The Frankfurt based Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft der Sozialhilfeiniziativen (BAG-SHIe.) is a federal umbrella of welfare claimants' organisations, providing advice, training, briefings, lobbying and advocacy. It is currently campaigning to exempt child benefit from welfare means testing. Here Erika Biehn and Jens SchrÖter discuss what ten years of reunification have done for Germany's poor.
Although reunification in 1990 changed a lot for the Germans, one thing did not change. Society is still made up of rich and poor. The poor moreover make up a substantial group: 9.1 per cent of the German population lived below the poverty line of 50 per cent of average incomes in 1998. The rich are also a large group: 950,000 private housholds dispose of a net income of more than 1 million marks, according to the analyst W. Rugemer. The trade unions observed in 1998 that 10 per cent of German households controlled 50 per cent of total capital wealth, while 14 per cent of the population had no savings whatever.
On the historic date of Nov. 9th 1989 ( the date of the fall of the Berlin Wall) a German welfare association published the first national report on poverty (dealing only with the west). It was the outcome of two years of research. .
The shocking result was expressed in its title: ". what we have to be ashamed of in a rich country."" This report identified approximately 10 % of all west Germans as belonging to the poor.
East Germany's citizens appeared to be better off. According to socialist doctrine, poverty did not exist. It therefore followed that there were no poor people either. The income gap was not as wide as it was in the west. Incomes were much more evenly distributed, but of course on a much lower level, which obviously had major implications for purchasing power. Nevertheless this state had poor people, too, for example large numbers of elderly people, living on a minimum pension and with almost no access to social services.