German food banks struggle to cope with rising demand

The war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living has led to food banks in Germany almost reaching their limit. 

An employee brings bags to a customer at a Tafel Frankfurt distribution point.
An employee brings bags to a customer at a Tafel Frankfurt distribution point. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

The number of people going to food banks in Germany is on the rise.

There are over 960 food banks across Germany which rescue surplus food, organise donations from supermarkets and distribute these to people in need.

Demand for the service, which provides free groceries for those in need, began rising last December, but has sharply increased since February this year as the cost-of-living crisis began to hit. 

Since March, demand has risen even further as inflation reached a forty-year high of 7.3 percent and more and more families who have fled the war in Ukraine are also turning to food banks for help.

READ ALSO: German inflation hits post-reunification high at 7.3 percent

The food banks in big cities, in particular, are seeing more demand for their services, according to the Federal Association of Food Banks. In Berlin, for example, they report lots of new customers from Ukraine. 

But the rise in demand is happening all over the country. Wolfram Schreiner, the managing director of the food bank in Kusel in Rhineland-Palatinate – a town with less than 5,000 inhabitants – recently told Taggeschau that more 100 new customers have used their foodbank in the last eight weeks.

Increasing pressure on food banks

The nationwide increase in demand, combined with rising fuel and grocery costs, as well as food shortages, is beginning to impact the food banks themselves, with many reporting that they are stretched to their limit. 

A long-term volunteer at Frankfurt’s biggest food bank told die Zeit that donations from supermarkets have recently fallen by between 60 and 70 percent, as the supermarkets are having to plan more carefully and are having fewer leftovers. 

READ ALSO: The products getting more expensive and harder to find in Germany

As Jochen Brühl, Chairman of the Federal Association of Food Banks, explained: “The sharp rise in fuel and energy prices is causing high additional costs that food banks cannot cope with without additional donations.” 

The Covid pandemic is also causing food banks to struggle, says Brühl: “We have 60,000 volunteers doing incredible work. But many have put their activities on hold because of Covid – simply out of fear of infection.” 

In order to ease the situation, the Federal Association of Food Banks is calling on the German government to provide a €100 monthly subsidy for those claiming housing benefits and receiving the basic old-age pension.

READ ALSO: German Bundesrat votes on heating subsidy for low-income households

They are also appealing for financial donations as well as food, as increased energy and fuel costs have already forced some food banks to suspend or limit their services.

The long term goal, however, must be to reduce the demand for food banks, said Jochen Brühl: “Feeding people is the task of the state. We from the food banks are only a support – we are not a lifetime assistance. Our concern is to support people in need in the short term”.


Food bank = (die) Tafel

demand = (die) Nachfrage

donation = (die) Spende

steigen = to increase

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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What you need to know about money and tax changes in Germany in 2024

The cost of living in Germany has been rising, and salaries are not keeping up, meaning many people are watching how they spend more closely. So how will changes to things like tax, health insurance contributions, and benefits affect you next year?

What you need to know about money and tax changes in Germany in 2024

Income tax and child allowance changes

The Inflation Compensation Act is bringing about a number of changes to what people will be left with in their wallets after tax.

Germany’s basic tax allowance is set to be increased from €10,908 to €11,604 on January 1st, 2024. For married couples, the allowance rises to €23,208. This means that any income below this limit is not subject to tax.

In January 2023, child benefits (Kindergeld) in Germany was expanded to €250 per month per child. It is expected to remain this way in 2024. 

The child tax exemption (Kinderfreibetrag), which guarantees that parents’ income remains tax free up to a certain amount, is set to be increased from €6,024 to €6,384 in 2024.

There are also adjustments to the solidarity surcharge. This already disappeared completely for around 90 percent of taxpayers in 2021. For the remaining payers, the exemption limit will increase by a further €587 from January 2024.

For a more detailed analysis of how much you’ll take home after salary deductions, fill out the Stiftung-Warentest calculator.

READ ALSO: What benefits are you entitled to in Germany if you have children?

Statutory minimum wage goes up

The minimum wage is currently €12 per hour, but it is set to rise in two stages: on January 1st 2024, it will go up to €12.41 gross per hour and one year later to €12.82. In some sectors, there are binding minimum wages that are already higher than the general statutory minimum wage.

A person cleans a window

Minimum wage, which is especially needed in low-paid sectors such as cleaning, is going up in Germany. Image by Simon Kadula from Pixabay

Mini-job limit increases from January

What do mini-jobbers need to bear in mind with regard to the monthly earnings limit? “If the general minimum wage is increased, the mini-job limit will also rise,” says the Minijob Centre on its website with a view to the coming year.

It will increase from €520 to €538 per month from January 2024, according to the advice centre. “The annual earnings limit will increase accordingly to €6,456,” they said. 

Germany introduced mini-jobs as a way for employers to get part-time workers more easily, and for those same workers to enjoy the flexible working arrangements part-time work can sometimes offer, with certain exemptions from tax.

