A basic principle of social security in Germany is cutting benefits if claimants miss an appointment, or fail to finish a training course, or refuse to sign an “integration agreement” (the equivalent of the DWP Claimant Commitment) in which they pledge to do all they can to find a job.
One organisation in Germany is really fighting the sanction regime and is doing an amazing thing. The Sanktionsfrei (“sanction-free”) organisation says sanctions do not work, and to prove this point, the organisation launched a study to find out what effect sanction-free support has on people. [i]
Starting in February 2019 and for the next three years, 250 randomly chosen recipients of Hartz IV financial assistance — the system of German long-term unemployment benefits or welfare support — will get any sanctions immediately reimbursed by the organisation, no questions asked.
The scheme is called HartzPlus. This study is expanding on a study undertaken by this organisation with 25 Hartz IV recipients who benefited of full sanctions compensation. Although only five of the 25 people were actually sanctioned in that time, at a total cost to the organization of €2,400, there was a psychological benefit to all the participants.
“All of them said they have a better feeling, that they sleep better, that they’re more motivated to find a job, and that they’re less scared when they go for appointments at the job centre. In other words, sanctions have an effect before they’re imposed” explained the organization’s leader Helena Steinhaus.
The issue of sanctions in Germany has split the SPD and led to the building of a consensus in the party that sanctions should be scrapped. According to Sven Lehmann, the German Greens’ labour spokesman: Hartz IV It (the sanction regime) has been in force for 15 years, and we know that poverty has grown, the low-wage sector has grown, and the middle classes are scared of falling into that system and then won’t be able to decide what they want to do. Removing sanctions, and thus removing fear, can only help the economy.
Hopefully some organisations, universities, think tanks etc. will be able to undertake the same kind of study in the UK where the sanction regime has been the harshest in the world, with deadly consequences. If not, this organisation https://sanktionsfrei.de/ @sanktionsfrei and their study will give us the evidence we need to show that sanctions are not only making no difference in terms of ‘motivating’ unemployed people (and in the UK this includes disabled people) into work, but that their absence is a motivating and positive factor to look for work, and to do so without fear of consequences.
Please retweet this to any organisation, university etc. which could potentially fund this study. It is our chance to bury forever the myth that sanctions incentivise people to look for and to find a job. Worse, as shown by the W&P committee[ii], the government is not prepared to look at the impact of sanctions on the financial situation and wellbeing of claimants. This study has the potential to show that sanctions are ineffective in terms of ‘helping’ claimants into work, but also that the absence of sanctions has a better chance to attain this objective.