Sanction-free – HartzPlus Study. Final report

About the study

The HartzPlus study, which involved the founding of the FRIBIS team, Sanction-free, started in January 2019 and ended in spring 2022. During the project period of just over three years, 254 recipients of Hartz IV benefits – “Hartz IV” being the name of the current German unemployment system – received a compensatory amount when their Hartz IV benefits were reduced in the event of sanctioning. Sanctions-free paid them unconditionally the amount by which their Hartz IV benefits were reduced as a form of punishment. As a result, sanctions no longer posed a financial threat to them. These individuals formed the intervention group. Another 331 individuals, who did not receive compensation, served as the control group.

The results

The long-term study came to the unanticipated conclusion that financial compensation for sanctions did not lead to a significant difference in psychosocial well-being and the socioeconomic situation in the intervention group compared to that of the control group. Although the sanction-related financial losses were compensated by the Sanctions-Free association, the people involved still perceived the sanctions as a form of coercion, a punishment that was humiliating and debilitating. The certainty of the persons in the intervention group that they would receive financial compensation if they were sanctioned led in part to a feeling of relief, but beyond that it had no direct effect. Not one person in the intervention group acted rebelliously toward the job center or risked sanctions recklessly because of this sense of security.

“Sanctions fail to have their reputed effect. Instead, they almost always lead to a culture of mistrust. People feel intimidated and stigmatized. Sanctions do not get people into work and have no place in a modern basic welfare system.”

Helena Steinhaus

founder of Sanktionsfrei e.V., Cultural Scientist, B.A.

Why sanctions are counterproductive

The study also clearly showed that sanctions – even if they do not impose a financial burden – are counterproductive. Sanctions would have no motivating effect whatsoever, and could trigger severe psychosocial consequences, promote social isolation and create pressure that causes or intensifies mental illness. By contrast, choices, freedom and encouragement, and respectful encounters between equals at the job center would be beneficial.

How will the study help?

The study was presented to the Federal Government in order to make a case for the design of the so-called Bürgergeld” (“citizens’ money”) that was introduced on 1 January 2023. Helena Steinhaus was able to present the results of the study in numerous media reports, interviews and television talk shows, where she introduced them into the political discussion.

Link to the study (in German).

Past members

Research Team

Aseman Golshan Bahadori MSc. Research Associate

Claudia Cornelsen, Communications consultant, M.A. in art history, German studies, philosophy

Dr. Tanja Schmidt, Sociologist, founder and partner at INES

Dr. Verena Tobsch, founder and founder at INES

FRIBIS Team Coordinator

Gudrun Kaufmann
studied economics at the University of Freiburg. Her main interests are narratives in economics, care economics, commons and social policy in the ordoliberal tradition of the Freiburg School.
Lives in Freiburg, Germany


Transfer Team

Robert Müller, graphic design, communications, support at Sanktionsfrei e.V.

Helena Steinhaus, founder of Sanktionsfrei e.V., Cultural Scientist, B.A.