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Rise in older people in Germany reliant on social security benefits

An elderly man's hand.
An elderly man's hand. Copyright Canva.
Copyright Canva.
By Eleanor Butler
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Pensioners in Germany are subject to "degrading poverty," says politician Sahra Wagenknecht. Others say changes to the pension system are behind the rise in claimants.


An increasing number of older Germans are relying on state benefits to top up their pensions, according to figures from the Federal Statistics Office.

The data was shared at the request of the left-wing BSW Group and reported on by German newspaper "Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung".

In the first quarter of 2024, a record number of 719,330 pensioners received basic social security support.

That's an increase of almost 35,000 since March 2023, and a jump of around 511,915 since 2015.

Germany is currently raising its pension age from 65 years to 67, with the upper threshold now applying to anyone born after January 1964.

For pensioners on lower incomes, the state can offer financial support, known as Grundsicherung im Alter.

Rather than being fixed, Grundsicherung payouts are determined on a case by case basis, looking at individual needs.

The aim is to ensure that all German citizens can pay for basic necessities like heating, healthcare and accommodation. Extra support is given to those with disabilities.

According to data from the Federal Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs, 19.7% of old-age benefit recipients at the end of 2021 were without an income or a pension.

36.6% were living on a monthly income of under €400, while 40% had an income of €400 to €800. 3.7% had a monthly income of more than €800.

"The German pension system condemns many old people to degrading poverty," said left-wing politician Sahra Wagenknecht, commenting on the new data.

After previously representing The Left, Sahra Wagenknecht launched her new BSW party this year.

On their website, the BSW calls for more solidarity and equality in Germany, claiming: "Millions of older people cannot enjoy their retirement after a long working life because their pensions are humiliatingly low."

Concerning the increase in social security claimants, some nonetheless argue that the uptick is caused by changes to the pension system.

In January 2021, the German government introduced a measure called the Grundrente, which is an additional pension allowance for low earners.

The Grundrente isn't taken into account when looking at income thresholds for old-age benefits.

This means retirees not previously eligible for the benefits (Grundsicherung) can now apply for this support, making them recipients of both the Grundrente and the Grundsicherung.

Even so, 4.9 million pensioners still had a personal monthly net income of under €1,000 in 2021, according to public figures from the Federal Statistics Office. This corresponds to 27.8% of all pensioners.

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