socialnet - Das Netz für die Sozialwirtschaft

Country portrait Germany

Prof. Dr. Monika Burmester, Prof. Dr. Norbert Wohlfahrt

Publication date 2018-10-12

English version, translated from German version by Claudia Mehlmann


  1. 1 Data
  2. 2 Welfare state regime and welfare system of the FRG in transition
  3. 3 The system of social services and social work
  4. 4 Organization of social services and social work
  5. 5 Institutions and organizational forms of social work
  6. 6 Recent developments in social services and social work
    1. 6.1 Municipalisation and decentralisation
    2. 6.2 Personnel development and skills shortage
    3. 6.3 Digitisation
  7. 7 Literature

1 Data

Table 1: Basic data on the population, expenses and debts
Source: Statistisches Bundesamt (Federal Statistical Office)
Population (30.09.) 2017 82,7 Mill.
Private households 2016 41,0 Mill.
Private consumption expenditure 2016 2.480 €
Educational expenditure (% share of GDP) 2016 6,4 %
Health expenditure 2016 356,5 Mrd. €
Public debts (31.12.) 2017 1.965,5 Mrd. €
Table 2: Social issues
Source: Statistisches Bundesamt (Federal Statistical Office), partly updates from​GesellschaftStaat/​Soziales/​Soziales.html; Access: 22.06.2018
Receivers of social welfare
Basic social benefits (31.12.) 2017 1.058.827
Help for care 2016 439.617
Households with housing benefits 2016 631.481
Asylum seekers benefits 2016 728.239
Child and Youth welfare
Expenses 2016 45,1 Mrd. €
Social reporting
Guaranteed minimum rate 2015 9,7 %
Social expenditure ratio
Figure 1: Social expenditure ratio
Source: BMAS, Sozialbericht (Social report) 2017, Chart 1.1, own diagram
Social expenditure ratio of the local authorities
Figure 2: Social expenditure ratio of the local authorities
Source: Deutscher Städtetag (German association of cities and towns), Gemeindefinanzbericht (Municipal finance report) 2009, 2012, 2015, 2017, own diagram
Expenditures child and youth welfare
Figure 3: Expenditures child and youth welfare
Source: Statistisches Bundesamt (Federal Statistical Office): Expenditures of child and youth welfare, own diagram

2 Welfare state regime and welfare system of the FRG in transition

According to the categorization of Esping-Andersen (1990), Germany is classified as a conservative welfare state. Esping-Andersen's typology distinguishes three basic types of welfare state: (1) the social democratic, (2) the conservative or corporatist, and (3) the liberal regime. The social democratic type of the welfare state was represented at the time of the investigation by the Scandinavian countries, the corporatist-conservative type among others through Germany and France, the liberal type in particular through the Anglo-American welfare state. The model of the welfare regime was meant to express that Western welfare states have undergone various forms and differ to the extent and conditions under which conditions they grant which achievements and support to whom. 

Since its establishment in the 1880s, the core of the German welfare state model has been social security with compensatory coverage of typical risks resulting from wage labour (unemployment, illness, old age). In addition to benefits from social security, there are tax-financed social benefits for those who, due to lack of gainful employment, are not entitled to social security benefits (including assistance for livelihood, assistance in special circumstances) to cover existential life risks. The social security model was and is closely linked to the assumption that gainful employment takes place continuously and stably as full-time work with a wage level sufficient to secure the (family) livelihood. This welfare state arrangement was supplemented by an educational and family policy referring to the reproduction of the family on the (female) housewife work thereby basing and strengthening the division of labour between (male) gainful employment and (female) reproductive work.

The German welfare system is based on two main pillars: First, the welfare state provides financial transfers. This covers all cash benefits that have either been acquired through social security entitlements (such as unemployment benefits, sickness benefits, pensions) or as basic needs-based benefits (such as basic old-age and reduced earning capacity, basic benefits for jobseekers). The second type of service is social services organized in the form of counseling, care, accompaniment, care or therapy and provided by social services. The entire social security system is financed through taxes and social security contributions. Both are compulsory contributions which the (usually employed) citizens cannot escape.

