Working and poor – Germany’s single parents are doing so badly

Dhe children should have as normal an everyday life as possible, not constantly thinking that there is actually no money for a lot. Therefore, the mother pays for the hobbies of both of them, often does something with them – and in the end pays off when she buys groceries or other things for herself. She completed a bachelor’s degree, but she still has to claim money from the job center. The fear of how it will make ends meet in the future is always there.

It is one of several real examples that the Bertelsmann Stiftung has compiled in addition to current figures in its study on the situation of single parents. The paper available to WELT paints a worrying picture of how great the burdens are with which around 1.5 million single-parent families with underage children in Germany struggle every day.

Around 43 percent of them are therefore considered to be low-income, i.e. less than 60 percent of the median income is available. A third are dependent on Hartz IV – often even though those affected have a job. In most cases, they are women.

In the past few years there have been some reforms designed to alleviate the plight of single parents, says Bertelsmann expert Antje Funcke. Maintenance advances, tax relief, relief from fees for day-care centers and other abstract keywords are on the list of improvements introduced. “That has only changed little about the extremely high level of poverty among single parents,” criticized Funcke. “Often the bureaucratic hurdles are too big, or the money doesn’t get to the right place.”

Source: WORLD infographic

A big problem, for example, is that the other parent often does not pay or does not pay enough, according to the Bertelsmann Foundation. The principle applies: one person looks after, one person pays. So whoever does not live with the child – in most cases the father – is responsible for its material situation. Funcke explains, however, that money for leisure activities is not covered.

And even this minimum maintenance is only regularly received by a quarter of the children who are entitled to it. In many of these cases, the other parent cannot pay or refuses, explains Funcke. Sometimes the single parents do not claim their entitlement in order not to burden the relationship with their former partner.

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Another point of criticism is that Hartz IV recipients only benefit to a limited extent from additional claims. The Bertelsmann Stiftung explains this using the example of the maintenance advance. Single parents are entitled to this if they do not receive any maintenance for their child or do not receive them regularly from the other parent. The state then pays them between around 170 and 3010 euros per month, depending on the age of the children. The advance maintenance payment has been increased several times, but will be offset against Hartz IV benefits. Child benefit is also fully taken into account. “In the end, there is hardly anything left of the well-intentioned help,” says Funcke.

The corona crisis has exacerbated the plight of those affected. “Since single parents are more often than not employed in the low-wage sector, they also feel the financial effects very strongly,” says the Bertelsmann Foundation report. Many of those who were sent on short-time work and only received short-time work benefits of 67 percent of net income for the lost working hours would have had too little money to secure their livelihood. Many mini jobs were immediately dropped. Single parents are also often employed in system-relevant professions as caregivers, educators or cashiers in the supermarket, where home office is not possible and the risk of infection is high.

Source: WORLD infographic

The particularly large pandemic burden is also confirmed by the findings of the employer-related Institute of the German Economy (IW) in Cologne. “The fact that the daycare centers and all-day schools were closed for a while hit single parents enormously, because they use them particularly heavily,” says IW researcher Wido Geis-Thöne. The urgently needed support from grandparents or acquaintances was also lost due to the contact restrictions. “At the same time, the professional obligations mostly continued, although many employers made extensive concessions to their single parents in terms of work organization,” explains the IW researcher.

The consequences are likely to extend beyond the crisis. Because the lockdown phases had “led to a strong additional burden” – and the single parents are often overwhelmed with their situation anyway. “Therefore, there could be negative long-term effects for the mental state and family life,” says Geis-Thöne.

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What can be done about this great need? According to the Bertelsmann Foundation, special opportunities for single parents to relax should be created in order to cushion the immediate health and psychological strains of the crisis. Funcke cites mother-child cures, priority for therapies against psychological stress or leisure and holiday offers as examples.

Bertelsmann Stiftung advocates participation money

In addition, the foundation advocates a new system, among other things: the participation allowance, a kind of basic child benefit. This should secure the needs of the children and decrease as the parents’ income rises. In this way, it specifically avoids poverty, detaches children from the Hartz IV system and bundles existing services.

IW researcher Geis-Thöne sees a need for action, above all, in the expansion of childcare options. In addition to more places in day-care centers, all-day schools and after-school care centers with long opening times, there is a need for “additional, low-cost offers for off-peak times”, such as babysitting services arranged by day-care centers. In addition, single parents should be increasingly integrated into the labor market, says Geis-Thöne – for example through targeted training and placement offers. More than a fifth are poorly qualified, and their income prospects are correspondingly poor.

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The Munich Ifo Institute drew attention to another problem with a study last year: Increasing working hours is hardly worthwhile for many low-wage employees. “The cause is a fatal combination of taxes, levies and the withdrawal of social benefits,” said the Ifo Institute when the relevant study was presented last year. For single parents with two children, employment beyond a small job with 100 euros a month hardly pays off. With a full-time job, with an additional gross wage of ten euros, only 3.90 euros are left over. The Ifo Institute warns that this “system error” must be eliminated.

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