- Title: Germany's poor hold key to election as inequality grows
- Date: 27th April 2017
- Summary: DORTMUND, GERMANY (APRIL 27, 2017) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF FOOD BANK 'DORTMUNDER TAFEL' WITH PAN TO ENTRANCE SIGN OF FOOD BANK MAN WITH BAGS LEAVING FOOD BANK VARIOUS OF CHAIRMAN OF NON-PROFIT ASSOCIATION 'DORTMUNDER TAFEL', HORST ROEHR, TALKING TO CLIENT (SOUNDBITE) (German) CHAIRMAN OF FOOD BANK 'DORTMUNDER TAFEL', HORST ROEHR, SAYING: "I wouldn't say it worsened, but the number of people asking for [supply] cards has clearly increased and become more virulent. Currently we have a waiting list of more than 1,000 names, these are card numbers, which means we can assume that behind them stand 3,000 to 3,500 people, which we can't serve at the moment." VARIOUS OF BREAD ROLLS BEING HANDED OUT (SOUNDBITE) (German) CHAIRMAN OF FOOD BANK 'DORTMUNDER TAFEL', HORST ROEHR, SAYING: "We have a very rich class, we have a decreasing middle class, and a lower class, including recipients of [unemployment benefit] Hartz 4 and asylum seekers, and that percentage is getting relatively bigger." VARIOUS OF PEOPLE QUEUING FOR FRUIT AND VEGETABLES INSIDE FOOD BANK VARIOUS OF FOOD BANK STAFF HANDING OUT FRUIT AND VEGETABLES (SOUNDBITE) (German) CHAIRMAN OF FOOD BANK 'DORTMUNDER TAFEL', HORST ROEHR, SAYING: "On the other side the people, who are better off, support us. We have large sums of donations, which we get on a yearly basis, and we have an advisory committee with important personalities of the city of Dortmund taking part, and of course we confront them with these issues, which we experience here daily." BAGS WOMAN STANDING IN FRONT OF COUNTER WITH DAIRY PRODUCTS
- Embargoed: 11th May 2017 13:09
- Keywords: inequality soup kitchen Dortmund election poverty
- Location: DORTMUND, GERMANY
- City: DORTMUND, GERMANY
- Country: Germany
- Topics: Government/Politics,Elections/Voting
- Reuters ID: LVA0016E6AB0N
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:For all its economic success, Germany has a growing problem with inequality and poverty, and yet Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to be deflecting the blame so far as the battle lines are drawn for elections in September.
Renowned for its highly-skilled workforce, Germany has in fact a greater proportion of working poor - people who have a job but are struggling with poverty - than Britain, France and even some less wealthy EU states such as Hungary or Cyprus.
Nowhere is the widening gap between rich and poor more evident than in the Ruhr region, an urban sprawl of five million people that was once the centre of Germany's heavy industry.
A highway that ploughs through the western region is nicknamed the "social equator", separating suburbs hit by the decline of coal mining and steelmaking from those that have benefited from the new industries that now power German growth.
To the north, soup kitchens and food banks tend to the unemployed, homeless and refugees as well as the working poor. To the south, highly qualified workers drive luxury cars to glass buildings housing high-tech and pharmaceutical companies.
Horst Roehr, chairman of the food bank 'Dortmunder Tafel' experiences the gap between rich and poor on a daily basis.
"We have a very rich class, we have a decreasing middle class, and a lower class, including recipients of [unemployment benefit] Hartz 4 and asylum seekers, and their percentage is getting relatively bigger," he says.
An increasing number of people asks for supply cards of the food bank in Dortmund, more than the association is able to hand out. Currently up to 15,000 receiving goods from one of the 8 outlets of the food bank in the western German city, but there are more people on need.
"Currently we have a waiting list of more than 1,000 names, these are card numbers, which means we can assume that behind them stand 3,000 to 3,500 people, which we can't serve at the moment," Roehr explains.
The German Institute for Economic Research has found that while the economy grew 22 percent in real terms in 1991-2014, the poorest 10 percent of households saw their real disposable income shrink by 8 percent. By contrast, income for the richest 10 percent rose about 27 percent.
Despite its image as a nation of well-paid workers making world class goods like Mercedes cars or Siemens kitchen equipment, Germany does not show up well in international comparisons.
After naming Martin Schulz as its leader in January, the Social Democrats (SPD) surged in opinion polls to catch up with Merkel's conservatives, propelled by promises to make German society more equal. Media nicknamed him "Robin Hood", after the legendary English outlaw who robbed the rich and gave to the poor.
However, while the election is set to be tightly contested, the conservatives have reopened a lead in recent polls with about 35 percent support, around five points ahead of the SPD, now the junior partner in Merkel's coalition.
Schulz, a former European Parliament president, is promising to undo some of the "Agenda 2010" reforms enacted by his own party under then chancellor Gerhard Schroeder over a decade ago.
These helped to end a long period of stagnation and high unemployment by making the economy more competitive, turning Germany from the "sick man of Europe" into a powerhouse.
But Agenda 2010 also increased the number of low-paid and part-time workers who now face a higher risk of falling into poverty during their active years or after retirement.
Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian allies say Schulz's plans would harm competitiveness and reverse falling unemployment which, at 5.8 percent, is at its lowest since German reunification in 1990.
The conservatives are promising tax cuts of 15 billion euros a year that would mainly benefit middle-income households.
Despite the discontent, Germans are not rejecting their long-established parties, unlike in France. Nevertheless, the conservatives and SPD must contend with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). In regional elections last year, both lost support to the AfD which attracted protest voters, many of them blue-collar workers and the unemployed.
Beset by infighting, the AfD's support has fallen by a third since the start of the year to 10 percent but it is still expected to enter parliament for the first time, possibly as the third-largest party ahead of the Linke, Greens and revived liberal Free Democrats.
That would raise the number of groups in parliament to six from four at the moment, complicating the task of coalition building for whoever wins in September.
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