Poor children

By Henning Köhler, March 2012

A growing number of children in Germany is living in poverty. The figures vary. If we take an average, then about 2.4 million out of 13.6 million children are classed as poor. We are deemed to be poor if we fall below a threshold of 60 percent of the average monthly per capita income, so have less than 870 euros to spend. Approximate calculations suggest that the children concerned have to make do with about 200 euros per month. That will not kill anybody but is sufficient, as UNICEF has noted in its report on the situation of children in Germany, to lead to social exclusion, exclusion from cultural involvement and educational disadvantage. The poverty-related increase in chronic diseases and behavioural problems was also criticised. 

Recipients of welfare benefits in German receive a standard 351 euros per month plus rent and heating costs. Children inexplicably receive less (under age 14 they receive 70 percent, over age 14 they receive 80 percent of the standard amount). They frequently poorly fed or given food that is bad for them and their clothing reveals their poverty. The budget cannot cater for extra expenditures for class trips or leisure activities. A climate of humiliation and discouragement is rife in their families which of course also communicates itself to the children. Once people have arrived at the bottom they rarely find the connection that allows them rise upwards again. “Germany is drifting apart,” the poverty researcher Markus Grabkan says. His colleague Christoph Butterwegge refers to the “Paternoster effect”. “The gap is growing,” the UNICEF report confirms. Whether people rise upwards or sink to the bottom is not necessarily connected with how hard they work or their capability. And certainly not in the case of the children. Germany threatens to become a “state of handouts and soup kitchens” (Butterwegge). And that in a time when ridiculous sums of money seem to become available when “facts” so demand. But in the radical logic of the market child poverty is not a “fact”. Banks, on the other hand, must be rescued. So must fat corporate profits. “The state must make ‘savings’, cut back on what it does”, the former German minister of economic cooperation, Erhard Eppler, writes, “particularly in social policy. There is just one thing it must not do: raise corporate taxes, even if they are ridiculously low.” And the publicist Albrecht von Lucke notes: “Society has lost any will to reform and progress in recent years.” When he talks about reform he is referring to something different from what we are told it must mean. He is talking about a new social contract. “Quality of life is enhanced not through growth but through less inequality,” Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett make clear; their book The spirit level explains the connection between social inequality and social problems. Removing social disadvantage is in “everyone’s interest”, the French economist and advisor for many years to the former French president François Mitterrand, Jacques Attali, says and proposes an unconditional basic income.

That applies, above all, with regard to children; they must take precedence! That is why the basic income must be granted from birth and include an education voucher which makes selection by social background impossible.

Link: www.kinder-armut.de


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