Welfare states – and this in principle applies to all regimes – organize the process of social reproduction through the provision of transfer payments and social services. The services are intended to ensure that the disruption of capital utilization (economic crises) inherent to market economy does not lastingly impair the ability to work and that employees are secured as citizens even in times when they are no longer able to work.

Since the 1970s, the welfare state model of the FRG has come under pressure for various reasons. One reason was the comparatively low integration of women into the labour market. The financing of central welfare state programmes (social insurance) primarily through male employment led to increasing poverty problems, especially among single parents, and to a growing gap between beneficiaries and social insurance contributors. At the same time, municipalities were heavily burdened with social assistance (assistance to livelihoods), in particular for people who had no benefit entitlements from previous (sufficiently long) employment and unemployment benefits. In order to relieve the municipalities in the area of care assistance, the long-term care insurance scheme was introduced in 1995, which since then intercepts part of the caregiver's risk through additional social insurance. With the financing of the German unity by the social insurances (unemployment and pension insurance) further reform pressure developed. After over a third of all jobs in the former GDR had fallen victim to rationalization, in the 2000s the welfare state model was fundamentally reformed by the Schröder government.

At the center of the reforms was the labour market, the flexibility of which was initiated with the so-called Hartz reforms and intensified in several stages (Dahme/​Wohlfahrt 2010). With the first two Hartz laws so-called Ich-AG’s, personal service agencies to expand temporary work and expanded mini-jobs were introduced. The prerequisites for the comparison of the data between the employment offices and social welfare offices were created. The two laws also included cuts for unemployed people (shortening the duration of benefits for the elderly, changes in the regulations of reasonableness). Since the introduction of Hartz 3 and Hartz 4 the course of a shift in emphasis from a socio-political welfare to a workfare strategy was consistently continued: Hartz 3 included the restructuring of the Federal Labor Office to the "Federal Employment Agency" and a simplification of employment promotion law in the social code III. With the fourth Hartz law, the new social code II was created, the basic security for jobseekers. SGB II was introduced for all employable people seeking help between the ages of 15 and 65, most of whom had previously received either unemployment or social benefits (assistance to livelihood) and their household members (more specifically: members in a community of dependence). In contrast to unemployment assistance, basic benefits are no longer based on previous income. Since then, prolonged unemployment has meant that transfer incomes are being returned to basic security levels very rapidly.

That was the farewell to the hitherto valid principle of living security. The purpose of the labour market reforms was better placement in the so-called first labour market (unsubsidised labour market). Beneficiaries must now participate more actively in the integration efforts. This means: In the absence of participation, sanctions in the form of benefit cuts follow concerning the social security benefit (Unemployment Benefit 1) and the welfare benefit (Unemployment Benefit 2), which is actually a basic social benefit. The Hartz reforms promoted the massive expansion of the low-paid sector in Germany. This, in turn, put pressure on the social insurance systems, which are linked to the standardized employment model (full-time work with corresponding wage levels).

Another financial and economic burden appeared after the outset of the financial crisis in 2008. In 2009, growth slumped, with real gross national product falling by 5.6 %. Measures such as the expansion of short-time working allowances, tax cuts, benefits for better integration of women into paid work, etc. (see Starke 2015) were introduced and it was attempted to strengthen the strongly export-dependent economy (relief of non-wage labour costs) and combine high productivity with a flexible labour market regime.

In economic terms, the financial crisis was essentially seen as a fiscal crisis, which led to the introduction of a so-called debt brake into the Basic Law in 2009, which calls for a balanced budget from 2016 and obligates the regional budgets to avoid a structural deficit from 2020 on (after a transitional period of 2016 - 2020 at 0.35 % of gross national product).

