According to a study, single-parent families are the most affected by poverty. The planned basic child safety could make the situation even worse.

A child sits on a swing.  The shadow of an adult is seen pushing the swing.

Low income: 41 percent of single parents with minor children Photo: Julian Stratenschulte/dpa

GÜTERSLOH/BERLIN dpa | According to a study, single-parent families continue to be the most affected by poverty. Of the approximately 1.7 million single parents with minor children, 41 percent were low-income people last year, as reported by the Bertelsmann Foundation. For comparison: Among families made up of couples, between 8 percent (with one child) and 30 percent (with three or more minor children) were considered at risk of poverty.

The basic child security provided for is not sufficient to effectively counteract poverty, criticized the foundation's family expert, Anette Stein. “What is now on the table cannot solve the problem.” For some single-parent families there could be improvements, but for others it could be even worse. The bill has been stuck in the parliamentary process for months.

A good 82 percent of single-parent families have a single mother and her children, and just under 18 percent have a single father. The study's authors criticized the often precarious situation, which has been known for years and, despite some relief, there has been little improvement. Relative income poverty – or risk of poverty – affects people who have less than 60 percent of the median income of the total population.

Concretely, this could mean: no family holidays, having to do without and say no every day, no reserves for a certain financial security and little cultural or social participation, which is especially hard for children and young people, says Anette Stein . from the German Press Agency.

Single mothers are especially at risk of falling into poverty

Of the 8.5 million families in Germany with children under 18, single-parent families made up about 20 percent. The slight increase since 2019 to currently reach around 1.7 million single-parent families with minor children can be attributed, among other things, to refugees from Ukraine. There are regional differences: the proportion of single-parent families in Bavaria is 16.5 percent and in Berlin 27.5 percent.

Almost half of all children growing up in a family receiving community benefits live in a single-parent household. The risk of poverty is particularly high for single mothers. The proportion of single-parent households receiving citizen benefits is highest in Bremen at 55 percent and lowest in Thuringia at 27 percent.

According to the foundation's assessment, relative poverty among many single-parent families is not due to a lack of employment. “71 percent of single mothers and 87 percent of single fathers work,” they say in Gütersloh. Failure to pay support often contributes to difficult financial situations. Not even the alimony advance or child benefit reforms have significantly improved the stressful situation of many single-parent families.

The foundation calls for more childcare places, reliable all-day childcare at school, more flexible working time models and more incentives for parents to take on more responsibilities for their children and care work.

What should basic child safety achieve?

The traffic light coalition has long been fighting for basic child safety, with which the above benefits for children should be combined: such as child benefit, citizen child benefit payments or the child supplement. In autumn 2023, the federal Cabinet approved a draft; Federal Family Minister Lisa Paus (Greens) and Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) initially agreed on additional costs of 2.4 billion euros.

If utilization increases, the amount could grow to €6 billion annually in 2028. It remains to be seen whether basic child safety will arrive by early 2025, as Paus intends. There are still many issues to be resolved and the factions of the SPD and FDP coalition in the Bundestag express considerable reservations. Lindner is also skeptical.

The current basic child welfare bill “will not be enough to free single-parent families from the poverty trap,” the study's authors say. The project is important as a first step and will probably improve the situation of some single-parent families. But: the quantity, that is, the level of livelihood security, must be redetermined, something that the current bill does not do, criticizes the study. The current financial benefits are far from sufficient.

Standard needs should be realistically redefined to include children and young people. Periodic surveys show that young people who have experienced poverty are very reflective, competent and responsible when it comes to facing this problem, highlights expert Stein. To avoid the feared deterioration suffered by some single-parent families, the bill urgently requires, among other things, changes to the maintenance rules.

It is also important from the foundation's point of view: there needs to be a responsible point of contact with simple advice from a single source for everyone who is entitled to benefits. These should be family service centers that may not be operational immediately from 2025, but which, if possible, should be anchored in law and then built gradually.