The traffic light suspends sanctions against uncooperative Hartz IV recipients. Free money from the working part of the population is now available without consideration and without cooperation. But the proven principle of “support and challenge” is the basis for the welfare state. And it’s fair.

“Noble be man, helpful and good,” says Goethe. So the poet prince calls on people to behave in a certain way, to behave better. The traffic light coalition, on the other hand, assumes that people – at least the Hartz IV recipients among them – do not have to become noble and good in the first place. They are assumed by the state to behave correctly and in accordance with the rules. For this reason, sanctions against Hartz IV recipients who absolutely do not want to cooperate with the employment agency are largely suspended.

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The new regulation is initially valid for one year. Until then, Minister of Labor Hubertus Heil (SPD) wants to replace unemployment benefit II, known as Hartz IV, with a citizen’s allowance. You don’t have to be a prophet to imagine how this social benefit will be designed: significantly higher standard rates and less strict conditions for their receipt. Citizens’ income amounts to what the Greens and parts of the SPD have been demanding for a long time: a more or less unconditional basic income.

Anyone who has previously refused to attend appointments at the job center had to expect a reduction of up to 30 percent in the standard rate of 449 euros. According to the regulations now in force, nothing happens if a benefit recipient does not show up for the appointment. Only if he does not respond to the second invitation will he be deducted ten percent. That’s it then. So far, there has also been a threat of cuts if a Hartz IV recipient refuses reasonable employment or retraining. That’s completely gone now.

dr Hugo Müller-Vogg is a journalist, book author and former editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

Heinrich Alt, head of the Federal Employment Agency until 2015, has now sharply criticized the new easing, especially with regard to the many migrants among the Hartz IV recipients. According to Alt, the following is signaled to them: “You get your money without any obligation. You don’t have to attend the German course, you don’t have to gain professional qualifications, you don’t have to take up a job.” Conclusion of the Social Democrat Alt: “It’s devastating.”

With the suspension of sanctions worth mentioning, the traffic light says goodbye to the basic principle of “support and demand”, the basis of the labor market reforms within the red-green “Agenda 2010” policy. The basic idea: anyone who receives benefits at the expense of taxpayers and contributors must also provide something in return, namely make a serious effort to find work, retrain or qualify. This is the end of the Red-Green-Yellow regime: the financiers of the welfare state, i.e. the working part of the population, have to pay. The beneficiaries, on the other hand, have no significant obligation to try to improve their situation.

The limitation to mini sanctions is not the only traffic light reform in favor of Hartz IV recipients. Since the outbreak of the corona pandemic, it has become easier to receive benefits from the employment agency. Financial circumstances are no longer carefully checked. In addition, the office pays the rent regardless of how large or how expensive the apartment is. As you can see, the watering can has become an important instrument of social policy.

This clear departure from Schröder’s labor market reforms is being pursued by the SPD and the Greens for different reasons, but with the same intensity. The SPD finally wants to leave the unloved Hartz IV laws behind and in this way undermine the Left Party. The Greens, on the other hand, have long been advocates of a basic income that would allow everyone to decide as they please whether they want to pursue a regular job or not.

It is clear what the Greens and Social Democrats are planning. But nothing works in the traffic light without the FDP. As a price for co-government, she has already agreed to the introduction of a political minimum wage, the amount of which is based more on the political majority than on economic facts. Citizens’ money is also in the coalition agreement, but not exactly how it should be designed. There could be a big conflict at the traffic light, at least if the FDP stays true to its principles.

In any case, the Social Democrats and the Greens, who originally invented the Hartz laws, are now assuming the idealistic assumption of “noble, helpful and good” people. This ideal citizen does not have to be challenged because he always strives to earn his own living. He would also never think of stealing social benefits. It’s just a pity that people don’t tick in such a way that many cannot resist the temptation to gain advantages at the expense of the state, i.e. the general public.

The principle that “trust is good, control is better” is essential for a functioning welfare state. Only state control can prevent the misuse of social benefits from remaining the exception and not becoming the rule. Anyone who thinks this is “neoliberal coldness” should take note of a survey by the Recklinghausen job center. According to this, 38 percent of the Hartz IV recipients surveyed were against sanctions for misconduct – but 46 percent were in favor. Apparently those affected assess people more realistically than many social romantics.