What are some social taboos in Switzerland

Combating Poverty in Switzerland - Poverty Conference and National Program

According to Caritas, between 700,000 and 900,000 people in Switzerland are affected by poverty. One in ten people lives in poverty. The federal government is committed to a national prevention and promotion program against poverty. From 2014 to 2018, coordination with cantons, cities, municipalities and private organizations is to be improved. At the same time, the federal program aims to increase the educational opportunities of socially disadvantaged children, adolescents and adults so that they do not slide into poverty. A total of CHF 9 million is available for the national program.

Conference as a starting point

On November 9, 2010, a federally organized conference on poverty took place in Biel. Finally, the federal government, cantons and municipalities adopted a declaration. This sets out the heavyweight goals: While the Confederation focuses its efforts on cooperation in social security and vocational training, the cantons and cities focus on measures to combat family poverty. Meanwhile, with Caritas and the Swiss Conference for Social Welfare (SKOS), two important actors in poverty policy in Switzerland have demanded that the authorities do everything in their power to halve poverty in Switzerland within ten years.

"We are not measured by our words and statements today, but by the situation of those affected by poverty ten years from now," said SKOS President Walter Schmid during the conference. In general, the participants welcomed the efforts of the federal government in connection with the poverty conference. The affected organizations such as ATD Vierte Welt cited the fact that they were involved in finding a solution as a success. In the run-up to the conference, there were concerns expressed by affected organizations and non-governmental organizations that they would not be given enough space to discuss their concerns during the conference. The NGO coalition therefore stated in an open letter: "The conference on November 9th can only be a starting point in the fight against poverty." The implementation of the measures must be accompanied by a body in which NGOs and organizations that give people affected by poverty a voice are also represented.

European Year Against Poverty and Social Exclusion gives impetus

2010 was declared the European Year for Combating Poverty and Exclusion by the EU Commission as a result of an NGO campaign. With numerous seminars, conferences and studies, the transnational exchange on different approaches in poverty policy should be made possible. In Switzerland, too, actors such as Caritas, SKOS and the Conference of Cantonal Social Directors (SODK) have put the issue back on the political agenda. The proposals that are on the table to tackle poverty in Switzerland are numerous. The demands of trade unions and representatives of the interests of those affected by poverty include, among other things, a secure basic income, minimum wages, more offers for the professional and social integration of those affected by poverty (e.g. in social companies) and supplementary benefits for families. The federal government, SKOS and SODK unanimously agree that there is a need for action in the area of ​​family poverty. All three are in favor of introducing supplementary benefits. SODK and SKOS are also calling for a federal law on livelihood security, which could contribute to the standardization of social assistance and would declare the basic needs of the SKOS to be binding. However, the federal government sees no need for reform here and wants to resolve the coordination problems within the existing system.

As an important NGO in the field of poverty reduction in Switzerland, Caritas advocates that measures against poverty be taken in several political areas (e.g. in education, family, labor market and social policy) and that the cantons and the federal government provide annual reports on poverty be committed. A major concern of the organization is that the inheritance of poverty between the generations can be overcome. In this context, Caritas is promoting a state-funded care system for small children and integrative school models with individual support. State family counseling centers are also important, as experience abroad has shown. Politicians also need a clear commitment to social security. Together with the economy, politics is also responsible for living wages.


Anyone who has been pursuing the policy in the area of ​​poverty reduction in Switzerland for a long time remains skeptical even after the Poverty Conference: The Federal Council has unfortunately failed to set itself a clear goal in poverty policy, although there is broad consensus among the actors (keyword: Halving the number of people affected by poverty within ten years). However, the measures announced at the poverty conference will hardly be sufficient for this. From a human rights perspective, the problem with combating poverty in Switzerland is the fact that social rights play a subordinate role in this country: In contrast to the classic basic rights, according to the federal constitution, they are not considered rights, but merely programmatic social goals, with the consequence that most social human rights are not enforceable in Switzerland (see Art. 41 BV).