At the same time, the German welfare state model is starting to shift towards socially-investing objectives (guaranteeing a kindergarten place) and flanking the integration of women into paid employment by the welfare state. Labour market flexibilization, combined with an expanding low-wage sector, has led to a rising employment rate in the course of the upturn. The "incentives" to take up gainful employment have increased, with low incomes necessitating the participation of women to ensure the household income. Long-term unemployed people have been barely able to benefit from these job successes, which keeps reviving the discussion about new labour market integration instruments for the long-term unemployed people.

3 The system of social services and social work

The socio-political discourse on the role of social services and social services in social policy began in the 1960s (see Schäfer 1969) when it was registered for the first time, due to changes in society (changes in mortality, increase in mobility, increase in divorce rates, increase of dependency, change in household size and increase in households with two and one-person households), new social problems appeared on the horizon. The reasons for the expansion of the welfare state in the 1960s through the rebalancing of the service strategy and the expansion of the state's depth of service are not only socio-structural changes, but also changing consumer habits, the increased demands of citizens and changing lifestyles.

Considering the growth forecasts of international organizations which extrapolated the growth rates of the post-war decades, the financing of this welfare state expansion did not seem to pose any problem (see Hobsbawn 1998, p. 326). At that time, it was assumed that the development of social services was above all an employment-enhancing measure. The expansion of social services should help ordinary families and (working) single parents to reconcile work and family life. That would provide for rising consumption as well as higher tax revenues. As a result, social spending would virtually finance itself. The welfare state promoted the development of a social policy service strategy as a supplement to the classical income strategy (Badura/​Gross 1976, p. 11), relying on the labour market and employment effects of social policy. At the end of the 1960s it was still disputed which target groups should profit from the expanding social services. Observers of the developments at that time assumed that the publicly funded social services sponsored by the municipalities and charities should work on (repair, mitigate or prevent) "pathological conditions" and that therefore there would be no or no growing demand for them in the "regular situations" (Schäfer 1969).

In the early 1980s the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales, BMAS) defined social services in this respect as all "acts, activities and actions of private institutions or individuals and/or state institutions (…) that aim at the physical and psychological ability to live and to recover as well as the social ability of individuals and/or groups to restore or to improve" (BMAS 1981, quoted after Bauer 2001, P. 13). Since physical and psychological impairments increasingly became issues of the "normal case", ordinary people also turned into addressees of the benefits provided by social services. Not only the function of the social services changed, but the political and public debate about their objectives and target groups all the more, because so-called average citizens needed support in educational, family and household affairs. As a result, social services were treated as benefits rather than support in pathological cases or conditions.

In the Federal Republic of Germany the form of monetary social benefits was oriented towards safeguarding the standard of living until the 1990s and led to a certain standardization of risks, life courses and benefit systems. Social services, on the other hand, remained less standardized (with a few exceptions) and were weakly integrated institutionally. This was changed by the codification of important social services in the social code. Particular importance is attached to SGB II (see above). The Social Code integrates the transfer and social services systems. This integration has redefined the social service strategy. Professional standards such as the voluntary nature of access to social counseling or the open-mindedness of advice have in some cases become obsolete in the context of the since then sanction-proven social counseling.

In the Federal Republic, the provision of social services is integrated into public-law forms of organization. It takes place either on the basis of legal task definitions, and/or it is financed from public households. It is primarily the welfare services, which are made available to the public, because there is a limited solvent demand for the "products" of social services. In many areas of social services, public-sector payers continue to be the monopolistic demander.

According to § 11 SGB I social services are, in addition to monetary and in-kind services, the "third type of benefit" of the Federal Republic of the Social Security Law. And, from a social law perspective, all personal and educational assistance, i.e. all forms of counseling support or help recipients, on-the-job referrals, establishing connections with persons or institutions/​institutions, as well as, in general, personal care. The service mandate of the social legislator has developed into a large number of social services, with (above all) the municipalities playing a special role in the provision and financing of social services.

