September 27, 2006

Poor children in a rich country

The above picture shows the green grass of the Spreebogen Park in front of the Berlin main rail station (Hauptbahnhof) and besides the Chancellors office. On 20th September a German NGO called the Deutscher Kinderschutzbund E.V. laid out 200,000 such blue flags in Spreebogen Park and other places in Berlin to protest negligence bythe government of the same number of poor children in the German capital. It is now official that one in six out of the 15 million children in Germany are living under poverty. Many of these children will not complete their education and will have poor health conditions. Because their parents are unemployed and social benefits cannot sustain the family well.

According to 2005 statistics:
The upper 10 percent of households controls approximately half of Germany’s wealth, while the bottom 50 percent possess less than 4 percent of the total. While the rich and super-rich have been able to record astronomic increases in their fortunes, poverty is extending into wider and wider layers of society. More persons are insolvent than ever before: an estimated 8 percent of all households, or about 3 million people.

The growth of social misery is also expressed in the poverty rate, which indicates how many households earn less than 60 percent of average income and lie below the poverty threshold. In 2005 the poverty rate in Germany was 17.3 percent—the highest rate in Germany’s postwar history. Every fifth citizen lives in poverty in East Germany and a half million live in poverty in Germany’s capital city, Berlin.

The biggest single cause of increased poverty are the Hartz IV regulations implemented by the former SPD-Green government, which reduce unemployment relief to levels lower than social welfare assistance. At a stroke, the Hartz IV measures have led to an over 10 percent increase in the rate of poverty in unemployed households—from approximately 50 percent before the reform to approximately 63 percent in 2005.

One of the hardest hit groups is children. Since 2004, i.e., the start of the Hartz IV measures, the number of children living in poverty has doubled, with 2.5 million living from social welfare relief. One sixth of all children under the age of 15 live in poverty; in some cities this rate is one in three.
Berlin faces the 1990s fate of Washington, DC: of being a bankrupt city with a rich political ghetto. After unification in 1990 Berliners hoped to regain their role of industrial hub and gateway to central Europe. Instead, the city lost two-thirds of its jobs in manufacturing, which now employs fewer than 100,000 in a population of 3.4m. Almost half of the population live under social benefits.

Signs of poverty are now evident in Berlin. Beggars are common in U Bahn (underground) stations. You will see young men and women cleaning front mirror of cars in traffic stops and demanding money. In a busy street once in a while some one stumbles on you asking for some change. Meanwhile the heap Kurfurstendamm (similar to New York's fifth avenue) boast glittering designer shop windows with cloths starting from 3000 Euro. The world class infrastructure and well spread public transports portray a different picture. Berlin is the poorest state in Germany, the tourists will disagree.


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