On Thursday, November 8th, the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy welcomed Prof. Dr. Jörg Fischer, the Head of the Institute for Municipal Planning and Development, to talk about poverty prevention in Thuringia. Professor Fischer reflected on the perception of poverty in German society, especially in East Germany, and structural solutions to cope with the issue.
Eradication of poverty is first in the list of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This goal calls for the eradication of extreme poverty (income less than $1,90 per day). This is often what comes to mind when one pictures poverty, but what does it mean to be poor in a rich country? How can poverty truly be measured? These are questions Prof. Fischer posed to his audience.
According to Prof. Fischer, the perception of poverty in East Germany is strongly connected to employment and the social status and recognition that comes with it. It is also associated with multiple stereotypes and prejudices, which affects the willingness of people to admit, talk to or seek help for their situation. Despite these negative perceptions, many people who fall under the category of poverty work, but for a variety of reasons, e.g., long-term debt, disability or illness, family situation, etc., do not earn enough income.
To illustrate issues with the perception of poverty, Dr. Fischer asked the participants, predominantly students, if they perceived themselves as poor. Statistically speaking, the majority of students fall under the category of relative poverty, despite Germany have the lowest rate of youth unemployment in the world. The definition of this concept varies from country to country, and, in the case of Germany, means having income less than €999 per month. Students generally did not consider themselves poor, despite falling under this definition, because of the opportunities that education provides. In other words, students often feel as though they do not lack prospects or confidence in a better future.
There remains much to do in the case of children, another demographic susceptible to poverty, as social background often limit access to opportunities for children born in this situation. Indeed, poverty is particularly difficult for families. Parents in precarious life situations can make sacrifices in order to provide better lives for their children, but equal opportunity is not guaranteed. Children from poor families often experience implicit and indirect discrimination within the school system, for example. If their parents cannot afford lunch, they cannot eat with other children, children from poor families cannot have access to all school activities and resources.
According to Professor Fischer, policymakers are reluctant to talk about policy because of the growing heterogeneity of the social structure, emergence of new forms of poverty and the consequent complexity of the issue. Public discussion and recognition of the problem is, however, a necessary step towards further developing integrated family support systems and, ultimately, addressing the issue of poverty.
 The Sustainable Development Goals were set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 to address the global challenges, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice by 2030. More information: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/