The social legislator itself remains vague in the definition of social services and refers to personal and educational support as social services (§ 11 SGB I). Accordingly, the social benefits mentioned in SGB VIII and SGB XII, as well as the care benefits under SGB XI, domestic help according to the SGB V or rehabilitation measures for disabled and mentally ill people are included.

4 Organization of social services and social work

The German welfare state was for a long time described as a dual-structured welfare state (see Tennstedt 1992, p. 342), because "in addition to public agencies (…), numerous private institutions contribute to the developments, which are predominantly financed by public funds". In particular, medical and social services were provided by large, confessional or ideologically oriented associations (the welfare associations), which are still organized national and provide nationwide social services. For a long time, this dual structure of the welfare state in Germany was unique in a comparison across Europe.

The organization of social services in Germany follows the so-called principle of subsidiarity (see Dahme/​Wohlfahrt 2008). The principle of subsidiarity stemming from the Catholic social doctrine has been the basis of social legislation since the Weimar Republic. At that time, the state believed that it needed the participation of the churches and charities in order to deal with the social consequences of World War I. The principle of subsidiarity regulates cooperation between public and voluntary welfare and formally recognizes and denominates voluntary welfare organizations as contributors in the discharge of public social tasks. This guarantees privileges and political influence for them, but creates dependency on government subsidies as well.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, the subsidiarity principle of social law (see § 17 SGB I, § 5 SGB XII) was described by the Federal Constitutional Court on the occasion of the subsidiarity dispute in the 1960s (see Sachße 1990) with the notion of cooperation based on partnership. The social legislator therefore has a financial obligation to pay for all the social services he intends, and at the same time ensures that the free institutions (churches, charities and other private providers of social services) have a conditional supremacy in providing these services. For the public institution, the subsidiarity principle implies a conditional blocking of functions. This means that the public authorities should not submit offers if social services are offered by autonomous organizations. In the context of this institutional subsidiarity, providing a guarantee function, the public authority has to ensure that sufficient social services are available on time (planning responsibility). Social administration, voluntary and non-profit private agencies are equally providers of social services. Since the cooperation is to be carried out in partnership, the independence of the church, autonomous and other service providers on the part of the administration has to be respected. According to the notions of subsidiarity, tasks should not simply be delegated, making independent and therefore also ecclesiastical institutions vicarious (e.g. entrusted or administrative assistants) in the performance of administrative tasks. From a formal legal point of view, the right of intervention of the state and the administration to independent agencies is limited by the subsidiarity principle enshrined in social law. The constitutionally embedded right of self-determination of the churches and the institutions assigned to them (see Basic Law (GG) Art. 140) justifies a further claim to the independent fulfillment of tasks, in particular of these institutions, beyond mere contractual relationships.

The public overall responsibility formulated by the Federal Constitutional Court in the late 1960s, which has ever since been embedded in social law (see, for example, § 79 SGB VIII), ultimately proved to be a gateway for increasing tendencies of nationalization in social services. The legal regulations since the beginning of the 1970s make it clear that the principle of subsidiarity gradually lost its original Catholic based function to safeguard the autonomy and self-determination of free providers and their employees in favour of strengthening state planning and control rights. But the expansion of community-supported facilities initially continued and was stopped only in the 1990s, since social policy has followed a new mission statement.

The welfare state developments since the mid-1990s have given rise to a changed vision for the modernization of the old welfare state. In state and society, market and competitive elements are implemented at various levels in order to increase their efficiency. The welfare state should be transformed into a competitive state. The reconstruction of the welfare state is based on the same models as the reconstruction work in the administration. The competitive philosophy has since expanded beyond the economy to include other sectors of society (such as the public administration, the education system and the health and social sectors) to increase their efficiency. To do this, it is necessary to entrench economic thinking in non-economic areas that follow their own logic.

