From January 1, 2023, Germany will receive citizen income. While the citizen’s allowance should represent the biggest social reform in 20 years, it is basically just a renamed Hartz IV system.

The SPD wanted to overcome the supposedly anti-social Hartz IV system, the Greens wanted to take a step towards the unconditional basic income they favored and the FDP wanted to finally introduce the citizens’ income it had long demanded. Now we will get citizen money on January 1, 2023.

But the “biggest social reform for 20 years” (Labour Minister Hubertus Heil, SPD) is a renamed Hartz IV. Because the core of Hartz IV was the principle “support and challenge” – and it remains untouched.

In a compromise, both sides usually feel like winners. But after the agreement between the traffic light parties and the Union, it was clear that the opposition had pushed through more of their demands than the SPD and the Greens would have liked.

The FDP, on the other hand, was very satisfied that two of its key points are now being enacted: better additional earning opportunities for recipients and increased support for the training and further education of benefit recipients. There was also no dissent with the Union.

In addition, one can assume that the Free Democrats secretly welcomed the insistence of the CDU/CSU on sanctions against Hartz IV recipients who shy away from work and further education. Because performance without consideration contradicts all liberal principles.

The CDU/CSU can attribute its most important success to the fact that anyone who refuses to cooperate with the job center can continue to be punished with benefit cuts. If you don’t want to keep appointments at the office, do an offered job or take a language course, money will be deducted – as before.

Even if it may sound grotesque: the CDU/CSU saved what was at the heart of the Hartz laws: “Fördern und Demanden”. This is exactly what the SPD and the Greens had been pushing for twenty years ago. Admittedly, politicians from both parties seem to have forgotten that they themselves initiated these reforms and not a “heartless, antisocial, neoliberal” CDU/FDP government.

In order to understand the meaning of the consonance of “promoting and demanding”, one has to go back to the time “before Hartz”. At that time, the unemployed could receive 68 percent of their net salary as unemployment benefits for up to 32 months. They were then entitled to 58 percent as unemployment assistance until they retired. The result: some formerly well-paid skilled workers were better off financially than, for example, a poorly paid full-time saleswoman.

This was quite comfortable for this recipient of unemployment benefit, but had nothing to do with social justice. The longer those affected were without a job, the more difficult it was to reintegrate them into the labor market. The result: Unemployment continued to rise, also because the high costs of this social security drove up labor costs and impaired the competitiveness of German companies.

The Hartz laws put an end to this: Unemployment benefits were limited to 12 (later: 18) months. And those who could work at least three hours a day switched from social assistance to the Hartz IV system. From then on, he no longer “only” received money from the state. At the same time, the employment agency tried to place him in a job, which succeeded millions of times, albeit not to the desired extent.

After the Hartz reforms, the state no longer contented itself with providing for the unemployed. He also asked them to look for new jobs more quickly, and he encouraged them to do so. Above all, the state punished those benefit recipients who absolutely did not seek work, training or further education.

The possibility of sanctions is directly linked to the principle of “promoting and demanding”. The job center can ask for a lot. If the benefit recipients are allowed to evade this with impunity, the demand becomes a futile request.

That’s why Red-Green introduced the sanctions, that’s why the CDU/CSU has now insisted on keeping them. Because anyone who receives state aid must be prepared to do something in return by trying to become independent of the “support” as quickly as possible.

However, “support and challenge” also has its limits, especially in the case of school dropouts and people without sufficient German language skills. The employment agency cannot correct what has been neglected in parents’ homes and schools. That is why it is right that more value is placed on vocational training than before when it comes to “citizen allowance”. But that doesn’t change the fact that citizen money is just a new name for an amended Hartz IV.

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