  • The national poverty conference is under a bad star
    Open letter from the NGO coalition to Federal Councilor Burkhalter dated November 3, 2010
  • November 9th: National conference to fight poverty together
    Media release from Caritas, November 9, 2010 (unfortunately no longer available online)
  • Fighting poverty: if you want, you can!
    Press release from SKOS, November 9, 2010 (pdf, 1 p.)
  • Poverty, a taboo that needs to be talked about
    Swissinfo, November 11, 2010
  • The federal government, cantons, cities and municipalities are fighting together against poverty
    Media release by the Federal Social Insurance Office (FSIO), November 9, 2010
  • Europ. Year to Combat Poverty
    Official website of the EU Commission on the subject
  • How much wealth can a society bear
    Swissinfo, October 27, 2010
  • Poverty is an extreme case of inequality
    Interview with sociology professor Franz Schultheis (University of St. Gallen) in the 11/10 labor market
  • Poverty is not allowed! (Access only as a subscriber)
    Article on the demands of Caritas and with an overview of the proposals by SKOS, SODK and the federal government in SozialAktuell, No. 11 November 2010 (pdf, 5 pages)

The history: the Federal Council's strategy to combat poverty

On March 31, 2010, the Federal Council published its strategy to combat poverty in Switzerland and at the same time announced that a poverty conference would take place in November. The strategy report is more of an exposition than a new strategy. However, it shows that the government is skeptical of new ideas such as a basic income or employment insurance. Rather, she sees a need for action in improving the cooperation between social insurance companies. The federal government is committed to integrating people affected by poverty into the labor market and recommends that the cantons and municipalities also take measures to improve equal opportunities in education and to combat family poverty. In addition, measures have been taken at the federal level, writes the Federal Council. He refers to a project for the early registration of young people who will probably not make it into professional life.

People affected by poverty contributed to the report

With the report on the fight against poverty, the Federal Council has fulfilled the motion «Nationwide strategy for combating poverty» by the National Council's Social Security and Health Commission. Organizations that are active in the area of ​​poverty have welcomed the 140-page report. With the report, the federal government is committed to fighting poverty and social exclusion, writes Caritas Switzerland. For the first time an official report recognizes that people affected by poverty make an important contribution and are important actors in the fight against poverty, writes the organization ATD Fourth World. The latter contributed to the preparation of the report and in particular coordinated the contributions of those affected in the chapter “Concerns of those affected by poverty”.

There is no instrument to combat poverty

ATD Fourth World continues in a press release: «The report makes interesting suggestions. He respects every person with their life story, starting with childhood and the right to education, and also considers the period of youth with the right to education. He emphasizes the importance of the family and wants to improve access to recognized rights for all. It strengthens the mandate of social work and the role of mediators. But he is far from proposing a global strategy that allows all people to live in dignity and with the necessary resources. Everyone must be able to make a contribution to society, primarily through recognized work. It also needs equitable access to health services and the right to decent housing. Central issues such as the placement of children due to poverty or the fight against illiteracy are not mentioned in this report.

Ultimately, this report does not propose an instrument that would allow credible and coordinated action by the various actors in the fight against poverty and social exclusion. (That means: the Confederation, the cantons, the cities and the municipalities, the social partners, the NGOs and those affected by poverty.) The national poverty conference planned for autumn must set itself the goal of creating such an instrument.


(Article from 10/17/2012)

According to Caritas, up to a million people in Switzerland are affected by poverty. The relief organization is taking World Day on October 17, 2012 as an opportunity to show what Switzerland is currently doing to tackle poverty. Other organizations formulate specific recommendations for the cantons to overcome poverty, including supplementary benefits for families affected by poverty.

The continuing education law and the drafting of a framework law for social assistance currently offer the opportunity to improve the situation of people affected by poverty in Switzerland, writes Caritas Switzerland in a media release on October 16, 2012. A framework law for social assistance offers the possibility of following the guidelines of the Swiss To make the Conference for Social Welfare (SKOS) binding and thus create more legal certainty for those affected.

But more is needed: In order to show progress and also setbacks, clear goals and verifiable indicators are needed. These formed the basis for the Confederation and the cantons to be able to provide accountability in annual poverty reports. Such poverty reports are a central demand of the Caritas 2010 campaign “Halve poverty”.

