.

"We were contracted to deliver a study, which we did," Schäfer said. "The Report on Poverty and Wealth is a report by the government, and they can include or exclude whatever they want. There's allegedly a discrepancy between the versions, but I'm not the author of the report itself, and I'm not involved in what is included."

Schäfer pointed out that the study he and his co-authors delivered to the government last June is available, ironically, on a government web page devoted to the poverty report itself.

"If you have a look at it, you can try to come up with an explanation for yourself as to why the passages may no longer be in the latest version of the report."

 A vicious circle of political exclusion

Ursula von der Leyen Armutsbericht Kabinett (Getty Images)

The government was also accused of softening the 2013 version of the report

The Report on Poverty and Wealth is published by the German government every four years. In 2015, German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles announced that for the first time the report would examine the influence of elites and the wealthy on political decision-making.

As Schäfer said, omitted passages cited by the SZ are contained verbatim within the study, which bears the title "Systematically Distorted Decisions? Responsiveness in German Politics from 1998 to 2015."

The section about a non-level playing field, for instance, continues: "With that there is the threat of a vicious circle of unequal participation and unequal responsiveness. Socially disadvantaged groups find that their concerns aren't being listened to and therefore turn their backs on politics, and consequently politics increasingly focuses on the interests of the more affluent. This pattern of systematically distorted decisions, which has been demonstrated in the US, applies to Germany as well."

Responding to a query by Deutsche Welle, Deputy Labor Ministry Spokeswoman Simone Stelten said in a written statement that the ministry had made the information collected for the report public. She added that the document cited by the SZ was a "first interdepartmental draft" and only represented a "preliminary stage in the creation of the report."

"The fact that changes are made at this stage not only reflects the nature of interdepartmental discussions, it's their very goal," the Labor Ministry statement read.

What we already know

Frau reinigt Stand für ein Luxus Artikel Auktionshaus Armut in Deutschland (AP)

Increasing numbers of older Germans are working jobs to supplement low pensions

Nonetheless, the newspaper piece drew immediate criticism for the government from the political opposition.

"We need to talk openly about the deficits in our democracy - everything else is grist for the mill of populists," the labor spokeswomen of the Green Party, Brigitte Pothmer, told the SZ.

Colleagues of Nahles within the Social Democratic party (SPD) were also upset by the idea that passages from the earlier draft had been suppressed on behalf of interests within the current government, although one spokesman also tried to shift blame to the conservatives.

"It would be unsavory, but not surprising, if it turned out the Chancellor's Office was behind this," SPD deputy parliamentary leader Karl Lauterbach told the "Berliner Zeitung" newspaper. "All (the passages) do is describe something we already know. One of the most prominent aspects of poverty is that poor people have no voice."

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