Wealthy people are less empathetic

Berlin Republic The debate magazine

Good opportunities for all children

Kerstin Griese and Harald Schrapers - Material redistribution is not enough. Today we know whoever really wants to help poor families and their children has to work for an intervening welfare state that takes precautions and vigorously intervenes in emergencies

Child poverty has increased significantly in recent years. While the wealthy have fewer and fewer children, more and more young people live in the socially deprived parts of the city. But what exactly is “poverty” is difficult to define. A modern concept of poverty refers to the exclusion from participation - for example in education, health and work. Nevertheless, a material concept of poverty is almost always used as a basis in public discussion. Hartz IV causes poverty, it is said about. In the state of Berlin, an unemployed couple with two children, one of whom is adolescent, including rent, receives an average of 1,723 euros unemployment benefit II. Is this family poor because they receive social benefits? Conversely, this would mean that if state benefits are expanded, there are more beneficiaries and automatically more poverty.

The European Union uses a relative concept of poverty. According to this, the poverty line for a household is 60 percent of the average - if a household has less income, its members are considered poor. High wage settlements would lead to more relative poverty because it increases the average income. According to this definition, 13.5 percent of the population in Germany is at risk of poverty, including many students.

Every seventh child in Germany lives in a family that is at least partially dependent on unemployment benefit II. In addition, there are those children whose families receive social assistance or who live in absolute poverty outside the social system. They all have a significant risk of poverty. This is the central social challenge for the future. Although the material dimension of poverty remains very important, a look at reality shows that some myths need to be cleared up. Children in the rich cities of southern Germany are far less likely to have their own television set than children in the comparatively poor Ruhr area. And if you count the cell phones in the playground of a primary school in a socially disadvantaged district, you get a higher number than in a school in a middle-class neighborhood. Prosperity does not always mean that children have expensive consumer goods.

Middle-class mothers on the hunt for bargains

Even on school trips, the social differences are not so easy to spot. At the parents' evening of a primary school class in a socially mixed district in the Ruhr area, there was a surprising discussion: While the parents from the neat single-family houses insisted on a maximum of five euros pocket money for a two and a half day class trip, the less affluent parents from the high-rise buildings stood in for ten euros. In the end, they agreed on six euros. In the neighboring noble district there are no such discussions. Pocket money is strictly forbidden there on school trips.

The widespread assumption that rich and poor are automatically identified by expensive branded clothes is simply wrong. That's why the discussion about school uniforms is rather silly. At the children's flea markets of the parishes, it is mainly mothers from the middle classes who meet and talk about where to find bargains.

A uniform breakfast tin and its contents would be really worthwhile for all children. Because eating shows who is poor and who is wealthy. Some of the children have a wholemeal bread with cheese with them, lovingly decorated with a lettuce leaf, and a tangerine that has already been peeled by their mother. Others come with a milk bar, a bag of chips or a one-euro coin. More and more children go to school in the second half of the month without any meals.

In short: the discussion about child poverty is complex. Anyone who assumes that recipients of unemployment benefit II will chronically waste their money on flat-screen TVs and McDonald’s is arguing beyond social reality. Too often there is simply a lack of skills and competencies to avoid the risk of poverty. How should someone who watches a lot of television raise their children to read books? The well-intentioned boxes with aubergines, broccoli and other vegetables at the "Tafeln" for people in need leave many questions unanswered. Who is in a position to use it to cook a tasty pasta dish for their children?

If you can easily afford things financially could, the virtues of thrift and renunciation have another dimension. Especially since wealthy children benefit from completely different things: the larger room, riding lessons, the expensive piano. Their parents are also able to help with schoolwork or to pay for tutoring. Dedicated parents of course make sure that all health check-ups take place, that the child does sport and eats healthily. They provide diverse educational incentives right from the start. Wealthy districts like Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg are full of posters for baby and toddler courses of all kinds - including (pedagogically questionable) foreign language courses.

Social segregation is making good progress

The problem of child poverty is exacerbated by the fact that the middle class is increasingly separating itself from poorer families. While politics is only gradually beginning to see poverty as a threat to the future of society, many middle-class families are already feeling acutely threatened. These parents are doing all they can to keep their distance from the poorer parts of the city. They know that they are outnumbered and are therefore increasingly trying to build their own infrastructure so that they can be among themselves in kindergartens and schools, doctors' offices and health food stores.

In this way, parents of the middle class refuse to share responsibility for the future of the younger generations, for reasons that are understandable for each individual. Your church congregations and parents' initiatives offer kindergartens for children without great risk of poverty. Then a primary school is found in which the points of contact with social reality in the remote parts of the city are as small as possible. In North Rhine-Westphalia, the Rüttgers government is now even accelerating this trend: The school district boundaries have been lifted so that committed parents can drive their offspring to any elementary school in the city. And there are still city-wide Catholic elementary schools in North Rhine-Westphalia that are fully financed by the state, but leave Muslim pupils at the door. If a municipal community primary school is housed in the same building, there is sometimes an almost complete separation of Christian and Muslim students. At the same time, the number of expensive private schools is increasing, especially in large cities.