Some cantons are already giving an account of the situation of those affected by poverty. For example, the canton of Bern, which stated in the last social report in 2010 that poverty is increasing in the canton. The canton is currently developing a plan of measures to overcome poverty. Affected organizations and the cantonal section of the professional association of social workers, Avenir Social, therefore used the World Day as an opportunity to formulate specific recommendations to the canton. The recommendations are likely to apply across Switzerland.

Six recommendations for overcoming poverty

Fighting poverty includes social security, ways out of precarious situations and the prevention of poverty, write Avenir Social Section Bern, KABBA (Committee of the Unemployed and People Affected by Poverty), the group for human dignity in social welfare and the SAH Bern association. From the findings of scientific analyzes on the causes of poverty, medium to long-term ways out of poverty can be formulated. The organizations record six of these in their recommendations.

On the one hand, the organizations are calling for supplementary benefits for families because family poverty is one of the primary causes of the deficits in education and vocational training of a large part of those affected by poverty. They therefore have little chance on the labor market and thus pass on poverty. The organizations also recommend the introduction of minimum wages, because full-time work deserves wages that guarantee a life without social assistance.

According to the organizations concerned and Avenir Social, the cantons must also support young people and adults with grants instead of social assistance. Instead of granting livelihood grants for training that guarantees employment, where they are necessary and justified, the long-term dependency of an ever larger part of the population on social assistance is directly preprogrammed due to a lack of affordable education.

The organizations also state that affordable and development-promoting family-complementary childcare is important, as is the promotion of affordable housing and tax-financed health care.

(Article from 10/17/2008)

In Swiss society, poverty is still a taboo subject. It is often hidden and hushed up, according to Amnesty International in the documentation "Questions and Answers on the Subject of Poverty". This changed for once on the UN World Day for Overcoming Poverty on October 17, 2008, because people affected by poverty received a voice thanks to numerous campaigns by non-governmental organizations.

As part of the “Human Rights and Poverty” campaign, Amnesty International (AI), for example, launched an original campaign: well-known Swiss people read experience reports from people affected by poverty in Switzerland and abroad in short videos.

But those affected also organize themselves and join forces, be it to help themselves or because they want to make their point of view public. There are numerous self-help organizations in Switzerland.

For example KABBA

One example is the Committee of the Unemployed and People Affected by Poverty (KABBA) in Bern. The association, which was founded in 2006, has set itself the goal of representing the interests of the unemployed and those affected by poverty vis-à-vis the authorities and politicians.
The KABBA offers various information and services on its website. The organization has also set up a self-help group. Under the motto “Unemployed help unemployed” (AHA), it wants to promote the exchange of experiences between the unemployed and those affected by poverty in dealing with authorities, insurance companies and employers and, if necessary, provide active support. With various campaigns and press releases, KABBA draws the public's attention to their concerns and problems. The long-term goal is the “introduction of an unconditional basic income for all residents of Switzerland, which, according to Art. 12 of the Federal Constitution, allows a decent existence”.

Swiss platform

The Swiss Platform for People Affected by Poverty (Spar) pursues the same goal. The association consists of several member organizations, including the KABBA. In the basic declaration of the Spar it says: «Spar advocates a sensitization of the society for issues of poverty and exclusion, wants to give the poverty a new face, in that those directly affected can represent themselves and look after their own interests. Furthermore, Spar would like to work intensively to ensure that social assistance is anchored and managed nationally and is no longer the responsibility of the individual cantons and municipalities. " On its website, Spar follows and comments on the current political debates on issues relevant to poverty. It also refers to campaigns and offers throughout Switzerland.

Social justice

Another initiative that aims to give those affected by poverty and unemployment in Switzerland a voice is the “Halb / Moitié” media service. This organization is supported by the “Social Justice” association. The media service provides regular newsletters on topics relating to working conditions, unemployment and social welfare.


Claudia Schuwey, Carlo Knöpfel: “New Handbook Poverty in Switzerland”, 2014, Caritas-Verlag.