Hartz-IV rules to be renewed
This is an auspicious idea: the Federal Minister of Social Affairs, Hubertus Heil (SPD), proposes that recipients of Arbeitslosengeld II (unemployment benefit II) should not have their income checked for the first two years. Housing and rent costs should also no longer play a role in the calculation of the Hartz-IV (colloquial word for unemployment benefit) rate. However, only a few hours after the plans were announced, critics of the long-awaited reform began to emerge.


Hubertus Heil: Basic income should become a citizen’s income
For more than 15 years, the SPD seems to have been in a Hartz-IV “permanent trauma”. Calls for change have been heard again and again, but nothing much has happened. This could change with the plans now announced by Labour and Social Affairs Minister Hubertus Heil. He wants to finally achieve what many have already tried to do: A permanent reform of the Hartz-IV rules. The SPD politician told the news magazine “Der Spiegel” that the unemployment benefit should no longer be simply a basic income, but rather “a citizen’s income that no one who needs it should be ashamed of”.

Specifically, the minister’s plans provide that in future it should no longer be checked whether someone has savings of up to 60,000 euros or how big the flat is. His proposal is that during a waiting period of two years, assets up to the amount mentioned should be protected and rental costs should not be checked for adequacy. These simplified rules are currently in force because of the corona pandemic and should remain in force permanently, according to the minister.


New rules should make social advancement possible
Hubertus Heil’s goals are big; his reform package is ambitious and aims at nothing less than enabling social advancement. For far too long, people would remain on basic benefits instead of qualifying for the labour market through further education. Those who complete further training in future will receive a bonus of 75 Euro. In future, further training and a vocational qualification should take precedence over rapid job placement, the draft law promises. The related hope: to increase permeability between the different social strata. “Our social security systems protect, but they too seldom enable social advancement,” Heil criticises in “Der Spiegel”. The draft law focuses even more on promoting rather than demanding.


CDU and FDP reject plans
The draft law has still not been defined in details, yet criticism of Heil’s reform package is already there. “The renunciation of sanctions and the increase in benefits are the introduction of an unconditional basic income through the back door,” said the sociopolitical spokesperson of the FDP, Pascal Kober. According to estimates, the plans to reform Hartz IV would cost around 550 million euros. Money that, in the opinion of the FDP, would be better placed elsewhere: “The billions of euros needed for this would be better invested in education and vocational qualification of the concerned persons,” says Kober.
Criticism also comes from the coalition partner in the federal government. Although they would be willing to talk about the special regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “we continue to stand by the principle of ‘promote and demand’ and also reject a removal of these special regulations,” said Peter Weiß, labour market and socio-political spokesperson of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, in response to the proposals. He also feared a sneaky introduction of an unconditional basic income.


When will the planned reform come?
On the other hand, praise comes from Heil’s party colleagues. Finance Minister and candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) welcomes the reform proposals and told the newspaper Rheinische Post: “Citizens want a welfare state they can rely on.” This is what the draft law would achieve. DGB leader Rainer Hoffmann reacted almost euphorically: “This is a socio-political milestone.” But it will be a long time before the planned draft law comes into force. In the end, Heil must above all convince his coalition partner that his draft will be approved in the Federal Parliament and in the National Council.