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German government accused of sprucing up poverty report

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The German government Wednesday published a report on poverty in Europe's top economy amid claims by the opposition and in the media that it had spruced up the real picture.

According to the "Poverty and Wealth Report", German households' incomes grew between 2007 and 2012, largely because the labour market flourished, with unemployment falling from 9.0 percent to 6.8 percent over the same period.

The report, based on data compiled by the DIW think-tank, said it was the poorest Germans -- who make up around 40 percent of the overall population -- who benefited most from the improvement.

It said that the number of people on welfare benefits decreased over the five-year period.

And it asserted that inequality in the distribution of wealth "is currently on the decrease," even if Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen conceded that the wealth gap remains wide, with 10 percent of Germany's richest owning half of the country's total wealth.

Nevertheless, opposition politicians, backed by trade unionists, accused the government of painting a too positive picture of the real distribution of wealth in the country.

The DGB Federation of Trade Unions accused the government of "tricks and cover-up attempts" after press reports said certain negative elements had been removed from an earlier unpublished draft of the report.

Economics Minister Philipp Roesler, who is a member of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), a junior ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition, was reported to have wanted to present a more positive image of Germany.

Speaking on regional public radio Wednesday, Roesler dismissed claims the report had been prettified as opposition electioneering but added: "I find that one must also highlight that things are going well for us."

Hubertus Heil, deputy head of the main opposition Social Democrats' parliamentary group, was quoted by local news agency DPA as criticising the government for having "doctored" the report under pressure from the FDP.

Presenting the around 500-page report Wednesday, von der Leyen said she believed Germany was "on the right path" and justified the changes to the original version by the fact new elements had been added.

The report notes that the risk of falling into poverty has remained fairly constant in Germany since 2007, affecting between 14 percent and 16 percent of the population.

It was the fourth such report since 2001.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130306/german-government-accused-sprucing-poverty-report