Poor families: the children suffer so much

Poor families
The children suffer so much

© Radharani / Shutterstock

Every fifth child in Germany is poor. This is not just a scandal, it has negative consequences for our society, says education expert Anette Stein.

BRIGITTE: Ms. Stein, what does child poverty mean in one of the richest western industrial countries?

It means that children are often excluded from social life. It means that they cannot go on school trips because there is no money for them; that you cannot give friends a birthday present or invite them home because the apartment does not provide that. Poor children cannot live out their talents, interests and inclinations; they actually live with being restricted every day. Where other parents say no for reasons of upbringing, poor parents do so out of necessity.

There is also this cliché, fueled by some private television programs, of the dysfunctional family in which money is spent on dog food, alcohol and cigarettes, but hardly anything for the offspring. Is that true?

The prejudice annoys me because most poor households are low-income people, mini-jobbers, working single mothers. And the vast majority of them handle their money responsibly, but simply have too little. It is also very difficult to get out of poverty into which one was born or into which one slipped. And government money often does not get to where it is really needed.

What do you mean?

Money for their children is not simply transferred to parents in need; you have to apply for it, prove your neediness. But only 34 percent of those who are entitled to it do so because it is totally complicated. Hardly anyone can see through our conveyor system. And increases in child benefit are credited or deducted for Hartz IV recipients.

When a child grows up in poverty, how does that affect their future life?

We have known from all studies for decades that poverty is the greatest development risk for children and young people. It affects health, well-being, psyche and education. Teachers recommend poor children to go to a secondary school, comprehensive school or secondary school rather than grammar school. They know that high school demands a lot and that one of the prerequisites for success is being accompanied by the parents. But this is often not the case with poor families.

Which finding of your study surprised you the most?

It was shocking that these children had a very high experience of bullying and violence. But we also discovered positive things. We asked children and adolescents ourselves about what they need in order to grow up well. And anyone who now thinks that they only need a smartphone or new sneakers is very wrong. The children can identify very precisely what is really missing, namely social participation. You don’t want to be marginalized. Of course, older people also want a smartphone because otherwise they would also feel left out. But it doesn’t have to be the latest model.

What do you want from politics? Which countries are doing better than us?

Politicians must finally decide how they want to avoid child poverty in the long term. The numbers have not been falling for years, and the Corona crisis will keep them growing. This also has negative consequences for society as a whole. These children are also the future of this country. We urgently need new social and family policy concepts. This includes structures for the consistent participation of children and young people and securing their financial needs through a participation allowance or basic security. And as far as other countries are concerned: Of course, the focus is on Scandinavia. There the problem of child poverty is minor. This is due on the one hand to the family-political structures, but also to the education system. This does not promote the social division. Germany should take an example from this.

Anette Stein is the director of the program “Effective investment in education” at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, which published an extensive study on child poverty in 2020: “Child poverty – an unfinished major construction site”.

Child poverty in Germany

  • Every fifth child in Germany grows up in poverty. That is 2.8 million children and young people under the age of 18.
  • Accordingly, poor is someone who has so little income or property that it is not possible to have the standard of living that is taken for granted or normal in our society.
  • Children who grow up in single parents receiving Hartz IV are particularly affected by poverty: 45.2 percent.
  • Overall, the number of children living in families with a Hartz IV relationship is 13.8 percent.
  • Despite positive economic development in Germany, there has been no improvement in sight for years, and child and youth poverty has remained at a consistently high level.

Source: Bertelsmann Foundation

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BRIGITTE 13/2021