Germany’s SPD hopes to lure older voters with €1bn welfare reform

Centre-left party to fix past ‘mistakes’, including dole payments to older workers

Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) has vowed to mobilise €1 billion to woo older voters by correcting what the party views as “unfair” dole rules.

If the centre-left party wins September’s federal election, SPD labour minister Andrea Nahles promised to extend dole payments for job seekers who avail of new training programmes from the state labour office.

Under current rules, jobless Germans receive 12 months’ unemployment benefit at two-thirds of their final salary, before dropping down to basic welfare of about €400 a month. More recent corrections extend payments up to a maximum of 24 months for job-seekers over the age of 58.

These rules, agreed in 2003, have proved hugely unpopular with older SPD voters, who defected in large numbers to the hard-left Die Linke party.

Since entering the race to unseat chancellor Angela Merkel, SPD hopeful Martin Schulz has promised to correct “mistakes” of the past and reach out to ordinary people who “keep the lights on in Germany”. After flatlining in polls for years, the Schulz promises have handed the party an unprecedented eight-point leap.

Older workers

On Monday, it fell to Mrs Nahles to firm out the first proposals. For her, labour market reform requires greater prioritisation of training and qualification for older workers. Under SPD proposals, the clock would be halted on jobless payments for the duration of training for the jobless.

“Our concept puts qualification in the centre, that there is a right for further training,” she said. “The goal . . . is placement on the labour market and not a bridge into retirement.”

Six months ahead of Germany’s federal election, however, that is precisely the criticism of the reform proposals from Dr Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU): that the SPD is trying to bribe voters with their own money, handing out a costly gift for companies.

“You cannot turn back the clock on reform,” said Peter Tauber, the CDU’s secretary general. “We should be offering people training all the time so that they are qualified for a new job immediately.”

Ahead of an SPD conference to elect Mr Schulz party leader later this month, Monday’s announcement was the first concrete signal that he will push his party further left to win back disillusioned traditional voters and secure a majority.

Gay marriage

Separately, Mr Schulz said on Monday that he supported “without question” extending marriage to gays and lesbians in Germany. In 2001 the SPD-Green Schröder administration introduced registered partnership with more limited rights than married couples. The party has failed in grand coalition with Dr Merkel’s CDU to move to the next step.

“I am for the marriage for all and am in favour of extending marriage rights, including adoption,” said Mr Schulz.