For a few weeks Sonja Tusnik has had to deal with questions that she had never heard before. Again and again they ask citizens in their consultation hours to accept the higher deductions for the energy bill. Tusnik has been a debtor and social counselor in Verden, Lower Saxony, for 15 years.

Her employer, the church Caritas Association in the region, runs a counseling center there. “It’s always happened that the money didn’t last until the end of the month,” says the lawyer. “But not that people suddenly can no longer pay their additional costs.”

First the Corona crisis, now the consequences of the Ukraine war and high inflation: Germans are looking to the future with increasing concern. More than every third consumer (38 percent) will find it increasingly difficult to make a living from their own income.

This was the result of a representative survey commissioned by the credit agency Schufa, which is available to WELT AM SONNTAG. Compared to January alone, this is an increase of ten percentage points. Only a narrow majority of 57 percent stated that they had enough financial leeway if prices continued to rise.

The reason: the additional expenses for gas, oil and food. According to the survey, more than two-thirds (71 percent) of Germans are concerned that inflation will endanger prosperity in this country. In addition to a general price increase (79 percent), people in this country fear further price increases for energy (82 percent), but also higher duties and taxes (71 percent).

“The rising prices have significant consequences for the financial situation of the majority of people in Germany,” says Schufa board member Ole Schröder. “Consequently, consumer sentiment has deteriorated again since the beginning of the year.” And so many consumers are already adjusting their behavior: almost nine out of ten respondents are trying to save energy. According to their own statements, almost half even largely do without the car.

Debt counselor Tusnik cannot, of course, take on her clients’ electricity and gas bills, as she emphasizes. “We can’t replace the state.” The problems are still there, especially for people with low incomes.

The standard monthly rate for household energy for Hartz IV recipients is 38 euros. “That will no longer be enough,” says the lawyer. “And the current state aid will not solve the problem, only postpone it.” In any case, politicians have neglected certain groups, Tusnik complains. About the students and pensioners.

Since the beginning of the year, the number of aid services has doubled compared to the previous year. This means small financial support from their Caritas, such as vouchers for groceries or the table. Last year, the household of an over-indebted person who sought help from a debt counseling center had a net income of around 1,400 euros a month.

This is shown by current figures from the Federal Statistical Office. Even then, the costs for the apartment as well as the energy and ancillary costs accounted for around 38 percent of the household income – i.e. around 520 euros.

But inflation is no longer just a problem for those on lower incomes. Even higher earners worry about their money, as the Schufa survey shows. More than every second interviewee with a net household income of over 4,000 euros now expresses fear of the future.

This is an increase of 15 percentage points compared to January. Their main concern is that inflation will eat away at their wealth. In households with an income of less than 2000 euros, the proportion of worried consumers was higher at 72 percent, but had already been 64 percent at the beginning of the year.

In addition, the consequences of the Ukraine war are slowing down a dominant trend: consumer attitudes towards sustainability. For almost three out of four respondents (72 percent), a secure power supply is currently more important than the energy transition. Almost half even say they don’t care where the energy for their warm apartment comes from.

Overall, sustainability has lost importance for 48 percent due to the current crisis situation. Most of the time, the will is there: only 30 percent of those surveyed say that they are not at all interested in the topic of sustainability.

In the consultation hours of debt counselor Tusnik, only every second person receives social assistance benefits, she estimates. The other half often consisted of single mothers with jobs who came to her counseling. Or families in which only the father works, but the earnings barely cover the livelihood.

“I think that in the future significantly more people will need help whose money is still sufficient.” How many that will be, from her point of view, can only be said in the coming year. After all, there are still many unknowns. There would be an impending gas supply stop by Russia. Or the question of how much food prices are rising.

The Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection also sees it this way: “It is to be feared that the risk of over-indebtedness will increase, especially for low-income households,” said a spokeswoman when asked. In addition to the relief that has already been decided for citizens, it is therefore important to strengthen debtor and insolvency advice.

According to the ministry, one wants to spend one million euros a year on this. “However, these budget funds cannot be used at the moment,” it says. The Bundestag is still deliberating on the supplementary budget. However, there is already an exchange with other departments and the interest groups of the debt counseling service in order to prepare the funding projects.

By the time the money flows, it could be too late for debt counselor Sonja Tusnik. Even now, the Caritas advice center in Verden can hardly build up any more capacity. But Tusnik doesn’t want to slam the door in people’s faces either. And so she has only one choice: “We’re all shaking a bit and we hope it doesn’t get that bad.”

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