Nachbarschaftshilfe (Germany)

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Nachbarschaftshilfe
Location: Germany
Germany map.png
Author: Roland Arbesleitner
Affiliation: University College London

Original text by Roland Arbesleitner

The term Nachbarschaftshilfe is a compound word formed from Nachbarschaft (neighbourhood) and Hilfe (help), describing aid and support given to neighbours, family or friends. The practice can be found in all German-speaking countries, but varies in terms of definition and legality. While Nachbarschaftshilfe itself is legal in all German-speaking countries, it sits right at the border of illegality and therefore as a practice lends itself to being used as a cover for illicit employment.

Hake (2003[1]) defines Nachbarschaftshilfe as practice in which (at times unpaid) labour is provided to neighbours, friends or family. It is found in particular to be common in rural areas of a country. The term itself covers a wide array of different forms of support and help, but is usually associated with (but not limited to) manual labour found in workshops or on construction sites, and used in particular with reference to construction projects involving the building of private houses. Other common areas in which the term Nachbarschaftshilfe is commonly used include childcare and car-pooling. Activities attributed to the umbrella term Nachbarschaftshilfe differ widely, however the common denominator of definitions is that Nachbarschaftshilfe describes (manual) labour provided to people who are in one’s extended social network. A crucial element of the practice is that the labour is neither recorded, nor are taxes paid on the remuneration for it. It therefore follows that Nachbarschaftshilfe takes place largely outside the government’s sphere of control (Buhl Tax Service GmbH 2014[2], Der Tagesspiegel 2013[3], Die Presse 2015[4], Hake 2003[5], Igl et al 2002[6], Sonnenschein 1976[7], Wiesinger 2005[8]).

The concept of Nachbarschaftshilfe lends itself by nature of its definition to be used to disguise illicit employment and illegal work. This problem has been recognised and discussed by legislators (see for example Nationalrat XX.GP 1998[9]), however despite legal adjustments, various forms of Nachbarschaftshilfe remain in the grey area between legality and illegality, with parts of Nachbarschaftshilfe being recognised as legal activity in compliance with the law, and the rest continuing to be associated with illicit work and moonlighting (Janisch and Brümmerhoff 2004[10]).

An additional hurdle in the general separation of legal activities from illegal activities in the context of Nachbarschaftshilfe can be attributed to legislature itself, which differs even in countries with similar legal traditions. Thus even in law Nachbarschaftshilfe is not a clearly deliniated or strictly defined term, but instead can be interpreted in a number of different ways. If positively connoted an actual valid synonym for Nachbarschaftshilfe is Gemeinschaftsarbeit (community service) (Teichert 1988[11]).

In recent years Nachbarschaftshilfe has become commonly used to describe forms of structured and organised help particularly across municipal and state borders specifically in the aftermath of natural catastrophes. The new usage of the term has been used primarily by authorities in this context to describe any form of organised help offered to affected regions for the sake of disaster relief. Additionally, Nachbarschaftshilfe is sometimes used to describe the activities of clubs and associations (Vereine) that exist to serve public interest- for example to descibe the work of the volunteer fire brigades (Bundesministerium für Arbeit, Soziales und Konsumentenschutz 2009[12], Österreichische Präsidentschaftskanzlei 2012[13]).

The most obvious reason for engaging in Nachbarschaftshilfe and indeed other to practices associated with the informal sector is the opportunity to acquire goods and services at a lower rate than would normally apply. Wiesinger (2005[14]) goes so far as to argue that these informal practices can noticeably contribute to safeguarding the means of existence (livelihood) of a population. This becomes especially relevant in the instance of projects that require large investments: without the aid of Nachbarschaftshilfe for example, many family homes, shops, workshops or farms would never have come into being (Hake 2003[15]). Wiesinger (2005[16]) argues that enhanced living standards, typically manifested in owning a family house rather than a flat in rural communities, can only be realised with the help of Nachbarschaftshilfe and other forms of informal practices.