The restructuring and dismantling of the welfare state takes place under the slogan that in times of globalization or Europeanization, the welfare state will still be needed to ensure social cohesion, but for competitive reasons with other business locations around the world providing depth and funding organized in new ways. A supply oriented policy is intended to strengthen the economy for globalized competition. On the other hand, preventive as well as compensatory social, family and educational policies should enable citizens to actively participate (possibly again) in the market. The new welfare state invests in the employability of its citizens, and certain social transfers are considered social investments that promote re-entry into the labour market (Priddat 2000). At the latest since Agenda 2010, the welfare state aims to activate those who are no longer involved in economic life and are (re-) entering the labour market or reintegrating them (anew) as wage earners. The target groups of the activation policy were initially unemployed people and recipients of basic benefits. Meanwhile, people with disabilities or those in need of care are also included. They are expected to take more responsibility for themselves and shall be supported by citizens and the community.

This new type of social policy has prevailed across all parties in Europe, not least because in the context of the European Employment Strategy and its flexicurity policy (see EU Commission 2007), activation and social investment have become key guiding principles of social action and are codified in various programmes.

In the meantime, social work is also understood as a social investment, which accordingly has to legitimize its effects. The discourse on the lack of causal technology of social work, which was still practiced in the 1970s, has largely given way to the conviction that the goals of social work can be determined (quantitatively) and, accordingly, made measurable.

5 Institutions and organizational forms of social work

As already mentioned, social services in Germany are provided by different providers. The social policy reversal initiated by the Schröder government in the early 2000s also affected the arrangement of local social services. Pursuant to the then new social policy guiding principle, they were called upon to fulfill their tasks more efficiently and ultimately more cost-effectively. The municipality and the social administration have positioned themselves as service providers and some of the nonprofit organizations and institutions have made this new corporate philosophy the guiding principle of their actions. Social policy and social administration have created a competitive regulatory framework for social services that has not only led to a change in social service structures.

Already since the mid-1990s, social legislation has restricted the traditionally privileged position of the welfare providers. Private-commercial supporters were given the opportunity to act as service providers in the care sector, in employment promotion and in the field of social and youth welfare. Since then, the provider landscape has become more pluralized and their competition has become established. The competition is the result of changes, that were initiated i.a. by European competition and procurement law. This changed the funding rules in social work. Tendering procedures for the commissioning of social services and the introduction of performance-related pay have contributed to social services being in cost and quality competition, and having rearranged not only their forms of organization but, above all, their staffing and remuneration policies in order to compete. (see Dahme et al. 2007).

The wide field of supporting services comprises of public and independent providers. The group of independent providers is very heterogeneous. Important in all fields of work are the facilities and services of the charities. Whether it is nursery schools, hospitals, nursing homes or open-duty services, a significant proportion of them are affiliated to a voluntary welfare organization. According to their own data (Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft der Freien Wohlfahrtspflege, BAGFW 2014, p. 14), the charities offer help and support to 105.295 institutions and services. 1.673.861 staff members are employed full-time in these services and facilities.

The associations cooperating in the Federal Association of the Free Welfare (Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft der Freien Wohlfahrtspflege, BAGFW) have their own profile. They vary in their value orientations and partly in u law. The differences are larger when considering the facility level. The facilities and services compete with each other as a result of competition organized in the social sector. They distinguish from each another and try – as far as it appears appropriate for their business policy – to take their market share from their competitors, who may certainly belong to their own association. In addition to this competitive behaviour, there are established collaboration structures both within the respective associations and across federation boundaries (e.g. state working groups). These forms of cooperation primarily serve the interests of the political decision-making bodies as well as the payers.

The facilities and services of the charities are usually referred to as non-profit providers in the official statistics. This includes non-profit organizations and services that are not organized in the charities or, in the case of day-care centers (kindergarten), belong to a church.

