In the future, families or households can only claim a maximum payment of €1,500 per month, designed to cover basic living costs for those who are out of work or only have low-paid part time work.
However, people who have lived in Austria for less than five years (within the past six years) will only be able to claim a maximum payment of €572.50 per month. ÖVP club chairman Klaus Schneeberger said the new regulation shows “respect for those in work”.
There have been calls from the ÖVP and opposition parties for a nationwide cap on benefits, but the Social Democrats would not agree to this.
The changes to the law in Lower Austria means councils can also ask those who receive social security payments to contribute some of their time to community work, so long as the AMS job service has not found them any opportunities for paid employment.
Schneeberger accused Chancellor Christian Kern of refusing to face up to reality, by failing to cap benefits.
The fact that different states have different levels of social security benefits means that people can move if they think this would increase the amount of social security money they receive – resulting in an increased financial burden for some states.
Rudi Kaske, president of the Chamber of Workers, criticised the changes in Lower Austria and said the state is effectively exporting “its unemployment and social policy problems to neighbouring Vienna”. To counteract this, officials in Vienna are now considering whether to introduce a rule that says social benefit claimants must have lived in the capital for a certain amount of time before they can claim any money.
56 percent of people who are dependent on social security already live in Vienna, and this number is likely to increase. The capital has mounting debts, partly because of the rising cost of social benefits. In 2016 the city paid out €670 million for social costs, and in 2017 that figure is forecast to be nearly €700 million.
The rising costs are down to high unemployment in the capital, a growing population, and the impact of the refugee crisis. Refugees and migrants have added to the rising costs of social security payouts, although city councillor Sonja Wehsely (SPÖ) said that the majority (57 percent) of claimants last year were Austrians.
After much debate the SPÖ said that it agreed in principle to a benefits cap of €1,500, but said that asylum seekers and migrants should not be treated differently. Chancellor Kern argued that reducing social security benefits for asylum seekers and migrants would mean they could no longer afford their living costs and that this would “breed long-term problems in Austria, forcing people into criminality”.
The ÖVP, on the other hand, said that it was representing those who think minimum social security payments should not be equivalent to a wage, or seen as “a reward for doing nothing”.
The states of Burgenland and Carinthia have said that they are also working on their own model for social security payments.
Employment lawyer Wolfgang Mazal said that he is concerned that the Lower Austrian model will be applied to all households, regardless of the number of people. This will mean that people living in shared housing as well as larger families will be at a disadvantage.