Little to cheer for Germany's underprivileged
21 December 2006, Berlin (dpa) - When the champagne corks pop and fireworks light up the night sky to herald in the New Year, some Germans will find there won't be much to celebrate in 2007.
21 December 2006
Berlin (dpa) - When the champagne corks pop and fireworks light up the night sky to herald in the New Year, some Germans will find there won't be much to celebrate in 2007.
They are among a growing number of people at the lower end of the social scale who live off state benefits or poorly paid, insecure jobs, with little chance of earning a decent wage.
This group, described by a leading politician as the underclass, has been left behind by the upswing that has propelled Europe's biggest economy to its highest growth rate in six years.
"There are far too many people in Germany who feel they have no chance of advancing in society," said Kurt Beck, chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). "They have resigned themselves to their situation."
Beck said in a newspaper interview that parents of poor families used to live by the notion that "my children should have it better," but there was now a danger of that ambition becoming redundant.
Beck's remarks in October coincided with the release of a study showing there was a large group of underprivileged Germans who feared social and political isolation and felt abandoned by the state.
The survey, commissioned by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which has close links to the SPD, showed that 8 percent of Germans, or 6.5 million, saw themselves as being ostracized in society.
What followed was a debate on poverty and education in a country which is one of Europe's richest, but where 13 percent of the 82 million population are hovering on the verge of poverty.
A recent ruling by the Federal Social Court placed the subsistence level at EUR 345 a month, plus rent and heating. Officially, Germans who live off less that EUR 856 a month are considered poor. Single parents, unemployed, the elderly and children are the most vulnerable.
"Unemployment and the lack of a proper educational qualification are the main factors," said Walter Rademacher, vice president of the Federal Statistics Office in Wiesbaden.
Some teenagers, particularly those with a poor school record, openly refer to themselves as "losers" in talks with school counsellors, according to media reports.
These students, many of them with an immigrant background, have a low self-esteem and "are fully aware that they have little chance of finding a proper job once they leave school," said one counsellor.
"The fact is 40 percent of the unemployed are unskilled. Firms are reluctant to train them. As a result it is difficult for them to find employment, said Klaus Ernst, a spokesman for the opposition Left party.
Volker Kauder, a leading member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, believes the government "has to address the problems that these people are confronted with."
One way would be to improve schooling and job-training programmes for socially disadvantaged families, according to Franz Muentefering, Merkel's deputy and a member of her SPD grand coalition partner.
"We need to ensure that each child has the same educational opportunity, regardless of how fat his father's wallet is or which level of society he comes from," said Muentefering.
One of the problems is Germany's three-tier secondary education system under which pupils are graded for different categories of school at the age of 10.
Children from migrant families and the lower end of the social scale often end up in the academically weakest stream, effectively reducing their chances of obtaining the qualifications needed to acquire an apprenticeship.
"Many children grow up in an environment where there is no motivation and structure in their daily lives," said Klaus-Dieter Kottnik, president of Diakonische Werk, a service agency operated by the Evangelical Church of Germany.
"They are not taught that you have to perform in life and that you are rewarded for your efforts. Long hours spent in a virtual world, particularly in front of television, are a negative influence."
Jutta Allmendinger, head of the Institute for Labour Market and Occupational Research, believes the problem can best be resolved by investing more in kindergartens and all-day schools.
Most German schools usually finish lessons by 2 p.m., leaving children with working parents unsupervised for many hours after their classes end.
"If no action is taken "you'll end up creating a proletariat of school-goers," Allmendinger says.
Subject: German news