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POVERTY

German food banks struggle to cope with rising demand

The war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living has led to food banks in Germany almost reaching their limit. 

An employee brings bags to a customer at a Tafel Frankfurt distribution point.
An employee brings bags to a customer at a Tafel Frankfurt distribution point. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

The number of people going to food banks in Germany is on the rise.

There are over 960 food banks across Germany which rescue surplus food, organise donations from supermarkets and distribute these to people in need.

Demand for the service, which provides free groceries for those in need, began rising last December, but has sharply increased since February this year as the cost-of-living crisis began to hit. 

Since March, demand has risen even further as inflation reached a forty-year high of 7.3 percent and more and more families who have fled the war in Ukraine are also turning to food banks for help.

READ ALSO: German inflation hits post-reunification high at 7.3 percent

The food banks in big cities, in particular, are seeing more demand for their services, according to the Federal Association of Food Banks. In Berlin, for example, they report lots of new customers from Ukraine. 

But the rise in demand is happening all over the country. Wolfram Schreiner, the managing director of the food bank in Kusel in Rhineland-Palatinate – a town with less than 5,000 inhabitants – recently told Taggeschau that more 100 new customers have used their foodbank in the last eight weeks.

Increasing pressure on food banks

The nationwide increase in demand, combined with rising fuel and grocery costs, as well as food shortages, is beginning to impact the food banks themselves, with many reporting that they are stretched to their limit. 

A long-term volunteer at Frankfurt’s biggest food bank told die Zeit that donations from supermarkets have recently fallen by between 60 and 70 percent, as the supermarkets are having to plan more carefully and are having fewer leftovers. 

READ ALSO: The products getting more expensive and harder to find in Germany

As Jochen Brühl, Chairman of the Federal Association of Food Banks, explained: “The sharp rise in fuel and energy prices is causing high additional costs that food banks cannot cope with without additional donations.” 

The Covid pandemic is also causing food banks to struggle, says Brühl: “We have 60,000 volunteers doing incredible work. But many have put their activities on hold because of Covid – simply out of fear of infection.” 

In order to ease the situation, the Federal Association of Food Banks is calling on the German government to provide a €100 monthly subsidy for those claiming housing benefits and receiving the basic old-age pension.

READ ALSO: German Bundesrat votes on heating subsidy for low-income households

They are also appealing for financial donations as well as food, as increased energy and fuel costs have already forced some food banks to suspend or limit their services.

The long term goal, however, must be to reduce the demand for food banks, said Jochen Brühl: “Feeding people is the task of the state. We from the food banks are only a support – we are not a lifetime assistance. Our concern is to support people in need in the short term”.

Vocabulary

Food bank = (die) Tafel

demand = (die) Nachfrage

donation = (die) Spende

steigen = to increase

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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MONEY

What gas customers in Germany need to know this autumn

Germany's gas levy has been dropped and a price cap is on the way. But there are some other changes coming from October including a VAT cut and smaller surcharges. Here's what it means for your bills.

What gas customers in Germany need to know this autumn

The German government is reducing the value-added tax (VAT) on gas consumption. The rate will be reduced from 19 to seven percent, for a limited period from October 1st until the end of March 2024.

But that is not the only change for gas bills this autumn, though the government says it will no longer levy the gas procurement surcharge of 2.419 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), which was also originally planned to take effect on October 1st. Instead, two other smaller levies will be due: the gas storage levy and the balancing energy levy. 

Here’s a look at what it means for households.

READ ALSO: Why did Germany make a u-turn on gas levy – and what do the new plans mean?

What does the VAT cut mean?

The VAT cut was originally meant to offset the major gas levy. Even though these plans have been shelved, the VAT cut – down from 19 to seven percent – is still happening. This should have a big effect on people’s bills.

According to the comparison portal Check24, this change would relieve a family by around €306 a year. A single person would see savings of around €87. These calculations are based on a yearly annual consumption of 20,000 kWh for a family, and 5000 kWh for a single household.

What about levies?

The gas procurement levy is off the table, but two other new surcharges will be added to bills from October 1st. These are the balancing energy surcharge or Regelenergieumlage (0.57 cents/kWh) and the gas storage surcharge or Gasspeicherumlage (0.059 cents/kWh).

For a household with an average yearly consumption of 20,000 kWh, the balancing energy levy increases the gas bill by €114 a year, while the gas storage levy adds another €12.

For a single household, the new surcharges will increase the annual gas bill in total by about €31.45.

However, the bottom line is that the various changes on October 1st will result in an average reduction of €180 for a family in Germany while a single person will have save on average €55.55.

Despite these changes, there is no escaping the general trend for rising gas prices compared to a year ago.

And the gas price for consumers reached a new record value of 21.9 cents per kilowatt hour in September.

That means a sample household with a consumption of 20,000 kWh pays on average €4,371 a year for gas usage. In September 2021 the same quantity of gas cost €1,316, according to Check24, meaning that the average gas bill has more than tripled within a year.

This will particularly affect people coming to the end of their contract or starting a new one where they will face the steep prices. 

Gas price cap coming

In view of the rapidly rising gas costs, relief for consumers provided by the reduction in VAT is probably only a drop in the ocean, especially as it will be counteracted to some extent by the two new levies effective from October 1st.

The gas price cap, which the government has agreed on in principle, is therefore the only measure likely to bring tangible relief for households and also companies.

Details of how this will be implemented are not yet available, although proposals are to be presented soon. Much will depend on how high the state-subsidised “base consumption” of gas for households is set.

READ ALSO: Germany to spend €200 billion to cap soaring energy costs

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