Another perspective on our welfare system

Sanction-free - Another perspective on our welfare system


In the German unemployment system, punitive sanctions are used to ensure the active participation of welfare recipients and “motivate” them to increase their job seeking activities. We at Sanktionsfrei believe however in the inalienable right to minimum income and propose that this kind of pressure may even be detrimental to people’s health and overall situation. Who is right? We are putting it all to the test.

By making unemployment benefits effectively sanction-free, we test if and how a less punitive approach to welfare impacts 250 people over the next three years. Participants fill out regular questionnaires that will inform us on a multitude of different aspects of their lives, such as health and well-being, personal attitudes and individual socio-economic circumstances. 250 people participate in a control group.

What are sanctions?

The German government sets relatively tight conditions on the receipt of unemployment benefits. Benefits can be reduced whenever individual case workers in the so called “Jobcenters”, the state agencies dealing with the provision of unemployment benefits, decide that recipients have not made sufficient efforts to uphold “their end of the deal”. Sanctions start from 10% and may lead to a complete reduction of the benefits.

Reasons for such sanctions can be:

  • not accepting jobs offers
  • failing to show appropriate job seeking attempts
  • refusing to participate in mandatory training or employment scheme
  • not showing up for official consultation appointments without a good reason.

What is HartzPlus?

Participants in the intervention group will receive cash transfers for up to 424€ per month whenever they are sanctioned. Compensation depends on the amount of the specific sanction. We call this compensation HartzPlus, derived from “Hartz 4”, which is the German familiar term for unemployment benefits.

Why 424€?

Recipients of unemployment benefits usually receive 424€ per month to cover their basic needs[1] (see figure below).  

Hartz 4 - Composition of standard rate for a single person in €. Valid since 01.01.2019

Hartz 4 - Composition of standard rate for a single person in €. Valid since 01.01.2019

Not included in the standard rate are costs for rental charge and heating. Recipients receive additional benefits if the rental costs are deemed “reasonable”. These regulations vary from city to city.

Who are the participants?

In December 2018 we started our call for participation. About 5.000 people signed up. 250 people were randomly selected for the intervention group. 250 people agreed to be part of the control group. About two-thirds of the study population are currently receiving unemployment benefits. 

When is the study taking place?

Between February 2019 and February 2022.

Who is conducting the study?

The study is being conducted by Sanktionsfrei in close cooperation with INES Berlin.

International Press

[1]  Single persons or single parents receive 424€, married persons/people in a partnership-like relationship who share a household  receive 382 €, adults under the age of 25 who share a household with their parents receive 339 €, youngsters between 14-18 years receive 322€, children between 6-14 years receive 302€ and children up to 6 years receive 245 €. Additional variable benefits are available for disabled persons and children.