More than one in five people living in Germany were at risk of poverty or social exclusion last year, according to official data released on Wednesday showing the scale of hardship in Europe's largest economy.

This applied to 17.7 million people in 2023, or 21.2% of the population, the federal statistics office reported.

While largely unchanged compared to 2022, the figures offer a backdrop to the political climate in Germany, where the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is competing for first place state elections in the country's poorer east in September.

A promise to boost defence spending in response to the war in Ukraine has also sent Chancellor Olaf Scholz's uneasy coalition in search of cuts to the budget, as households have struggled with a spike in inflation that is now easing.

Germany's data follows an EU definition of poverty that counts people who fit at least one of the following three criteria: at risk of poverty; experiencing severe material and social deprivation; in a household with "very low work intensity".

The percentage of German considered at risk of poverty was 14.3% in 2023, a slight improvement on the 14.8% reported in 2022. (Reporting by Rachel More Editing by Madeline Chambers)