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German government bickers on child poverty plan

March 7, 2023

The three parties in Germany's coalition government don't see eye to eye on several key policy issues, including the "Basic Child Security" plan to combat child poverty. What does it entail?

Children heading to school
The 'Basic Child Security' plan would couple together social benefit applications for struggling familiesImage: Julian Stratenschulte/dpa/picture alliance

Despite an intense two-day summit earlier this week, the Cabinet of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, of the Social Democrats (SPD), has not yet resolved the many sticking points hindering Germany's three-party coalition from moving forward with its agenda. Much has been made of how the smallest party in the group, the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), has stymied pushes from the Green Party and the senior coalition partners, the SPD.

The "Basic Child Security" plan is one of those sticking points. The package put forward by Family Minister Lisa Paus, of the Greens, envisions €12 billion ($12.8 billion) that would move applications for social benefits online to help struggling families who are currently entangled in a web of confusing, often disparate bureaucratic procedures.

These Basic Child Security proposals are "not enough, but a good first step," Anette Stein, who leads the Bertelsmann Foundation's child poverty research unit, told DW. "This will above all help the hidden poor," Stein said, as well as "overworked single parents and immigrant families," who often need more assistance but are less likely to be able to navigate the maze of German bureaucracy for reasons of time or language.

By moving the applications for child allowance, extra child benefits, and assistance for things such as school trips and after-school activities online, the plan will also remove the barrier of embarrassment on the part of parents who may not seek out help "because they are ashamed that they cannot provide everything for their children," Stein said.

Why does child poverty exist in Germany?

'Complete cluelessness'

But FDP chairman and Finance Minister Christian Lindner expressed his doubts, especially over the price tag. The FDP for its part is proposing a Kinder Chancengeld (Child Opportunity Money) plan for low-income families which also bundles benefits, but makes do with three to four billion euros. 

Heinz Hilgers, president of Germany's Child Protection Association, is irate. In comments posted to the organization's website, he points to an expert-approved roadmap that "has been available for 14 years."

"The introduction of a basic child allowance is not a wish to Santa Claus, but a necessary measure to ensure that children grow up in dignity and have equal opportunities," Hilgers said. He also criticized comments that Linder made to the news portal t-online, blaming the rise in child poverty in 2022 on immigration and refugees, as ignorance.

"Child poverty in Germany has explicitly not risen due to immigration," he wrote. "The reason for the increase in child poverty is due to the strong growth in the number of working poor."

Child poverty increases for first time in five years

According to both Save the Children Germany and the Bertelsmann Foundation, the number of children living below the poverty line rose last year for the first time since 2017. This means some 2.88 million young people live in households with income that is less than 60% of the national average, and millions more are at risk as inflation skyrockets and wages stagnate.

Asked why a country as rich as Germany is still struggling to address this issue and its effects, Stein pointed to a structural problem.

"It is a scandal," she said, explaining some of the knock-on effects of growing up in need: These children are more likely to have health issues, be the victims of physical and psychological violence, and do worse academically — not only because of a lack of space to study or support from overworked, single or disabled parents but also because of prejudicial treatment from peers and teachers.

"This has a massive effect on the individual child and on society," Stein said. "Not only permanent class division and inequity, but, if you want to see it economically, it incurs higher costs for our social services and health care systems."

FDP refusing to budge

The Greens' proposals are the brainchild of Family Minister Paus, herself a single mother. She has spent her career campaigning on ending tax evasion, supporting more equitable taxation for women and children, and investing in early childhood education.

The Social Democrats have promoted the Basic Child Security plan, not only because they consider it in line with the core values, but, because in areas of die-hard SPD support such as the Ruhr Valley, child poverty is a far more prevalent issue.

Finance Minister Lindner, however, has continued to criticize the plan as too costly, which Hilgers, of the Child Protection Association, calls "appalling." The FDP wants to leave "only the crumbs of the cake" for society's most vulnerable while earmarking billions for the Bundeswehr and the pensions of the rich," he said. "This is a low point for the coalition." 

Edited by: Rina Goldenberg

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Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.