Offers outside the family

Anyone who wants to fight child poverty should not only target the districts affected. In the middle of our cities, too, we need to create a more child-friendly climate in which more people choose to have children. It was therefore the right decision to use the parental allowance to limit the loss of income in the child's first year of life to a third, to set incentives for active fatherhood and to ensure the compatibility of family and work by expanding the day nurseries. Young people need to gain confidence in the public infrastructure for children, which is why massive investments in kindergartens and schools are necessary. The structural condition of many schools in comparison to other public buildings alone shows a frightening lack of interest in the children's living environment.

An absolute focus must be on the facilities in the socially disadvantaged areas. That will be expensive - but the follow-up costs would be even higher. We have to offer the children daily offers outside their families for a reliable period of time, protect them from harmful media consumption and offer them a stimulating environment and healthy nutrition. Language support is no less important - not only for children from immigrant families, by the way.

British Early Excellence Centers as a rolemodel

At the same time, the parents' perhaps limited but extremely important skills need to be strengthened. This is why a new type of social district work is needed, in which parent-child centers offer various advice and activities from a single source. Social facilities scattered across the city are not enough, because parents have to recognize that they have a problem. Comprehensive centers based on the British model of the Early Excellence Center.

In the future, it will be even more important that there are actually enough people available who take care of children and young people, but also of those parents who need support, competently, sensitively and with sufficient time. This is precisely why many a savings campaign in the field of child and youth welfare has been a serious mistake in the past few decades. Infrastructure for children is pointless without staff.

As correct as the social reforms of recent years have been - there is a wrong approach to the demands for more financial responsibility. Of course, personal responsibility must be demanded if a recipient of unemployment benefit II is only responsible for himself. However, if children are involved, adjustments must be made. Managing a flat rate unemployment benefit II rate is a major challenge for many parents. Hardly any affected family manages to put aside monthly sums of money to make additional purchases for the children if necessary. Wouldn't it be enough to ask parents to organize a reasonably regular daily routine for their children despite being unemployed?

Not all of them manage to be good parents

The welfare state must therefore become more involved. For a long time this was considered old-fashioned. The state should ensure redistribution and otherwise stay out of it - so thought large parts of the political left. The patriarchal state, like the repressive state, should be a thing of the past. Today we can see that this claim is only partially met. Especially a leftist who is fighting for good opportunities for every child has to stand up for one intervening Use the welfare state. Intervention includes prevention as well as intervention in emergencies. In the case of child neglect, for example, there is no alternative to the courageous intervention of a social worker - even if a certain distance from the state was also part of his professional self-image for a long time.

All parents want to be good parents. But not all parents can do it either. That's why they need support. They and their children have a right to that. In an international comparison, the German welfare state ensures considerable material redistribution. Painful cuts in our social system, on the other hand, were recorded where concrete help for people is at stake, for example where efficiency increases should be achieved through job cuts. Massive investments must be made here in the future. A modern community that wants to maintain its cohesion cannot do without a strong, hands-on and well-equipped welfare state.

From our point of view, it is clear that an increase in the standard rate for unemployment benefit II will not reduce the risk of poverty among children. Especially since the claim is wrong that Hartz IV has slipped masses of families into poverty. A married father with two children still receives an average of 62 percent of his last net earnings five years after losing his job. As a recent OECD study shows, this figure was 63 percent before the labor market reforms.

If you want to fight poverty at its roots, there are only two solutions: First Gainful employment for parents and Secondly better education and more infrastructure for the children. Higher transfer payments do not care for either one or the other. This does not mean that higher standard rates generally do not reach the children. We also do not claim that the rule sets are optimally balanced. It is no coincidence that many families are currently suffering from increased prices for food, electricity and car operating costs.

Good opportunities for all children

In general, however, the following applies: Public funds should first be invested in state services that target the children. This also includes one-off benefits from Unemployment Benefit II such as a voucher for a school starter package in the amount of 150 euros, with which the children get a good start to school, at least materially. Freedom of learning materials, free breakfast and healthy lunches in daycare centers and schools are other urgently needed components of a package of measures that the child poverty commission of the SPD party executive headed by Wolfgang Jüttner has developed. The massive investments in childcare, the legal right to a daycare place from 2013 and the all-day school program are also part of the fight against poverty.

The Gießen family sociologist Uta Meier-Graewe estimates that around a third of the poor belong to the “social welfare nobility”. With them all problems would accumulate, they would have lived on transfer payments for generations and would not have any ambitions to pursue gainful employment. But there are also many other poor people, such as the many single parents. If there are no reliable childcare offers, they are often completely denied the chance of gainful employment. There has to be a lot more effort for these people to place them on the job market. A minimum wage can also help them to get by without transfer payments. In addition, the SPD wants to ensure that the child allowance is expanded in such a way that no one is dependent on top-up unemployment benefit II because of their children.

Good opportunities for all children - that must be the guideline for modern social democratic politics. To this end, disputes over competencies in federalism must take a back seat and every effort must be made to improve educational opportunities for the youngest and to place parents in work. Children and young people grow up with public responsibility, and politicians have to take care of their rights more than before. This is one of the reasons why the social democratic demand for children's rights to be included in the Basic Law is more than just symbolism. This would be a sign of real responsibility.

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