Social assistance is provided to persons who, for any of a number of reasons, are unable to provide themselves with a decent standard of living. In 1991 some 4.2 million persons received various forms of social assistance. In the same year, the most important reasons that people needed social assistance were unemployment (34 percent; social assistance is paid once unemployment pay runs out), pensions or incomes too small to allow their recipients a decent standard of living (11 and 7 percent, respectively), refusal of divorced fathers to pay child support (11 percent), and sickness (6 percent). Half of all recipients of social assistance are single elderly women. Foreigners residing in Germany also receive social assistance at a higher than average rate because they are more likely to be unemployed or earn low incomes.
Unlike the benefits provided by social insurance programs, social assistance is funded by taxes and is not determined by previous contributions. Social assistance is means tested, and recipients generally must have exhausted their savings. The incomes of a recipient's close relatives (parents and children) may also be considered when assessing the provision of social assistance. In the mid-1990s, social assistance for the head of household amounted to about DM500 a month in the old Lšnder ; 80 percent of this amount was allocated for the spouse, and 50 to 90 percent of this amount was allocated for the children, depending on their ages. In addition to these benefits, social assistance can cover housing costs, medical care, clothing, winter heating, and many other expenses.
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