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New Poverty in the Federal Republic (1976)

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Once again, there is bitter private poverty in the Federal Republic of Germany. There are 5.8 million people in 2.2 million households who have an income below the social assistance level. Those concerned are not “beatniks, bums, and tramps” but:

- 1.1 million pensioner households with 2.3 million people
- 600,000 working-class families with 2.2 million people
- 300,000 salaried employee households with 1.2 million people

The poor people’s own speechlessness should not lead to their banishment from the public eye, without which little happens in a mass democracy. Poverty in our society exists, yet it is often diffident and hidden. The number of people whose income is below the level set for welfare eligibility is about seven times the number of welfare recipients who actually receive regular assistance to support themselves.

There are various reasons why so many people fail to take advantage of welfare benefits, although they are legally entitled [to them]. One father, for example, whose income is below the social assistance level, simply refuses to go to the social services office since he “can take care of himself.” Another reason is fear that social assistance providers could involve relatives who are legally required to pay maintenance, especially the children. Also, precisely among the poor, there is a relatively large lack of information on resources. Poverty and social isolation are part of a vicious cycle. If people are poor, they lose their social connections, and whoever loses these connections is poor. Cause and effect are very hard to distinguish. [ . . . ]

Source: Heiner Geißler, Die Neue Soziale Frage. Analysen und Dokumente [The New Social Question. Analyses and Documents]. Freiburg im Breisgau, 1976, pp. 26-28.

Translation: Allison Brown

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