Researcher on social benefits: “Waiver as legitimate criticism”

Researcher on social benefits: “Waiver as legitimate criticism”

Why do people not want money from the state, even though they are entitled to it? The social scientist Jennifer Eckhardt believes: also as a protest.

A newspaper lies on a chair in the waiting area hallway in a job center

Better an empty fridge than being humiliated at the job center Photo: Daniel Karmann/picture alliance

taz: Ms. Eckhardt, anyone who is unemployed in Germany is entitled to unemployment benefits. But there are people who do without it. how many is that

Jennifer Eckhardt: The latest estimates assumed around 40 percent of those entitled to claim – in the area of ​​unemployment benefit II.

So many?

Yes. And there are many other social benefits. housing benefit, for example. If you look at all achievements, then you can assume even higher numbers. However, we don’t have the exact numbers at the moment.

Do many people simply not know that they are entitled to social benefits?

is a social scientist at the TU Dortmund. Her book “tension field non-utilisation” is her dissertation and was recently published.

I don’t think that situation of complete ignorance exists very often. Except when it comes to special access problems, such as flight or disability. With language barriers it is even more difficult.

As part of your research, you spoke to people who deliberately forego social benefits.

This is a problem that is rarely seen. We talk a lot about abuse of benefits and failure of the authorities. However, non-utilisation hardly takes place in public discourse. It’s a very important way of showing that something isn’t working. There are people who say: “I reject what you are doing.”

What kind of people are they?

These are people from all walks of life. I used to work in street social work in the north of Dortmund. There is a place where homeless people, drug addicts, but also people who want to drink their after-work beer after work come together. And that’s where the topic always fell in front of me, non-utilization affected many who were sitting around.

From potential Bafög recipients, to prostitutes who would have been entitled to housing benefit, to craftsmen who could have increased their income, and pensioners who were afraid for their small condominium. Later, as a scientist, I tried to find regularities in this social practice of renunciation.


In my study, I was able to talk to people who have an affirmative attitude towards the welfare state, including a welfare state that demands a lot from beneficiaries. But who don’t want to be bullied themselves in this way. For others, the waiver is a political position.

So activism?

Two of the people I spoke to live in a socialist self-help system – without any help from the state. They want to demonstrate that you can live differently. But that’s a point you have to get to first: see things as not given, but as changeable.

It’s difficult when someone’s just trying to keep themselves afloat every day. And there is that too: people who do without food. Then there is rice for a week, pasta for a week and then warm water for a week, until a little money comes in from somewhere.

Why do people give up money if they then have to live under such conditions?

Some of the people I spoke to have been in contact with the social system for years and have endured unreasonable demands for years. One person told me that the job center called them a freak, too old, too broken for the job market.

Another person, a trained precision mechanic, was told he hadn’t learned anything, he was too old. He has a severe depression and put it down to his contact with the job center. By renouncing the impertinence, these people have put an end to it and reassured themselves of their own human dignity.

Could non-utilization also be described as a means of self-empowerment?

Yes, I would say so. It’s also about acting out an attachment to saying, “I am me and not just yours Hartz IV recipients.”

Do we need to talk about need differently?

The principle of personal responsibility means that we do not concede to ourselves that we are in need.

And then we increasingly lose the ability to see the neediness of the other. In the eyes of the majority of society, adults who are able to work sometimes do not deserve to be supported because they are adults and able to work. It’s his own fault. But everyone has a reason why he or she has found themselves in a situation that necessitates receiving welfare benefits.

Is it a problem for the welfare state when people turn away from it like this?

If you doubt that the state you live in wants something good for you, then that is certainly not a good indicator of the relationship between citizens and the state. It is counterintuitive for someone to refuse financial aid. I think it would be nice if the waiver were recognized as legitimate criticism by people who might not otherwise have a voice. This is a very quiet but very clear criticism of the way the welfare state is designed.

changes the citizen money something about it?

The poverty researcher Christoph Butterwegge has described the basic income as a reform ruin. The, what is left of the citizen moneyhas little to do with what it was once intended for.

Does the welfare state even have an interest in more people claiming social benefits? If around 40 percent of those entitled to waive unemployment benefit II, does the state save a lot of money?

You have to ask economists, they could answer that better. But one can really only come to the conclusion that there is apparently no interest in it. Many other countries are taking steps to reduce non-take up. There are regular surveys. There is a report. That is not the case in Germany.

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