Subsistence level

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The subsistence level (also: emergency need ) refers to the means that are necessary to satisfy material needs in order to survive physically; these are mainly food , clothing , housing and emergency medical care.

Like the definition of poverty , the definition of the subsistence level is always culture-specific and relative.

The socio-cultural subsistence level guarantees a right to participate in social, cultural and political life in addition to the physical subsistence level.

Situation in the German-speaking countries


Socio-cultural subsistence level

The social courts have coined the term socio-cultural subsistence level. It encompasses the material needs that are essential in order to be able to participate in social life if the economy is economical. In addition, unemployment benefit II , basic security in old age and reduced earning capacity and assistance with livelihood are provided. The standard requirements relevant for the amount of these benefits are determined on the basis of statistical surveys. The decisive factor is the expenditure of the poorest fifth of single-person households, sorted according to their net income, adjusted for social assistance recipients . It does not take into account the prices of a politically set shopping basket, but rather the actual expenditure determined by surveys. Significant deductions are sometimes made to the statistically determined values ​​in order to create a clear gap between employed persons and recipients of the basic security benefit (the so-called wage gap requirement ). Critics complain that, as a result of objectively unjustified discounts, the (actually required) socio-cultural subsistence level is significantly undercut. Furthermore, § 1a provides for cuts in the living benefits for those entitled to benefits under the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act .

Obligatory subsistence level

The subsistence level free of attachment results from § 850c ZPO . From July 1, 2019, it will be € 1,178.59 net per month for a single person (€ 1,133.80 until July 2019). The allowances increase if the debtor has to fulfill maintenance obligations. The exemption limits are regularly adjusted in a 2-year cycle proportionally to changes in the subsistence level under tax law (see below, Section 32a (1) No. 1 EStG ).

In the European Social Charter , the appropriate (minimum) is paid taxed at 68% of the national average hourly wage, which in Germany, according to calculations of the Federal Statistical Office is from 2013 at 15.89 € gross and thus pro at a reasonable fee of € 10.80 gross Hour leads.

Subsistence level under tax law

Presentation of the actual subsistence minimums to be exempt from tax in 2008 and the corresponding income tax exemptions (in euros)
See page 5, overview 3 (PDF; 202 kB)
Married couples children
Standard rate (per year) 4140 7464 2676
Accommodation costs
(per year)
2364 4020 804
Heating costs (per year) 636 792 168
subsistence level
7140 12,276 3648
7664 *) 15,328 3648 *)
*) Basic allowance for single persons: cf. Household Supplementary Act 2004 of 29 December 2003 ( Federal Law Gazette I p. 3076 ); Exemption for the neuter subsistence level of a child: cf. Second law on family support of August 16, 2001 ( Federal Law Gazette I p. 2074 ).

According to the case law of the Federal Constitutional Court, the income tax subsistence minimum must not be lower than the so-called “material subsistence minimum” defined under social welfare law, which is to be fully exempt from income tax for all taxpayers ( basic allowance ). The actual subsistence level as part of the tax exemption of the subsistence level essentially comprises the expenses for food, clothing, hygiene, household effects, housing and heating as well as the corresponding benefits of social welfare law. In February 2008, the Federal Constitutional Court also determined that the taxpayer's expenses for health and nursing care, in particular corresponding insurance contributions, can also be part of the subsistence level, which is to be spared under income tax law.

For the reporting year 2008, for example, the federal government forecast in its “Sixth Subsistence Minimum Report ” that a single person would have a minimum social assistance requirement of 7140 euros (see adjacent table), 12,276 euros for married couples and 3,648 euros for a child. The income tax subsistence level, on the other hand, was € 7,664 for single people and € 15,328 for married couples. The child tax allowance was 3648 euros - plus the tax allowance for childcare and education needs of 2160 euros, the tax exemptions per child amounted to 5,808 euros.

The tax exemption of the subsistence level of the taxpayer and his dependent family is a constitutional requirement within the framework of the subjective net principle . In addition to the basic allowance, there are also tax deductions that are intended to ensure that the subsistence level is tax-free.

Subsistence level report of the federal government

The report on the subsistence level of adults and children (abbreviated to subsistence level report ) has been submitted by the German government since 1995, initially every three years and now every two years. He makes statements about the current level of the tax-exempt subsistence level. Child benefit is also based on this .


A different definition of the subsistence level than in Germany results from the Subsistence Minimum Ordinance of the Republic of Austria, in which the non-attachable income is determined. The right to child maintenance is an exception: Claims against parents who are responsible for cash maintenance are also permitted if their subsistence level is undercut by 25%. (Example: Subsistence Minimum Ordinance 2002 - ExMinV 2002, Republic of Austria). After that, the subsistence level depends on your own income.


