With this income you are already at risk of poverty
With this income you are already at risk of poverty

When you hear the word "poverty", most of them have an image in front of their eyes. But that corresponds to an extreme. Because many people do not even know that they are only one step away from being at risk of poverty. And maybe there is someone around you …

With this income you are already at risk of poverty: We spoke to someone affected
With this income you are already at risk of poverty: We spoke to someone affected

1,472,000 people, including 303,000 children and young people, are at risk of poverty or exclusion in Austria - after all the third richest country in the EU. This means that the income of these people or families is below the so-called poverty line. In addition to children, elderly women living alone, single parents and people with chronic illnesses are particularly affected. Shockingly high numbers - and yet poverty is still a taboo subject.

You don't talk about poverty? Luckily Daniela Brodesser (aka "Frau Sonnenschein") does this very well! The mother of four (with children aged 11, 14, 16 and 23) had to experience poverty herself: a life without heating, but full of humiliation and loneliness. Actually a depressing topic, but it is amazing and touching what a happy and positive charisma the 45-year-old Upper Austrian has today. A happiness that she had to fight back to:

WOMAN: You tweet very openly about poverty and your own experiences with it - may I ask how your situation came about?

Brodesser: We were fine until the birth of my youngest. Or: we were above the poverty line. My husband worked full-time, was also self-employed as a carpenter and I also worked on the side. However, my daughter was born seriously ill, which is why I was no longer able to work. The situation also burdened my husband severely, which is why he suffered a burnout, which ultimately led to his resignation. He was just over 50 at the time, did not want to be unemployed and therefore took a job as a freelancer, which led to his second burnout. And then we sat there. No entitlement to unemployment benefit due to the free employment relationship. Only with 290 euros sick pay.

We tried to get the minimum income - and exceptionally got it for 3 months, not longer. Unfortunately, one often receives too little advice in such a hopeless situation. Or you don't even dare to ask whether application XY has already been processed - because if it were, it would be annoying and the application might take even longer.

At the social counseling center I got the "tip" to file for divorce - then I would get support from the state. There would be no other option. A separation never stood in the room. If I get advice like that today, I would write an email to Caritas, Volkshilfe, Poverty Conference and Social Platform in Upper Austria.

How did you fight your way out of poverty?

Brodesser: My husband has taken another - albeit not well-paid - job and since last year I've also had a part-time job. In the meantime, I've cleaned, cooked and looked after the children at our landlord's. We had to pay less rent for this, but I experienced sexual harassment on his part. A point that is still very difficult for me to talk about.

He also told everyone in the village how our family is doing and so exposed us to public humiliation. I went to the outdoor pool with my children only once in the summer. In the evening the landlord and ten other neighbors waited in front of our door and commented on our return with: "Aha, you can go to the outdoor pool, but you can't pay the rent?"

“I was constantly being beaten up - instead of understanding, there were only more reproaches. "What do you need to make things better?" Never came.

How was life with four children in this situation?

Brodesser: We're a small place - everyone knew it, even at school. Suddenly I was summoned to the director for every problem the children had; every problem was turned on poverty. If my boy was tired or in a bad mood, we were accused of having to change the financial situation. Ill? Poverty is to blame. Because poverty is automatically equated with an unhealthy diet. I was constantly being bullied - instead of understanding, there were only more reproaches. "What do you need to make things better?" Never came.

During the worst of the times, it wasn't that bad for my children. We always made sure that they could go on school trips, but unfortunately no other activities or going to the cinema were possible. For her, however, the question on Monday at school was formative for her: What did you do on the weekend? Everyone else could tell of great experiences, they could "only" name a walk in the forest or something similar.

What I now notice: When you need money for projects at school, the addition "But only if it really works." It hurts because I can feel how it's burned into me. They are generally very empathetic and have antennae for poverty: for example, as soon as someone in their class has no snack for two days, they pack twice that snack for them.

What does poverty really mean - what other factors are there?

Brodesser: Mentally, it's extremely bad - you experience embarrassment all around. It doesn't matter whether you open the newspaper or hear politicians talking. There is this famous picture of the social hammock, with which it is always shown that people affected by poverty do nothing. And then you do that too. If you look at yourself from the outside, you think you're a failure, you've done so much wrong. As a result, one withdraws extremely, often no longer having a social environment.

