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Nation-wide study gives bad grades to health care and pension policies in Germany – differences between East and West

Ambivalent Reform Report for Social Policies

The German welfare state is under constant pressure to reform. Especially demographic change, globalisation and the situation on the labour market demand political action. Many ways of reform have been discussed in German politics in the last couple of years and some bigger projects have been implemented.

The former federal government – a coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens – has begun the remodelling of the health care and retirement pension system. The recent government has set its stakes high concerning the area of social security. However, against the background of a limited budget the reforms of the government cannot be equated with donations for the citizens. If the citizens do not accept these reforms a punishment in the upcoming elections by the disappointed electorate seems likely.

Social scientists from the Universität Stuttgart are working on a project, supported by the German Research Foundation, researching the willingness by German citizens to accept reforms in the areas of retirement pension, health care and family policy. First results of the nation-wide, representative survey, which is part of the project, have been presented by the team of Prof. Dr. Oscar W. Gabriel on 26. March. The survey encompasses 1.800 respondents – citizens from East and West Germany – and has been conducted by Infratest-Dimap in December 2007.

Too high expectations?
The present day agenda of German politics often deals with the financial restructuring of the federal and state budgets. The citizens, however, expect higher state spending in the areas of education, health care, family and pension policy. “One can speak of a cleavage between the expectations of the citizens and the measures which have been decided upon. Concerning political action in the field of social policy, the expectations of East German citizens are often higher than those of West Germans” Prof. Gabriel explains.
Doubts about pensions
Reform evaluations concerning the issue of the welfare state cannot be seen isolated from the satisfaction of the citizens with their own welfare guaranteed by state policies. Over two thirds of the citizens believe that in case of illness they are well or sufficiently insured. Gabriel points to the fact that “the debate about old-age poverty is fuelled by the following figures: only a fourth of all respondents believe that their old-age income is well secured”. Which political party do citizens consider to be best at tackling problems of social welfare? The majority of citizens believe that the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is the party that is most likely to be able to solve problems in the area of health care, retirement pensions and family policy – however, the winning margin is only very narrow, except in the area of family policy, where the difference between the Christian Democratic Union and Social Democratic Party (SPD) is more pronounced. It must be said though that in these policy fields many citizens believe that no party is able to find adequate solutions.
A clear vision for the direction of the reform and for fundamental reform principles

Over two thirds of the respondents believe that the latest health care and retirement pension system reforms are headed in the wrong direction and criticism is more pronounced in the new federal states. In contrast to this, most citizens are quite satisfied with the direction of family policy. In this policy area the current reforms are least associated with personal disadvantages. In the process of reforming the welfare state politics often demand a higher degree of self-responsibility. “Citizens are in support of this idea to a limited scope. According to their points of view the principle of equal distribution of burdens should play a bigger role in future reforms” explains Eva-Maria Trüdinger. Be this as it may, only a minority is convinced that politics is implementing this principle adequately. Accordingly, only approximately a fourth of all respondents consider Germany's social order fair and in East Germany it is every ninth person. German politics also receives bad grades for the way in which society is informed about reforms: from the perspective of the citizens politicians do not meet the majority demand for a comprehensible communication of the reform programs.

East German doubts about financial aid for care
When it comes to evaluating concrete reform projects there are significant differences within Germany. Proponents of “Betreuungsgeld” (financial aid for parents who care for their children at home) are usually West Germans. A uniform retirement pension guaranteeing basic needs strongly finds its support in East Germany. However, “Elterngeld” (financial aid for the first year of parenthood) is considered a successful project across Germany.

Between politics and societal groups and also often between East and West Germans there exists – partly – great disagreement concerning the evaluation of the different reforms which have been adopted and those which may come in the areas of health care, retirement pension and family policy. The research project, which the University of Stuttgart is working on, shall provide profound empirical findings on these patterns of public opinion.

Ursula Zitzler | alfa
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