This rather simple one-dimensional interpretation focusing merely on monetary incentives to engage in Nachbarschaftshilfe may not always hold true. Lamnek et al (2013[17]) argue that informal labour is a prevalent part of lifestyle, particularly in rural communities. Due to tighter social networks in rural environments, both demand and supply offered by opportunities to work informally together are greater, and are said to some degree to require people to take part in such activities as part of their social obligations to the community. The implication is that Nachbarschaftshilfe is more often perceived to be legal in rural areas than in urban environments. Consequentially, the perception of legality is shifting.

Generally, the compensation for labour provided in this context can come in the form of barter trade, money or labour itself. Seen from a legal perspective, any agreement on remuneration shifts these transactions from the legal into the illegal sphere, even though the people involved may regards the informal agreements as being entirely normative. Lamnek et al (2013[18]) continue to argue that the higher degree of solidary usually found in rural networks as compared with their urban counterparts leads to a phenomenon in which informal labour is not immediately remunerated, but often repaid after some period of time. If this is the case, the remuneration might consists of labour being provided for a person who was not even been part of the initial transaction (Lamnek et al 2013[19]). It follows that Nachbarschaftshilfe in both its legal and illegal form is more prevalent in rural communities and is in fact an important social element contributing to the well being of the social group. However, this does not imply that the practice is totally unknown in urban environments. Rather, the motivation for engaging in Nachbarschaftshilfe shifts noticeably in an urban environment from a combination of monetary and social incentives, to a stronger focus on financial (tax) advantages.

The expression Nachbarschaftshilfe itself is often used synonymously with other practices such as Pfusch. The latter however can have one of two meanings, and it depends on the context on which interpretation is applicable. In the context of Nachbarschaftshilfe, Pfusch is of work that is being carried out illegally, i.e. outside of the formal sector. It is synonymous with Schwarzarbeit (moonlighting) and as term especially frequently used in Austria (Politik-Lexikon 2016[20]). It is therefore an expression describing the work usually carried out by a professional to evade the payment of taxes. The second meaning of Pfusch is a term describing something of low quality, something undertaken in a hasty manner and/or not living up to one’s expectations in terms of quality (Maschmann 1990[21]). Other terms that are frequently used in order to describe illegal labour include Informeller Sektor (informal sector) and Schattenwirtschaft (shadow economy). Per definition, these terms are not actual synonyms of Nachbarchaftshilfe, but rather umbrella terms that can include the informal part of this practice (Enste 2002[22], Enste and Schneider 2006[23], Meyer 2000[24]).

References and Bibliography

  1. Duden. 22 April 2016. [online]. Pfusch. duden.de, http://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Pfusch#Bedeutung2