This group is almost negligible, but hardly significant. More important – and it varies from work field to work field – are the non-profit private providers. They are indicated as charitable organizations (in the youth welfare) and in the care statistics as not charitable providers.

There are two different statistics for youth welfare. In a separate publication, the information on day care facilities (Kita) are designated. The statistics for the other child and youth welfare organizations are not included in the day care centers. Table 3 shows the data of both statistics and the shares of the respective provider groups. It should be noted that the data was collected at different times.

Table 3: Facilities for child and youth welfare by institution
Source: Own presentation according to Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt) 2018, T 71 and Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt) 2017, T 1
Public institutions Free providers
charitable not charitable
Facilities without day care centres (status 31.12.2016) 8.207 22 % 25.277 69 % 3.270 9 %
Day care centres (status 01.03.2017) 18.228 33 % 35.366 64 % 1.699 3 %

The overview (Table 3) clearly shows that non-profit organizations are still not very relevant quantitatively in child and youth welfare services. The group of non-profit organizations is further subdivided in the statistics. These include (1) corporate or operational units, (2) independent private-commercial providers and (3) natural and other legal entities. The first group (1) is quantitatively not significant. These providers account for 10 % and 9.4 % (Kitas) of non-profit institutions. According to the number of institutions, the second group of providers is the most important with 50.5 % and 53.4 % respectively (Kitas). Natural and other legal entities have 39.5 % and 37.1 % (Kitas) of all non-profit institutions. As mentioned above, this entire group of not charitable organizations has a relatively weak presence in youth welfare. It looks different in other areas. Non-profit free providers are particularly strong in nursing care, an area in which policy has been very early and heavily reliant on sponsorship competition (see Table 4).

Table 4 Inpatient and outpatient care services by providers (State: 15.12.2015)
Source: Health report of the federal government (Gesundheitsberichterstattung des Bundes) (, Table Nursing homes (Number) and Table Outpatient nursing services and care-dependent persons cared for by outpatient care services (number and density)
Public Institution Free providers
non-profit private
Nursing homes stationary and semi-stationary 659 5 % 7.200 53 % 5.737 42 %
Outpatient nursing services 192 1 % 4.461 34 % 8.670 65 %

The establishment of social markets was logically accompanied by the opening for new groups of providers. Non-profit (private commercial) organizations, which are often said to have a different goal (profit orientation), other than the established nonprofit organizations, are now present in almost all fields of work. The different nature of these providers compared to the nonprofit providers of social services is not always apparent in the offers. However, healthcare institutions have become an investment base for international finance capital, expecting returns on its financial exposure. This phenomenon and its impact on the quality of services and the conditions of service delivery are reported in the media, without the politicians responding to it so far. Here is a video on the subject (Available until 14.06.2019):​Wie-internationale-Finanzinvestoren-mit-/​Das-Erste/​Video?bcastId=431796&documentId=53175066.

For some time now, there has been another group of vendors that does not fit well with the scheme of non-profit and private-sector providers. They distance from non-profit organizations, which they deny their economic competences, as well as from private-commercial providers, where they miss the social mission. They call themselves social entrepreneurs or social enterprises, a term that is now also used by charitable organizations.

The (new) social entrepreneurs agree that they can better deal with social problems than the established actors. Their criticism is directed not only against the traditional service providers, but also against the welfare state and its arrangements. They regard the existing structures as inefficient and thus inadequate to meet the challenges of the modern market economy. They want to solve social problems, which are often caused by the market, entrepreneurially and thus making profit. So they are very market affine and thus tend to be state critical. They often frame their criticism as bureaucracy criticism.