READ ALSO: The rules in Germany around mini and midi jobs

Bürgergeld goes up by 12 percent

The standard rates for long-term unemployment income and social assistance will increase from January 2024. Single adults will receive €563 per month – €61 more than before. Adults living with a partner will receive €506 instead of the previous €451.

Those living with young dependents will also get more, depending on the age of their children. For parents or guardians of young people aged 15 to under 18 will receive €471 in the future (previously €420). For children from the age of seven to the age of 14, the rate will rise from €348 to €390. For the youngest children, it will rise from €318 to €357.

School supply benefits

The amounts provided to pupils for personal school supplies will increase by around 12 percent – from €116 to €130 in the first half of the school year and from €58 to €65 the second half of the school year.

The support for personal school supplies is part of the so-called education package for children, adolescents and young adults who receive Bürgergeld or social welfare or whose parents receive child supplement (Kinderzuschlag) or housing benefit (Wohngeld).

Elterngeld (parental allowance) changes 

At the moment, couples in Germany can receive parental allowance up to an annual taxable income of €300,000. But this limit was set to fall to €150,000 for couples, meaning those earning a combined income over that limit would not receive parental allowance.

However, after much criticism, the coalition government has agreed to lower it in two stages, first to €200,000 and then to €175,000. The limit for single parents – currently at €250,000 – will be lowered to €150,000.

Nothing will change for parents whose children are born by March 31st 2024. From April 1st, 2024, however, the new €200,000 limit will apply for couples and the €150,000 limit for single parents. The new limit of €175,000 will apply to couples whose baby is born from April 1st, 2025. 

Unlike Mutterschutz (maternity leave), which is solely for mothers before and after the birth of their child, Elterngeld offered an allowance of paid time off that both parents could split between them however they liked. Up to €1,800 a month is available to replace lost earnings.

READ ALSO: ‘A horrible idea’: How cuts to Elterngeld will affect families

A father and newborn baby

A father and newborn baby. Cuts to Elterngeld could impact fathers’ decisions to take time off work to care for young children. Photo: Pixabay

VAT goes up in cafes and restaurants 

For those enjoying meals at cafes and restaurants, there is set to be a big change in 2024. 

That’s because the German government has decided to raise the VAT back up to 19 percent from seven percent. 

The tax had been lowered as a measure against increasing inflation due to the energy crisis.

The cost of eating out has already gone up significantly – so this will be another hit on people’s wallets, and will also affect restaurant owners. 

READ ALSO: How Germany’s plans to hike VAT in restaurants and cafes will affect you

Energy price brakes end

Germany’s electricity and gas price caps are due to expire at the end of 2023.

The Bundestag had originally voted to extend the programme until the end of March 2024. 

But the government decided to end them earlier than planned after a top court ruling upended spending plans. 

The announcement means consumers could see their energy bills go up from the current limit of €0.40 per KwH for electricity and €0.12 per KwH for gas.  

However, it will depend on households’ individual tariffs and consumption.

Motor vehicle insurance premiums to increase

Motor vehicle insurance premiums will rise by at least 10 percent in 2024, according to Germany’s central Consumer Advice Centre (Verbraucherzentrale). 

The main reason for this is that the costs of repairs have risen due to high inflation. Comparing prices from different providers is worthwhile because of the tough competition. If prices go up, consumers have a special right of termination four weeks after receiving the notification.

Health insurance additional contributions may go up

From the start of 2024, additional contributions for statutory health insurance will be allowed to rise by 0.1 percent in Germany.

The move will bring these contributions up to their highest rate ever of 1.7 percent.

Currently, mandatory health insurance contributions are set at 14.6 percent and additional contributions (which are set by the health insurer) can be up to 1.6 percent. 

Not every insurer chooses to charge the maximum additional contribution set by the state. For example, Techniker Krankenkasse currently charges 1.2 percent, while Barmer charges 1.5 percent. 

Health insurance cards Germany

The insurance cards of the health insurance companies DAK, AOK, Barmer and Techniker-Krankenkasse TK lie with euro notes under a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

This means that not everyone with statutory health insurance will see an increase in costs next year, but some insurers are likely to opt for the additional income.

For those in employment, it could mean an extra 0.05 percent of their wages would go to their health insurance – amounting to 5 cents per €100 earned – with the other 0.05 percent covered by their employers.

READ ALSO: How German health insurance costs are set to rise from 2024

Income thresholds for health insurance and pensions go up

The majority of employees in Germany automatically pay statutory health insurance and pension contributions out of their salary – but there are exceptions for higher earners.

In 2024, the salary at which employees can opt out of statutory health insurance will go up to €69,300 per year from the current €66,600. That equates to a monthly salary of €5,775 before tax.

The so-called ‘Beitragsbemessungsgrenze’ – which caps how much of your income used to calculate your health insurance – will also increase to €62,100 in 2024 from €59,850 in 2023. So if you earn €65,000 per year, for example, your statutory insurance will only be calculated as a percentage of €62,100, rather than your full salary.

A similar system is used to calculate pension contributions: these are calculated as a percentage of your income, but only up to a certain amount.

In 2024, that amount will be €7,450 per month in the former East German states and €7,550 in western states.