If the citizens’ income is the biggest social reform for 20 years, then the GroKo cannot have done much in the social sector. Nevertheless, the traffic light with the new basic security also takes important steps forward.

The Federal Council has decided that the citizen’s income is through. The “biggest social reform of the past two decades,” according to the traffic light coalition, can come into force in the new year. And maybe Britta Ha├čelmann can be happy again today. Visibly dismayed, the leader of the Greens parliamentary group announced the failure of the “time of trust” last Tuesday. For six months, this regulation was intended to protect recipients of basic income benefits from a reduction in their earnings if they were not yet actively involved in the job search. But the Union insisted in this week’s negotiations that this passage should be deleted.

As proud as CDU leader Friedrich Merz celebrated his negotiation success on Tuesday, in reality it affects the situation of most of the long-term unemployed: only about one to three percent of those who receive help get into the situation of being sanctioned.

Language barriers, psychological problems and illness – three common factors that prevent people from gainful employment – are not what the Christian Democrats suspect when the recipients of aid are not actively looking for work. Instead, Friedrich Merz senses parasitism that must be ended with the help of state pressure. The image of man that underlies this attitude may be legitimate. However, it is not Christian.

But as much as the Union wrongly describes the period of trust as the “core” of citizen income, the Greens have previously focused too much on it. The well-sounding term is intended to suggest a fundamental improvement in the relationship between the employment agency and those receiving assistance. However, if sanctions are not an issue for 97 percent of recipients of basic security anyway, then the job center team can win their trust even without the state protection mechanism.

The real “core” and a much more important innovation in citizen income is unnoticed elsewhere and is largely due to the Liberals: The FDP has pushed for improving the opportunities for recipients of basic income to earn something through work.

After all, it is often not the closure of a company or redundancies for operational reasons that are the causes of unemployment. In many cases, people are in a personal situation that makes it difficult or impossible to have a full-time job that provides financial security. For example, if there is a serious physical illness, if the previous work is too stressful due to psychological problems, if two children have to be raised alone or a relative requires intensive care.

What has the state been pushing for so far? That you decide – either fully return to the labor market and stand on your own two feet or continue to receive support. Everything in between is hardly worthwhile, since, for example, with a salary of up to 1000 euros, in addition to a 100 euro allowance, 80 percent of the wage is credited to the Hartz IV amount, with better-paid jobs it is 90 percent. This means that state support is reduced accordingly. One hardly works to improve one’s own situation, but primarily to relieve the state.

Since many jobs, especially in the low-wage sector, are pretty tough jobs, that’s asking a lot – for someone who is chronically ill or has a family to take care of. And children do not just want to be provided with food, but also with time and attention.

Citizens’ income does not set a paradigm shift here, but it shows a growing understanding in politics that the biographies of the long-term unemployed are rarely black and white – some want to work, others don’t – but are mostly kept in shades of gray. Many actually want to work, but face obstacles.

An important step in the right direction is that in the future, if you earn up to 520 euros, you will be able to keep 30 percent plus the 100 euros allowance without being offset. It increases the incentive to dare to return to work despite stress.

It was long overdue to free young people from the obligation to take credit. So far, schoolchildren, students and trainees who live in a Hartz IV community of need have had their wages taken into account like adults. The child from a socially disadvantaged family experiences early on that working is hardly worthwhile, the state collects most of the money. In future, young people under the age of 25 can earn 520 euros a month without it playing a role in the calculation of citizen income. This increases the chances of breaking through a need that is often passed on from generation to generation.

And finally, the mediation priority falls. So far, this states that the long-term unemployed are to be given priority in work. Further training is possible if no suitable offer is available. In the past, this priority often caused the so-called revolving door effect. Unemployed people were quickly placed, but also quickly returned to the job center because it hadn’t worked.

This priority rule falls with the citizen money, which will not be a game changer, but still makes sense in times when many industries are desperately looking for – not only – skilled workers. Because more than half of the long-term unemployed in 2021 had no vocational training. And of those who disappeared from the statistics, the rate of those who got a regular job on the primary labor market was only 18 percent. A quarter of those went into further training in 2021 – the end is open. It will be crucial that the educational opportunities are cleverly adapted to the needs of the labor market.

The traffic light coalition and the Union, which tips the scales in the Bundesrat, argued about issues that were of secondary importance. This is good news, because the positive approaches to citizen income have remained untouched. There are still only beginnings. In the future, there should be much more focus on opportunities for additional income and further training. Because they are positive and do not force people to work, but enable them to work.

If the citizens’ income is really the “biggest social reform in two decades,” then that also means that the grand coalition has paid little attention to social affairs for twenty years, at least not to innovative ideas. The citizen’s income is therefore better than Hartz IV and better than its reputation, but it could only get better than both.