[VIEWPOINT]Germany puts nation’s welfare firstTwo-year-old Kevin was found dead in the refrigerator of a family’s apartment in Bremen, northern Germany, on Oct. 10. The police found evidence of violence on Kevin’s body and arrested his father, a drug addict, on charges of child abuse and murder.
After his mother died, Kevin lived with his father, who didn’t have the economic means to raise him. Social workers knew Kevin’s father could not afford to raise him, and a court ordered Kevin to be placed in the state’s care. But welfare workers didn’t arrive for a week after the order, and when they did, they found the boy’s body.
Die Welt, a leading German daily, said “the government drove the child to death, while trying to save money,” claiming the government’s reduction of its social welfare budget caused the child’s death.
On Oct. 13, even before the shock of Kevin’s death passed, another tragedy took place at the house of another poor family living in Tswikau in eastern Germany. Mamet, age 4, died after falling down the stairs. An investigation showed the child was weak because he had starved for a long time.
Three years ago, a 4-year-old child was found dead in a refrigerator in a slum area in Kotbus, eastern Germany. The child’s parents had abandoned the body of their child, who died of starvation.
There is one thing in common with these bizarre stories. They occurred in very poor families. Because of these incidents, the confidence of the Germans in their social security net has been shaken.
Germany is a country known to have a tradition of caring for the socially weak better than any other country.
As Germany has emphasized the distribution of wealth and social welfare on the basis of a “social market economy” system, it has been known as a model welfare state.
However, the “unconditional welfare benefits for all” approach has disappeared since the opening of “the era of neo-liberalist competition without frontiers” in the 1990s. “The social security net” no longer guarantees security for everyone.
There is actually a report that says, “Eight percent of the German population, or 6.5 million Germans, live in absolute poverty.”
According to another report prepared by the federal government, one out of 10 German children suffers from poverty. This is the reality of Germany, which recorded the world’s largest amount of exports for four consecutive years.
With Kevin’s death as momentum, the problem of poverty and alienated classes has become Germany’s hottest issue.
But the German way of handling the issue was cool-headed.
Although it was a tragic incident, the majority of German politicians demanded that the government implement the “productive welfare” that British Prime Minister Tony Blair introduced, refusing to provide unconditional welfare benefits, as was done in the past.
Hubertus Heil, secretary general of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party of Germany, said, “The quality of the welfare state should not be decided by a quantitative standard such as, ‘How much financial support can we get?’”
Ronald Pofalla, secretary general of the right-wing party the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, said, “it is difficult to maintain an old East German-style social security system in which the people rely only on what they get from the government.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel has also said, “If not educated properly, a person’s chances of being unemployed are very high. We must find a way to overcome poverty by strengthening educational and vocational training.”
German politicians have one thing in common, regardless of their party affiliation. They think deeply about the bigger picture of securing their nation’s competitiveness, then present detailed solutions.
It is hard to find a politician who demands an unconditional budget increase in order to draw popular support or get support from their factional interests. Although a small number of ultra-leftists say “the government must allocate a bigger budget to welfare,” they fail to get popular support because their demands are unrealistic and do not reflect society’s financial realities.
The problems of poverty and social polarization might be more vital to us than to Germany.
By the way, if an incident like “Kevin’s death” took place in our society, I wonder whether the most intimidating criticism against the government and the sweetest promise of an unconditional welfare benefit to the people might have been made randomly.
Recently, three strong presidential hopefuls ― Park Geun-hye, Chung Dong-young and Lee Myong-bak ― visited Germany.
I sincerely hope they learned from the way German politicians grasp issues and consider their nation’s competitiveness over their factional interests.
* The writer is the Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Ryu Kwon-ha