The FDP is pushing for further tightening of citizens’ money and is thus putting pressure on the coalition partners of the SPD and the Greens. As can be seen from a resolution paper for the party executive committee, those who refuse to work should be able to have their benefits immediately reduced by 30 percent. So far, a step model has applied. “Bild am Sonntag” initially reported on the paper that was available to the German Press Agency.

As data from the Federal Employment Agency (BA) shows, so far only a fraction of benefit recipients have been affected by sanctions.

The FDP paper now states: “Anyone who does not fulfill their obligation to cooperate with citizens’ benefits and, for example, refuses reasonable work without a good reason should have to expect an immediate reduction in benefits of 30 percent.” The current regulation stipulates that the job center can withdraw a maximum of 10 percent of the benefits for one month from those receiving citizen’s benefit for the first breach of duty. After that, a 20 percent reduction will initially take effect before there is the possibility of temporarily reducing the benefit by up to 30 percent. That doesn’t go far enough for the FDP.

The “constitutional scope for stricter sanctions” must be exploited, “up to and including a complete cancellation of benefits,” says the proposal, which will be approved by the party’s executive committee on Monday and presented at the party conference next weekend.

Criticism of the reform

Citizens’ money came into force on January 1, 2023 – and replaced the controversial Hartz IV system. A core of the reform is weaker sanction options. With the new system, the federal government wanted to focus on more cooperation with those affected and less on pressure through punishment. A point that is sharply criticized not only by the FDP, but especially by the Union.

Only recently did the federal government – also under the impression of constant criticism – decide on new tightening measures. Since March, the job centers have been able to completely cancel the citizen’s benefit for unemployed people for a maximum of two months if they turn out to be “total refusers”. According to the employment agency, this two-month loss of all benefits is only possible if you “repeatedly” refuse to do reasonable work. The number of people actually affected is likely to remain manageable.

Citizens’ benefits were cut for almost 16,000 people who refused to work

From February to December 2023, the Federal Employment Agency (BA) counted 15,774 cases of benefit reductions as a result of refusing to work – with a total of around 5.5 million recipients of citizens’ benefit. The total number of cases in which the job center imposed benefit cuts was just over 226,000 last year. According to the BA, the cuts affected 2.6 percent of those eligible for benefits who were able to work. “This means that 97 out of 100 people do not come into contact with reduced performance,” it said. In the years before the pandemic, the numbers were significantly higher. In 2019, the BA imposed almost 807,000 benefit cuts – almost four times as many as in 2023. According to the agency, one of the reasons for this decline is the weaker sanction options in the citizen’s benefit system.

It remains to be seen whether the latest tightening measures will actually result in a substantial increase in the numbers. Hubertus Heil’s Federal Ministry of Labor (SPD) says it assumes “that the new regulation will lead to reduced spending and, above all, have a major preventative effect,” as it said in response to a dpa query. It ensures that those affected “do not reject reasonable job offers or do not give up their work beforehand”. This also prevents people from slipping into neediness or remaining needy in the first place.

Labor market experts, however, are critical of the tightening. Enzo Weber from the Institute for Labor Market and Occupational Research (IAB) in Nuremberg recently pointed out in a dpa interview that it is not easy to always clearly identify “black sheep” among those receiving benefits.