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Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Do Europeans have the right not to work?
This week the German politician, Friedrich Merz of the opposition Christian Democrats, proposed that people who do not work should receive food vouchers instead of money, so they do not waste state funds on non-essentials.

This follows the recent comments of the German Social Democrat Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder that there is "no right to laziness in our society".

He has since commented that those who reject a reasonable job when they can work must expect sanctions. But not everyone agrees.

Should Europeans have the right not to work?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

His approach is not even close to covering the complexity of unemployment

G Martin, Germany
The simple idea of not giving financial aids to lazy people is good - however, Chancellor Schroeder's true nature becomes obvious at the second glance: the one of a populist. his approach is not even close to covering the complexity of unemployment. Since Germany is confronted with 4 million unemployed, one should not forget that quite a number of these are educated and qualified (this refers especially to unemployed in the East due to structural problems). Accusing such people of laziness, as they might not cope with a job as garbage man or road sweeper, is highly impudent and insulting. No longer is it just the opposition that deprives substance from German politics - the easier the message, the greater the impact.
G Martin, Germany

Makes sense to me. Why can't we have something like that here?
Rob, UK

If a person can't work due to a disability, the state should support them. Also, what if a person is between jobs, and seriously looking? The state should see them through, though good jobs are going to be harder to come by. On the other hand, if a person doesn't even try, well, considering I've had some experiences trying to help a few people at personal expense, who turned out to be worthless parasites, sure - give them food vouchers.
Morgan O'Conner, U.S.A.

Society cannot be responsible for somebody who willingly chooses not to contribute to it. Precisely for this reason, the reform of European and especially German and Scandinavian welfare systems is long overdue. Congratulations to Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Merz for stating this publicly - unfortunately they will have a long political struggle before them if they want to live up to what they say.
Roman Lajciak, Slovakia

What's really silly here is that a problem is being raised as if it is something new when in fact this is exactly the issue that has been dealt with in welfare reform in the US for the last decade. In any society there will be people who for one reason or another cannot work, and for whom welfare must be provided, but there will also be people who see a welfare system as something to abuse. The answer has nothing to do with principle, sympathy or morals. It is a classic example of a situation that can only be handled by constant and careful management.

There is no single "magic" answer that will handle all cases. Each case must be examined on its own. Of course, this won't stop people proposing one silly scheme after another, each of which addresses only the aspect of the problem about which they personally get excited.
Jon Livesey, USA

If an individual has no wish to work then societies have no right to support them. These individuals should figure out how to support themselves by their own means, not with the help of society.
George Kanakaris, Greece

It's not quite fair to say, Veesa, that all people who don't work actually choose not to work. You are probably a very 'able' person, who has youth, energy, health and stamina. Not everyone is like you. And, thankfully, most of the time in the West, we do live in democratic societies in which it is possible to share wealth - to a degree - and help those who are more needy. I thought that's what the tax system was partly supposed to be about. Not to sound cliched, but we're all in this together. Having said that so virtuously, we shouldn't be encouraged to live off the state, but it should be there if we need it. I do work very hard, but there have been times when I could not.
Lucie Hill, USA

The reason we live in societies that are free from the fear of oppression and upheaval is that a highly literate and educated population earns money and pays taxes. When a person chooses not to contribute to that freedom and privilege by not working or raising a family, then they have no right to be supported by that society. If an individual has no wish to work that is fair enough. But do not expect the taxpayer (i.e. - me) to pay for them to lay about all day when I drag myself out of bed at 5.30 every morning, to go to work to support myself.
Veesa Norman, UK

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