Even in high-income countries, many pensioners live in poverty. The German magazine Der Spiegel has published a revealing interview with Renate Apel, a 74-year old pensioner who resides in Hamburg. The interview took place at the Hamburger Tafel (“Hamburg Table”), a food bank that Ms Apel visits each Tuesday.
Spiegel: Ms. Apel, …. How long did you work to earn your pension?
Apel: Forty years, at a grill stand in Bergedorf (the largest of Hamburg’s seven boroughs) and in the British American Tobacco factory. I wasn’t well-off, but it was enough to live on. Today, it’s different. I get a €468 monthly pension payment plus €169 in basic social security, which makes €637 [US$828] all together.
[Basic social security is a means-tested supplement, the Basic Protection Benefit for Aged Persons and Persons with Reduced Earning Capacity (Grundsicherung im Alter und bei Erwerbsminderung), introduced in 2003.]
Spiegel: What do you do without?
Apel: I can’t afford new clothes. What I’m wearing now I bought in a thrift store where everything costs between 50 cents and €1. But I can’t deal with used shoes; they have to be new. I paid €10 for my sandals in the store. My television stopped working a few weeks ago. I set aside €30 at the start of each month, but, if anything, I have €15 left over by the end.
Spiegel: Where do you try to cut costs?
Apel: I try to cook only once a week to keep energy costs down. In the supermarket, they have these big chicken stews that only cost about €3, and the portion lasts me about four days. I don’t eat at all most evenings, and I haven’t been to the doctor in years. The €10 fee, the medicine — it’s all too expensive.
Spiegel: Do you have any family?
Apel: I have four kids. Two of my sons live in Hamburg, and they don’t have much themselves. One son lives in Stuttgart, and my daughter lives north of Hanover. I can’t visit her. Talking on the phone works, but even then I have to keep my eye on the bill. Being poor also makes you lonely.
Spiegel: What did you get today from the food bank?
Apel: Oh, today was a good day. I pulled number 15. That means I was near the front, and there was still a lot left — vegetables, fruit, rolls. I also got a yogurt, a canned fish filet and a bouquet of flowers.
“Old-Age Poverty in Germany“, Der Spiegel, 13 September 2012.
For the full article, including a photo of Ms Apel, click on the link above.
This article appeared in German in Der Spiegel, issue 37/2012 (10 September 2012).
HT Mark Thoma