6 Recent developments in social services and social work

6.1 Municipalisation and decentralisation

The term ‘municipalisation' describes efforts to delegate welfare state tasks of the regions to the municipalities and transferring the distribution of state finances to the local institutions as well as their management and control. The aim is to concentrate local resources, to strengthen the political steering by the municipality and to implement more efficient forms of problem-solving. The policy of localization entails decentralization processes (such as social space orientation), with the objective to activate local participants, including citizenship, for municipal tasks, and involving civil society organizations as well as social organizations in the implementation of municipal self-government tasks. This approach is also referred to as local governance. Local governance aims at activating the municipality and the local actors for more self-responsibility and to generate approaches for autonomous local problem-solving. Strategic management in local government can become part of local governance.

The policy of decentralisation is addressed by different key words: we perceive a renaissance of social space orientation in social work (especially youth welfare). The regional localization policies are decentralisation strategies, based on the idea that tasks should best be carried out where they arise. On this assumption state funds can be used more precisely by the local authorities. The trend observed earlier over several decades as a higher zone of social responsibility should be reversed by this trend. The decentralisation policy provides a new function in dealing with problems for the municipality or neighbourhoods (for example in so-called territorial employment pacts or social space bodies). The decentralisation of state social policy on the one hand, and the deconcentration of social administration tasks in social spaces on the other, can be seen as a process that creates a new form of social work: Social work should move away from its one-sided reference to personal assistance processes and individualized services towards an activating and social space-related role.

The resulting new form of social work could be called civic social work, because the task of social services is now to mobilize, educate and retain volunteers, create networks of professionals and volunteers, raise funds for neighborhood projects, manage projects, and so on. It is decisive that the provision of services in the social area should lead to a joint production of professionals and volunteers. Citizen’s society (in the form of civic engagement) and civil society (that is, the many civil society associations) should participate in social services (that is, in the provision of services). Another important aspect is the commitment of companies, which is referred to as corporate citizenship.

6.2 Personnel development and skills shortage

The official statistics do not provide any reliable information about the personnel situation in the area of social services. This applies in particular, the more detailed information is desired, such as the formal qualifications of the staff, as not all employees of social welfare institutions are qualified in social work. The child and youth welfare statistics provide differentiated information on the employees in the field (including formal degrees). However, these data give no indication of the labour market situation or the frequently cited shortage of skilled workers. For statements on this special examinations must be used, as they have been published in recent years, especially for the care sector.

According to a forecast by the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (Bundesinstituts für Berufsbildung, BiBB 2010), demographic change will lead to a shortage of caregivers: by 2025, around 152,000 nursing professionals will be needed. They would be arithmetically necessary to be able to provide the expected number of hospital patients and people in need of care. Divided by the full standard working time this corresponds to about 112,000 nursing staff in hospitals, outpatient and (partial) inpatient care institutions. According to the model calculations, in the year 2025, there are only around 828,000 full-time care workers on the supply side compared to a demand for 940,000 caregivers.

The offer of newly trained fulltime working nurses in 2025 will be 74.7000. The labour shortage will increase to about 193,000 by then. Even the so far high gain in non-specialist nursing staff will no longer be sufficient by 2018 at the latest to meet the rising demand.

Conversion from marginal employment to part-time or part-time to full-time or an increase in hours worked for part-time or part-time workers would delay the staffing bottleneck. The actual development, however, looks different: part-time and marginal employment are gaining in importance.

The hopes for the development of a social services sector-funded social service sector to create quality jobs and boost consumption in the late 1960s have not materialized, as social services are increasingly seen as a cost factor. The current situation of social professions and social services in the Federal Republic of Germany can be linked to international trends: It can be observed in almost all advanced welfare states in Europe that there are ever increasing demands on the provision of social services (up to the academic professionalization of many social professions), but without adequate increase in income of employees. On the contrary, worsened contest of providers has led to falling or at best stagnant wages in many areas.

