It is a political success for the unemployed who do not comply with the job center's specifications and for their representatives: SPD, Greens and FDP want to pass a law in the Bundestag this Thursday that will impose sanctions - i.e. benefit cuts - on Hartz IV recipients who are unwilling to work largely forbidden.

It signals a kind of double turning point in social policy: the principle of support and demands laid down by a red-green coalition in 2005 is suspended.

In addition, the current coalition is openly opposed to labor market policy recommendations from the Federal Employment Agency;

this is new too.

Dietrich Creutzburg

Business correspondent in Berlin.

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At the beginning of the week, the Nuremberg authorities made it clear to the deputies what their position was on dealing with sanctions for uncooperative Hartz IV recipients: They "continue to take the view that reduction options should be provided in principle, since these correspond to the legal principle of promoting and demanding correspond".

That's what the statement by the Federal Agency for the hearing of the Bundestag says.

In addition, BA boss Detlef Scheele presented his point of view there personally.

And, according to the Federal Agency, it will become even more questionable if, on the one hand, refusing to work will not result in sanctions in the future - on the other hand, people with high fortunes can also draw Hartz IV if they have no current income.

Because the asset test for access to basic social security has been suspended since the Corona crisis.

In the end, such a combination “calls into question the social consensus with regard to basic services”.

But there is also the opposing position of the social associations, such as that represented by the Diakonie: Since the Hartz IV rate is too low anyway, recipients should generally not be reduced - even if they refuse reasonable work.

This is "questionable in terms of human rights," judges the Diakonie.

On the other hand, the municipalities, represented by the city council and the district council, share the analysis of the federal agency.

They too have presented their views to the deputies.

Together with the BA, they are responsible for organizing the basic security in the welfare state.

Greens want an unconditional basic income

For the traffic lights, however, the focus in the legislative process was on criteria other than their expertise: it is a favorite project of the Greens, especially their social politicians, who would actually have preferred an alliance with the Left Party.

This is how the so-called sanctions moratorium made it into the red-green-yellow coalition agreement.

From the point of view of the Greens, this is already a big concession, because they are striving for a kind of unconditional basic income under the term "guarantee security".

It is obvious that the FDP thinks little of the moratorium.

But even in the SPD, credible assurances are still being given that, in their opinion, a good welfare state needs a duty to cooperate.

The political success of the SPD and FDP is now that the traffic light only suspends the sanctions for a limited period of time, until June 2023. There is also an exception: Those who notoriously ignore appointments in the job center should continue to fear a reduction in benefits of up to 10 percent.

Anyone who refuses work without a reason is spared the consequences.

Frank Bsirske, former head of the Verdi trade union and now social policy spokesman for the Greens in the Bundestag, had campaigned for a moratorium without exceptions until the very end and justified it as follows: There was not enough scientific evidence that sanctions would bring the unemployed into work.

"On the other hand, it has been proven that many sanctions are wrongly imposed and rejected by the social courts" - so they have to go.

However, whether “many” sanctions are wrongly imposed depends on the point of view.

Official statistics show that of the 3.6 million employable Hartz IV recipients at the beginning of the year, 58,000 were subject to some form of sanction.

That's 1.6 percent.

And the statistics currently show 2,800 pending cases in which those affected are suing social courts against sanctions.

Sanctions "no business model" for job centers

However, the federal agency and local authorities tirelessly emphasize that imposing sanctions on job centers is “not a business model”.

Because that lies in the help for job seekers;

and more than 95 percent of the recipients have never had anything to do with sanctions.

They are still important - on the one hand as a handle against some notorious refusers.

On the other hand, they assume that around 20 percent of benefit recipients would be “motivated” to participate simply by the possibility of a sanction.

The traffic light coalition now has its own interpretation of the extent to which the moratorium marks a “turning point”: Minister of Labor Hubertus Heil (SPD) wants to ignite the first stage of a more far-reaching basic security reform entitled “Bürgergeld” as early as January 1, 2023.

According to this interpretation, the moratorium is a transitional regulation on the way to the new era without the old term "Hartz IV".

As far as foreseeable, however, the core of this first reform stage should not be any overly spectacular changes, but above all steps towards more individual support for “customers” in job centers.

At the same time, the current traffic light pact on the moratorium regulates that the job centers may actually impose sanctions again from July 2023 - albeit probably in a somewhat narrower framework than before.

Municipalities and the federal agency do not find the moratorium convincing, even if it comes across as a transitional regulation: there is a risk "that the planned temporary changes in the area of ​​requirements will not be sufficiently understood by either customers or employees," warns the BA.

However, this would unnecessarily affect the "credibility and transparency of the job center's actions".

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