A distinction must be made in Switzerland de lege lata between the social assistance law and the debt enforcement law subsistence level. Everyone in Switzerland is entitled to “social assistance” to cover the subsistence level, as long as they are not staying illegally in the country.

The subsistence level is often based on the rental costs of a simple, functional apartment, the health insurance premiums including the deductible and around CHF 1,000 for a one-person household or CHF 1,500 for a 2-person household. For people who have a job or are in training, a surcharge for work-related expenses is granted. The non-binding recommendations of the Swiss Conference on Social Welfare provide a starting point . The individual cantons and communes calculate the subsistence level differently.

If a person's wages have been seized in accordance with the Federal Debt Collection and Bankruptcy Act (SchKG), the debt collection guidelines apply when calculating the subsistence level. These guidelines can vary from canton to canton.

Offers of help from various non-governmental organizations

Projects from various non-governmental organizations can provide concrete help for people who are financially living on the subsistence level . For example charitable institutions such as clothing stores, the "tables" or soup kitchens , but also institutions that are basically open to everyone, such as the so-called free shop .

Early 20th century

“The subsistence needs of an ordinary farm worker or unskilled urban day laborer and his family […] to maintain full productivity consists, so one can say, of a good apartment with several rooms, warm clothes with a little change in undergarments, fresh water, plenty Grain food, a moderate amount of milk, meat, a little tea etc. and some education and relaxation; after all, it is necessary that his wife's work leave enough time to enable her to properly fulfill her duties as mother and wife. If in any region unskilled workers are deprived of any of these things, their productivity will suffer in the same way as that of a horse that is not carefully cared for, or a steam engine that is inadequately fed. Every consumption up to this limit is absolutely productive consumption. "

- Alfred Marshall : The subsistence level from an economic point of view: Handbuch der Volkswirtschaftslehre , Stuttgart Berlin 1905, p. 115.

Web links

Wiktionary: subsistence level  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. See also - German-speaking case law (DFR): BVerfGE 100, 271 - wage gap clause (April 27, 1999)
  2. Matthias Frommann: Why not 627 euros? - To measure the standard rate of assistance for subsistence according to SGB XII for the year 2005 ( Memento from June 12, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  3. Rudolf Martens: "New rule rate calculation 2006" (PDF file; 555 kB); ( Memento of January 30, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) The Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband, May 19, 2006
  4. Specifically on the costs of household energy - Helga Spindler: Necessary energy costs have to be covered - the poor need enough energy, Neue Rheinische Zeitung, online flyer No. 139 of March 26, 2008
  5. ↑ Announcement of the attachment exemption limit 2019
  6. ↑ Announcement of the seizure exemption limit 2017
  7. a b Sixth subsistence level report : BT-Drucksache 16/3265; Information from the Federal Government: Report on the subsistence level of adults and children for 2008 (PDF file, approx. 198 KB), November 2, 2006
  8. German-speaking case law (DFR): BVerfGE 82, 60, 85 = No. 104 ff and BVerfGE 82, 60, 94 = recital 128 ff. In BVerfGE 82, 60 - Tax-free subsistence level
  9. German-speaking case law (DFR): BVerfGE 99, 246 - Child existence minimum = Federal Constitutional Court, decision of the Second Senate of November 10, 1998: BVerfG, 2 BvL 42/93 of November 10, 1998
  10. Reiner Sans: The Federal Constitutional Court as a guarantor of family policy ( memento of October 20, 2007 in the Internet Archive ), in: The Online Family Handbook, June 18, 2004
  11. Marie-Luise Hauch-Fleck: Calculate until it fits / The Federal Government manipulates the subsistence level - to the detriment of all taxpayers, DIE ZEIT (No. 01/2007), December 28, 2006
  12. BVerfG, 2 BvL 1/06 of February 13, 2008, paragraph no. (1 - 147)
  13. Federal Constitutional Court, decision of the Second Senate of February 13, 2008 with the file number 2 BvL 1/06, paragraphs 1-147, here guiding principle and paragraph 107 . Federal Constitutional Court. February 13, 2008. Retrieved February 18, 2020.
  14. German-speaking case law (DFR): BVerfGE 99, 273 - Child Existence Minimum III
  15. cf. 91 ff. (= BVerfGE 99,216 <241>) in: German-speaking case law (DFR): BVerfGE 99, 216 - Family Burden Adjustment II = Federal Constitutional Court, decision of the Second Senate of November 10, 1998: BVerfG, 2 BvR 1057/91 of November 10 1998
  16. Quoted from (source): page 48 (or page 2 of 11 of the PDF file), footnote 3 in: Ten years of subsistence level report - a balance sheet , monthly report of the BMF , October 2005 (PDF file, approx. 184 kB)