'Workshy' German unemployed handed food coupons and clothes vouchers instead of cash payments
By Allan Hall
German benefit claimants who do not put enough effort into getting a job are being issued with food coupons and vouchers for clothes and household goods instead of money.
The bold move by officials in Bremen is set to spread nationwide as Germany seeks £70 billion worth of cuts in its austerity budget over the next four years.
The Bremen Working Group for Integration and Social Affairs (BAGIS) is targeting long-term unemployed people on the Hartz IV welfare programme that it feels are 'workshy'.
Dole queue: In Germany, those on benefits who fail to look for work could find themselves receiving food and clothes vouchers instead of cash
In a recent case before the city's Social Court it was ruled that a jobless centre run by the working group did not act illegally when it switched to giving a long-term unemployed man the tokens in lieu of 30 percent of his cash.
BAGIS said it had sanctioned the unemployed man, who has a partner and child, several times before it told him part of his benefits in future would come in tokens.
'He was not trying hard enough to get work over a prolonged period of time,' the court was told.
Eckhard Lange of BAGIS said: 'We do not want children or dependants to suffer if there is a financial penalty so we offer vouchers redeemable for goods.'
Andre Schulte, a court spokesman said; 'We are securing the physical subsistence level of these people.'
The shops and supermarkets in Bremen where these coupons are redeemable are not allowed to exchange them for merchandise such as cigarettes or liqour.
Single people on Hartz IV - named after former VW personnel manager and government adviser Peter Hartz who designed the programme - do not qualify for the vouchers but will have their money cut anway if bureaucrats think they are tardy in looking for jobs.
Lange said only two percent of Hartz IV claimants had had their welfare payments cut in the city-state in recent months because of their unwilligness to either look for work or accept jobs offered to them.
In Bremen this accounts for 1,495 people having their cash benefits cut by an average of £100 pounds per month.
Germany has one of the most lavish welfare systems in the western world but it is coming under increasing strain as the birth rate falls and social security contributions fail to underwrite its massive costs.
Oliver Moellenstaedt, chairman of the local FDP Liberal Party, said: 'I am surprised that they are lucky to get anything at all if they don`t play by the rules.'
The SPD, Germany's 'Labour' party, doesn't have much sympathy either.
A spokesman said: 'Whoever rejects integration proposals, displays no self-effort or does not accept reasonable work must reckon with sanctions.'
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