Go to the sea once. See the pyramids once. Admire the Northern Lights. Most people have probably already fulfilled at least one of these wishes. Katrin Dittrich is not one of them.
“I’ve never really been on vacation. The last time when I was six years old. I was there with my parents on the Baltic Sea,” says the 38-year-old in an interview with FOCUS online. “Never again after that because I can’t afford it.”
Dittrich lives alone, has no children and, according to his own statements, earns between 1450 and 1650 euros net per month. She pays “just over 800 euros for rent, energy and internet, the quarterly expenses are around 300 euros”.
Dittrich’s income is sufficient for everyday life. And to treat yourself to a pair of shoes or a little trip every now and then. But more? That’s not included in their income. The trained seamstress is happy if she can pay all the bills if nothing “unforeseen” happens. “I can’t think of vacation,” she says.
“I worked my ass off”
The 38-year-old is not the only one who works 40 hours a week and yet cannot afford a trip to the USA, a wellness vacation, or a city trip “further away”. Numerous readers have contacted our editorial team. You feel similar to Dittrich.
Including truck drivers, mechatronics technicians. “I’ve worked my ass off,” writes one who has been working for 42 years. And still can’t go away, can’t go on a long vacation.
“Going on vacation is often taken for granted today – and for most people it is,” says Jan Brülle in an interview with FOCUS online. “This is evident, for example, when people ask about the summer holidays at school or daycare, where the children went on vacation, or when colleagues discuss where the trip is going this year.”
Brülle is a research associate at the Institute for Economic and Social Sciences (WSI) of the Hans Böckler Foundation. The sociologist conducts research, among other things, on state transfer payments for households with a low income. In his dissertation he dealt with poverty trends in Germany and Great Britain.
One in five cannot afford a holiday further away
One thing is clear to Brülle: Holidays are not a sign of wealth, but are understood as social normality. Nevertheless: “One in five people cannot afford to spend their holidays anywhere other than at home.”
According to the microcensus, the poverty rate in Germany in 2022 was 16.7 percent. “This means that more than 14 million people in Germany have a household income of less than 60 percent of the median income – for a single household that’s almost 1,200 euros net,” says Brülle.
This means that Dittrich is not even officially considered poor. Despite this, she has not taken a vacation for 32 years. The 38-year-old doesn’t think it’s bad for herself. But if she had family, if more people were affected, “then it would be more difficult,” she says.
“Especially families with children want to experience more, and I think it’s a shame that low earners simply can’t afford something like that.” Dittrich keeps pondering.
“Sometimes I wonder why I still go to work at all,” she says. The answers she gives herself vary. To have a regular daily routine. To be with people. But not because of the money.
“Low income comes with serious limitations”
Earning little can be a burden. “Many studies show that a low income goes hand in hand with serious restrictions on living standards and participation,” says Brülle. He confirms what Dittrich has already mentioned.
According to the poverty researcher, more than a third of the population have problems coping with unexpected expenses. More than 15 percent of the population cannot afford to replace worn out furniture. And for almost one in ten people, two pairs of shoes in good condition are unaffordable.
How bad it is for many people in this country is quickly forgotten. Poverty is often invisible. Many readers who told us about their financial situation, about missing money for a big vacation, did so anonymously.
Dittrich likes to travel through her homeland and spends her free time there. But she also says: “As a big archeology fan, I would like to see famous places in the world. But that’s just not possible.”
Of course, people like her could change careers. Change jobs if the current one doesn’t bring enough money into the till. But should that really be necessary? Especially if you like your own job, but unfortunately it is poorly paid?
Inflation makes matters worse
Inflation is an additional burden for people who earn little anyway. In August, the inflation rate was 6.1 percent, estimates the Federal Statistical Office in a recent statement.
Those who earn little spend “a large part of their income on food or energy, i.e. on things where inflation was particularly high,” says Brülle. Food is considered a price driver, for example. They cost nine percent more in August than a year earlier.
Even if incomes remain constant or even rise slightly, low-income households will have to cut back even more than before. The question remains: How can those affected be helped?
Brülle says: “Money helps against poverty. Better and more targeted support for people on low incomes in the form of social benefits such as unemployment insurance or basic income is the most direct means of combating poverty.”
Promotion of employment and financial support are complementary goals
However, the fear is repeatedly expressed that an increase in state support would reduce the incentive to go to work. Who needs a job when you have just as much money available through social benefits?
“The promotion of employment and financial support for poor people in different life situations should not be seen as a contradiction, but as two complementary goals,” says Brülle.
Because: “Countries with particularly low poverty rates, such as Denmark, are characterized by a combination of relatively generous transfer payments and a social infrastructure that enables good employment.”
For example, through a comprehensive childcare system and an active labor market policy “that individually promotes and supports the unemployed”. The collective bargaining agreement is also significantly higher in Denmark than in Germany, says Brülle, “that’s why there are fewer low wages and less poverty in spite of work”.