Germany adopts welfare system reform

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Germany's government Wednesday agreed reforms to the country's welfare system, increasing by five euros (seven dollars) payments to benefit recipients after a heated national debate.

People on social benefits in Europe's top economy will receive a minimum amount of 364 euros per month, up from 359 euros previously. They also receive an unchanged amount of between 215 euros and 287 euros for children.

The government has estimated there are around 6.5 million recipients of the benefits, including 1.7 million children. They include the long-term unemployed, as well as the handicapped and those too sick to work.

The reforms also include a pot of some 700 million euros per year for purchasing school equipment for children, paying for them to attend extra-curricular classes such as music lessons and funding school meals.

Berlin was forced into the reforms after Germany's Federal Constitutional Court ruled the government had to change the way benefits were calculated.

The decision sparked a fierce discussion about a growing gap between rich and poor in the country and the best ways to get the unemployed back to work.

The changes are due to come into force on January 1, 2011. They must first be approved in Germany's upper house, where Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right bloc no longer holds a majority.

© 2010 AFP

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