Notes

  1. Hake, B. 2003. Erfolgreiche Akquisition in der Bauwirtschaft. Wiesbaden: S.U.P.-Verlag Hake.
  2. Buhl Tax Service GmbH. 2014. [online]. Nachbarschaftshilfe oder Schwarzarbeit?. buhl.de, https://www.buhl.de/steuernsparen/nachbarschaftshilfe-oder-schwarzarbeit/
  3. Der Tagesspiegel. 12 February 2013. [online]. Nachbarschaftshilfe für Alleinerziehende. tagesspiegel.de, http://www.tagesspiegel.de/meinung/andere-meinung/gastbeitrag-zur-kindererziehung-nachbarschaftshilfe-fuer-alleinerziehende/7772004.html.
  4. Die Presse. 25 July 2015. Hilfsbereitschaft beim Häuselbauen und Renovieren.
  5. Hake, B. 2003. Erfolgreiche Akquisition in der Bauwirtschaft. Wiesbaden: S.U.P.-Verlag Hake.
  6. Igl, G., Jachman, M., Eichenhofer, E. 2002. Rechtliche Rahmenbedingungen bürgerlichen Engagements. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien.
  7. Sonnenschein, J. 1976. Schwarzarbeit. Juristenzeitung, 31(17), pp. 407-504.
  8. Wiesinger, G. 2005. Ursachen und Wirkungszusammenhänge der ländlichen Armut im Spannungsfeld des sozialen Wandels. Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Agrarökonomie, 12(1), pp.43-73.
  9. Nationalrat XX.GP. 1998. Stenographischs Protokoll. 145. Sitzung/100.
  10. Janisch, U., Brümmerhoff, D. 2004. Möglichkeiten und Grenzen der Schätzung der Schattenwirtschaft - Eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit den Schätzergebnissen der Bargeldmethode nach Schneider. Thünen-Series of Applied Economic Theory, 43(2).
  11. Teichtert, V. 1988. Alternativen zur Erwerbsarbeit? Entwicklungstendenten informeller und alternativer Ökonomie. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
  12. Bundesministerium für Arbeit, Soziales und Konsumentenschutz. 2009. Freiwilliges Engagement in Österreich - 1. Freiwilligenbericht.
  13. Österreichische Präsidentschaftskanzlei. 2012. [online]. 20 Jahre "Nachbar in Not": "Einzigartiges Zeichen von Mitmenschlichkeit!" 20 Jahre "Nachbar in Not": "Einzigartiges Zeichen von Mitmenschlichkeit!". bundespraesident.at, http://www.bundespraesident.at/ newsdetail/artikel/20-jahre-nachbar-in-not-einzigartiges-zeichen-von-mitmenschlichkeit/.
  14. Wiesinger, G. 2005. Ursachen und Wirkungszusammenhänge der ländlichen Armut im Spannungsfeld des sozialen Wandels. Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Agrarökonomie, 12(1), pp.43-73.
  15. Hake, B. 2003. Erfolgreiche Akquisition in der Bauwirtschaft. Wiesbaden: S.U.P.-Verlag Hake.
  16. Wiesinger, G. 2005. Ursachen und Wirkungszusammenhänge der ländlichen Armut im Spannungsfeld des sozialen Wandels. Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Agrarökonomie, 12(1), pp.43-73.
  17. Lamnek, S., Oblrich, G., Schäfer, W. J. 2013. Tatort Sozialstaat: Schwarzarbeit, Leistungsmissbrauch, Steuerhinterziehung und ihre (Hinter)Gründe. Wiesbaden: Springer-Verlag.
  18. Lamnek, S., Oblrich, G., Schäfer, W. J. 2013. Tatort Sozialstaat: Schwarzarbeit, Leistungsmissbrauch, Steuerhinterziehung und ihre (Hinter)Gründe. Wiesbaden: Springer-Verlag.
  19. Lamnek, S., Oblrich, G., Schäfer, W. J. 2013. Tatort Sozialstaat: Schwarzarbeit, Leistungsmissbrauch, Steuerhinterziehung und ihre (Hinter)Gründe. Wiesbaden: Springer-Verlag.
  20. Politik-Lexikon. 22 April 2016. [online]. Vetternwirtschaft. politik-lexikon.at, http://www.politik- lexikon.at/schattenwirtschaft/
  21. Maschmann, F. 1990. Deregulierung im Handwerk: Die Meisterprüfung - Ein alter Zopf?. Zeitschrift für Rechtspolitik, 23(11), pp. 434-438.
  22. Enste, D. 2002. Schattenwirtschaft und institutioneller Wandel: eine soziologische, sozialpsychologische und ökonomische Analyse. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.
  23. Enste, H. D., Schneider, F. 2006. Schattenwurtschaft und irräguläre Beschäftigung: Irrtümer, Zusammenhänge und Lösungen. Illegalität - Grenzen und Möglichkeiten der migrationspolitik. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 35-59.
  24. Meyer, P. C. 2000. Rollenfunktionen und Gesundheit: Zusammenhänge zwischen sozialen Rollen, sozialem Stress, Unterstützung und Gesundheit. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.