Sanctions-Free - another perspective on our welfare system

Sanktionsfrei” (Sanctions-Free) envisions a society based on solidarity and trust for everybody. To this end we are trying to reform the current German unemployment system “Hartz 4”. A system where punitive sanctions and the heavy stigmatisation of benefit recipients are the norm, does not fit the progressive image of Germany’s social security system. Benefit cuts, and the constant threat thereof, are used as a tool to enforce compliance – assuming that greater financial vulnerability will “motivate” people’s economic activity in a meaningful way. We want this truly ancient belief system to stay where it belongs – in the past! Our long-term vision is the introduction of a universal basic income for all. By reforming our benefits provision system first, we believe to be paving the way to a more progressive and equal society.

Together with the Institute for Social and Economical Studies INES in Berlin we are now conducting an independent scientific experiment, called HartzPlus, to see how our interventions impact the participants over the next three years. This marks Germany’s first-ever scientific experiment aimed at testing a more unconditional approach to social welfare. We also hope to gain important insights for the development of a potential UBI scheme in the future.

What is HartzPlus?
Recipients of Hartz 4 get a guarantee from us that we will pay them the amount of money that would be cancelled in the event of a sanction. So if a sanction is imposed and the payment of the amount of Hartz 4 is reduced, we pay out the amount by which the Hartz 4 payment was reduced to the sanctioned person.

With this we are making unemployment benefits effectively sanction-free. Approaching unconditionality based on an existing state payment. We test if and how a less punitive approach to welfare impacts 250 people over the next three years. Participants of this intervention group fill out regular questionnaires that will inform us on a multitude of different aspects of their lives, such as health and well-being, personal attitudes and individual socio-economic circumstances. In addition, we are observing a control group, also with 250 participants, who receive Hartz 4, but who are still exposed to the common practice of sanctioning. Participants of the intervention group will receive cash transfers for up to € 424 per month whenever they are sanctioned. This is the maximum rate of Hartz 4 cash payment to a person. (Rent and health insurance contributions are not included.) Compensation depends on the amount of the specific sanction. We call this compensation HartzPlus, derived from “Hartz 4”, which is the German familiar term for unemployment benefits.

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.