Background: what is poverty?

By Andrea Kruger and Frank Thadeusz,

Despite the economic crisis and the ebb in the public coffers: Germany is still one of the richest countries in the world. Anyone who speaks of poverty in Germany must therefore add one thing: it has nothing to do with the existential poverty that people in developing countries suffer from. Nobody in Germany has to go hungry, do without clothing or an apartment. Nobody is turned away from the hospital for medical attention. And nobody has to pay to go to school. The social network may now have holes – but it does exist.

Complex concept: poverty

Nevertheless, charities, trade unions and scientists have been sounding the alarm for years and warning of increasing poverty in Germany. Behind their warnings lies a different understanding of poverty. It’s about relative poverty – a complex term that, despite numerous research approaches, is still somewhat vague.

The EU described relative poverty in 1984 as follows: "Impoverished individuals, families and groups of people are to be considered who have such limited resources (material, cultural and social) that they are excluded from the way of life in the Member State in which they live are acceptable as a minimum. "

The concrete definition of relative poverty is also based on an arbitrary determination of a certain amount of money. According to the definition of the Federal Statistical Office, for example, people are poor who have less than 50 percent of the average net income. For example, a married couple with two children under the age of 14 and a budget of less than 1560 euros net per month are considered poor. In contrast, the federal government sets the threshold for poverty lower in its poverty report: According to its definition, a person is poor when their income is below 60 percent of the average income. The so-called poverty risk limit would therefore be 938 euros for an individual.

Definition of material poverty

The figures for calculating poverty, however, look different for the individual institutions such as Unicef ​​or Paritatischer Wohlfahrtsverband. Indeed, when calculating poverty, many questions arise. How is the number of children extrapolated to the necessary total income of the family? How do you weight the geographic factor (east or west)? Where are the basic needs? However, experts point out that despite different approaches and calculation bases, the qualitative statement of the various associations is the same: Poverty is growing in Germany.

Poverty as neglect of the way of life

In poverty research, however, material poverty is only one indicator. At least as important for sociologists is the possible withdrawal of people from the main institutions of civil society – such as schools or associations.

A so-called "neglect of lifestyle" can hardly be found in the statistics and poverty reports of the welfare associations. When it comes to the question of whether children live in poverty, very fundamental questions arise: Are daily meals provided and does someone take care of their laundry? Do the children have a regular contact person – and quite fundametal: who makes sure that they get up on time in the morning?

In the case of adults, phases of financial and material crisis are assessed as hardly dramatic as long as there is a prospect that the person affected will be able to fill in a modern, normal social biography for the foreseeable future.