The German Institute for Economic Research (Deutsches Wirtschaftsinstitut, DIW) summarizes the results of its study from 2018 as follows (Brenke et al. 2018)

  • „Social work is a fast growing industry in Germany and almost everywhere in the European Union
  • Employment in the social sector has increased far more in Germany than in the economy
  • A distinct labour intensity and a wage level significantly below-average are characteristic
  • The wage level is low not only for assistants, but also for skilled people, although there is a lack of qualified personnel.
  • A sufficient job offer – especially in the care sector – requires a reasonable payment“
Employment in the social sector in Germany
Figure 4: Employment in the social sector in Germany
The chart can be found on this website:​sozialwesen_in_deutschland_niedrige_loehne_in_einem_rasant_wachsenden_wirtschaftszweig.html; Access: 23.06.2018. Here is also an interview on the topic with one of the authors of the report.

6.3 Digitisation

Digitisation is initially a phenomenon that relates to the comprehensive automation and networking of all production elements. As a result, labour costs can be lowered in perspective and the necessary proportion of the work in production can be reduced. Also, control functions relating to the production process can be increasingly taken over by machines and their algorithms. The internet facilitates more effective ordering of products and delivery processes and helps organizing lower hierarchies. The emerging value creation networks can also play an increasingly important role in social services and social work, when service creation processes are more interlinked and increasingly cross the scope of application of individual service providers. The competition for standards and data, which already play an important role in the industrial sector of production, could also extend to social services and social work, thereby not only related to new organizational arrangements between the service providers, but also lead to the establishment of power networks with supply structures. For social work, this development is likely to lead to changes in training requirements and the necessary knowledge of software-controlled processes in the provision of services to the computer-aided analysis of the effects of social interventions. In parts of the production of social services rationalization effects are also most likely (research has advanced the furthest in the field of nursing), which will certainly have an impact on both the replacement of simple work and the required job flexibility.

Innovative digitally supported offers are already being used in social work. The largest field of application is the support of work processes that are used in the background of the service application. These include the field of digital data processing and documentation as well as data analysis. So the coordination and administration of services in the team, e.g. roster planning, bed occupancy in hospital or inpatient care facilities as well as digital tour planning in outpatient care (see Hielscher et al. 2015) are part of this process. Application examples in social work can be found in the field of case documentation and planning, the design of websites, online consulting and the use of digital technology in diagnostic aids (see as overview Becka et al. 2017).

Evaluations regarding the consequences of the use of digital technology with reference to rationalization effects vary considerably. While some studies even (in terms of health care professions) increase the need for labour (see Ostwald et al., 2016), other forecasts assume that health care professions could be hit hardest by rationalization effects at almost 30 % (Dengler/​Matthes 2015). Rationalization effects can be associated with processes of de-qualification, if more complex activities are replaced by easy tasks. But the reverse effect is also conceivable: more skills are needed when 'menial' activities are replaced by robots.

In social work, the effects of the use of digital technology on the professionalism of work are discussed intensively. For example, when software-based diagnostic and judgment-building tools that rely on algorithms and are calculating probabilities of case constellations are increasingly used in casework.

Digitisation in the social service work is a young field of research, but experiencing already strong support in some areas, such as for example the health economy.

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Written by
Monika Burmester Prof. Dr. Monika Burmester
Dipl. Economist, until August 2018 Professor of Economics in Social and Health Care at the Protestant University RWL, Bochum.
Research: social reporting and social planning, social entrepreneurship and impact investing.

Norbert Wohlfahrt Prof. Dr. Norbert Wohlfahrt
Dipl.Soz.Arbeiter, Dr. rer soc., since 1993 Professor of Social Management at the Protestant University R-W-L, retired since October 2017, research interests: Development of social services, Community social policy and social administration, current publication: What is the social value? A multi-perspective view by Monika Burmester and Norbert Wohlfahrt, series social work controversial of the German Association

Cite this publication
Burmester, Monika and Norbert Wohlfahrt, 2018. Country portrait Germany In: socialnet International [online]. 2018-10-12. Retrieved 2023-03-20 from

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