I had sleepless nights, existential fears, a racing heart, an increased adrenaline level due to constant stress. It just kills you. And I still get mad when they say "they don't bother". Hardly anyone asks what exactly is going on. Perhaps these people no longer have any strength, because poverty is absolutely exhausting.

Keyword bashing of poverty or unemployment: Do you see a political system behind this?

Brodesser: Yes, absolutely. This creates a split between the supposedly guilty and the innocent impoverished. Nobody gets up in the morning and says "Hurray, I'm living on the minimum income now!" Many therefore become afraid to apply for this and take any job, no matter how insecure, before applying for social assistance. I am convinced that this is what is wanted. The system extremely promotes the low-wage sector.

»Nobody gets up in the morning and says," Hurray, I'm living on the minimum income now! " So many are afraid to apply for this and take any job, no matter how insecure, before applying for social assistance."

What is important to you today? Has your view of life changed?

Brodesser: I would no longer remain calm and express my opinion. Like, for example, at a parents' evening when all parents have to pay for a project that not all of them may be able to afford spontaneously. There are so many who are hit by this and so many who don't dare to say anything.

What gave you hope

Brodesser: That I shared my experiences publicly on Twitter and that I was then shown so much appreciation. And so I realized it wasn't my own failure.

Poverty among women is much more taboo, especially women are affected by poverty in old age - what are your experiences?

Brodesser: I will definitely be hit by poverty in old age. I was at home with my children for a long time, now only work 30 hours. It is therefore essential to rethink the traditional role model - the man goes to work, the woman stays at home. I recently had a discussion about this with a married man who was against an increase in the minimum pension. He said that if women don't work for a lifetime, then they shouldn't get a pension either. When I remarked that his wife would hardly receive any pension, he just said, "It doesn't matter - she has me!" HE did the work, HE brought the money home. When I then told him in detail what his wife and three children were doing in terms of services, he actually saw that this would not be fair.

If you had political power: What would you change in Austria?

Brodesser: May I send you 500 suggestions (laughs)? But the first thing I would do is raise unemployment benefits. Because getting 55% of the salary and living on it is an impossibility. To do this, I would adapt the minimum income to the risk of poverty threshold.

Second, I would invest heavily in education. Because this is not free in Austria. Even if it's only small amounts that parents pay for trips, projects and more. Many parents cannot afford tutoring either.

And thirdly, I would be in favor of more education on the subject of poverty: So that politicians can no longer bash, but people know what poverty is, how it arises and what each and every one of them can do. So that prejudices disappear from people's minds.

Then I immediately ask: Who is affected by poverty?

Brodesser: It's very simple: everyone who is below the risk of poverty threshold. Many people are unaware that they are on this threshold or just one step away. This has absolutely nothing to do with the much vaunted "You just have to want to work". That is part of it, but also happiness or health of oneself as well as of the family.


What can each and every one of them do for themselves?

Brodesser: It's often the little things that make a big difference: How not to laugh at someone when you can't pay the school photographer, for example. Do not approach a person about financial problems in front of assembled parenting.

If I notice that someone around me is withdrawing, just ask. And offer to talk. Listening is often better. And please no advice like "You just have to save more and buy less." Anyone who lives in poverty only goes shopping when things are on sale at reduced prices. Luckily I had a small vegetable garden - it provided us with a lot and gave me the opportunity to stay at home. Because at some point I didn't want to go out to avoid all the shame.


An excerpt from Daniela's Twitter account:

Because it happens so often, this “resting in the needs-based minimum income”, this “You just lack the incentive” or just like “You wallow in the BMS” - a brief overview of what a life below the poverty line entails:

  • lose hope after an endless number of applications, feel no longer needed
  • have to decide whether to pay the electricity bill this month or the two school trips for the children
  • That's why you are always allowed to listen you just have to ask for help, because with us you get everything financed anyway (uh, nope)
  • ignore shameful statements in a nice and friendly way so that the processing of applications does not take longer or is deleted
  • despite sleepless nights (because heart palpitations from existential fear) try to give the children

    to enable a halfway normal life

  • comfort the children because for the first time in their lives they feel for themselves what poverty is and get to know shame
  • Fighting every day despite the lack of prospects and not falling into a deep hole
  • and if you fall into this hole because you are burned out, to be smiled at, not to be taken seriously, because why should you burn out, if you are (almost) nothing working anyway.

Poverty cannot be “freaked out” or “lazy”. Poverty drives you every day. Until you run out of strength. What many then refer to as "wallowing in the social hammock". Without ever having looked behind the facade.

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