Social assistance belongs to the federal level

The SSCG supports families and individuals affected by poverty with half a million Swiss francs per year. The SSCG is now proposing a framework law in the field of social assistance. The following commentary by the director of the SSCG was published in the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” on June 25, 2021.

The state’s social welfare system is no longer able to fulfill its constitutional mandate to guarantee a dignified life for all and to ensure equality before the law throughout the country. In the last social safety net, abject poverty, stigma and stress often lurk. Some complain about the high cost of social assistance, which includes counseling and education. These expenses represent 1.6 percent of the total welfare system and are far less than the loss of income for the wealthiest as a result of the flat tax.

Many people in poverty are not on welfare

One in four people experiencing poverty do not receive social assistance, and as many as one in two in rural areas. They do so out of shame or fear of failure, out of social control, out of fear of official measures, out of fear of reporting to the migration authorities, out of fear of losing their B or C permit or of not being able to naturalize, out of lack of knowledge about entitlement to benefits, out of lack of language skills, out of lack of computer skills or out of the hope that the need will only be short-lived

Negative competition from cantons and municipalities

Negative, politically motivated campaigns criticize the effectiveness and impact of social assistance. Over the past 20 years, in many cantons and municipalities, one round of cuts has been followed by another. The reference value on which social assistance payments are based has been successively adjusted downwards. Six years ago, the Swiss Conference of Social Insurance refrained from making an upward adjustment, as figures from the Federal Statistical Office indicate. Nevertheless, several cantons have since made additional cuts in social welfare benefits.

A national patchwork

As well as competition for the lowest taxes, negative competition for the lowest social benefits has long developed between the cantons. This is another reason why the principle of legal equality is violated in social assistance. In some cantons the municipalities pay rent deposits, in others they do not. Some cantons allow a wealth allowance of CHF 30,000 when reimbursing social assistance, in others this allowance is limited to CHF 5,000. In some communes, the constitutionally required legal advice is offered, in others it is not. Some social services and social authorities require knowledge of social assistance, others do not. To mention just a few examples.

The federal government has a duty

The Federal Council has repeatedly recognized the need for a “binding framework” at the federal level in order to ensure the fulfillment of the constitutional mandate. At the same time, it considers that the cantons have a duty to achieve this harmonization at the national level. The example of supplementary benefits shows that regulation at the federal level can work despite federalism. Harmonization would also ease the financial burden on the cantons and municipalities.

For the sake of the future

Children and young people are the age group with the highest number of welfare recipients in Switzerland (3 per cent). In order to go beyond the administration of the poor and poverty, educational offensives and a nationwide framework law for social assistance are needed. This would be a service to society as a whole. Because, “The strength of society is measured by the well-being of the weakest.”