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Germany: Low-Income Households Struggle for Social and Economic Rights

Inflation Pushing Single-Parent-Led Families, Often Mothers, to Breaking Point

“Maggie,” a 36-year-old single mother living in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, calculates her monthly household budget as food and energy prices rise rapidly, February 2023. © 2023 Kartik Raj/Human Rights Watch

The latest official data in Germany show inflation reached 8.7 percent in January and February 2023. Energy prices were up 23.1 percent in January, and food prices 21.8 percent in February. These drastic increases leave many households, particularly those with children, unable to afford a decent, dignified standard of living.

The day-to-day impact of sharply rising prices for goods and services essential to rights has a clearly gendered element. Single-parent families in Germany, 88 percent of which are women-led, are overrepresented among low-income households.

In the past couple of weeks, Human Rights Watch interviewed eleven working single mothers in Saxony, Baden-Wuerttemberg, and Bavaria. All but one reported reducing eating protein and fresh produce, skipping meals so that their children could eat, or heating only one room in their home (the children’s bedroom or the living room for use as a shared sleeping space).

“Maggie,” a 36-year-old healthcare worker, sat down with us at her kitchen table and showed us her household budget, as her 4-year-old child slept in the adjoining room. Maggie explained her situation as a single mother on a low income:

“It does something to your head. The existential fears are constant. You actually go beyond your limits every day with everything. And I as a person [feel like] I no longer exist at the moment.”

Maggie isn’t alone. Ten of the eleven women we interviewed spoke about cutting back on heat, food, or both, over the past year to provide for their children. Online responses to a broader survey we have opened tell a similar story. The speed with which this trend has been normalized is frightening.

People in Europe’s largest economy should not struggle to enjoy their guaranteed social and economic rights, including their rights to food, housing, and an adequate standard of living. Yet during the course of our research, we are repeatedly hearing about how people are unable to secure an adequate standard of living. Germany has a poverty problem that affects women and children in particular: it is time to recognize the issue and develop long-term, rights-based, policy solutions.

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