The Mangan family lives on the breadline

Life at the limit - poverty is no adventure

When people live at the subsistence level, they fall through the gaps in the social security net. They have too little money to live on but receive no public assistance.

The Mangan family’s income is 30 francs above the minimum subsistence level under social welfare law. Therefore, they receive no help from the state.

Mangan family falls through the gaps in the safety net

Mrs Mangan comes regularly for the budget counselling offered by Caritas St. Gallen-Appenzell, even though she is an exemplary book- keeper. Social counsellor Lorenz Bertsch remembers the first session with her: «A detailed budget usually opens up possibilities to save money. But with Mrs Mangan, it soon became clear: there was virtually no potential for savings. She was already spending hardly any money.» Mrs Mangan’s case shows what «working poor» really means.

«I’m regularly faced with the choice of either buying food or paying bills.»mrs ManganPerson affected by poverty

Until recently, Mrs Mangan just managed to pay for her fixed costs provided she only bought food at reduced prices – for example in the Caritas Market. It was always the unforeseen costs that blew her budget. Her daughter Vanessa is soon starting an apprenticeship, for which she has to commute to St. Gallen every day. Annual transport costs: 2’400 francs. Vanessa also needs a laptop and school books. There are no savings.

In 2023, due to inflation, there was not even enough to cover the fixed costs: «I’m regularly faced with the choice of either buying food or paying bills», says Mrs Mangan. Due to inflation, working-poor families faced up to 500 francs in additional costs per month in 2023. Lorenz Bertsch is worried:

«Many clients have agreed to pay large bills in instalments. But these will mount up in the years to come.»Lorenz BertschSocial counsellor

Profile Mrs Mangan…

  • is the mother of two children and is a single parent,
  • she works 80% in food production,
  • earns CHF 3’430 net a month, including child allowances,
  • with this income, she is CHF 30 above the minimum subsistence level under social welfare law and therefore receives no help from the state,
  • pays CHF 1’720 in rent, ten years ago it was CHF 1’260,
  • does not receive any alimony because her son spends part of the time with his father,
  • has lived in Switzerland for 21 years, is a naturalised Swiss and speaks good German,
  • has no social network for occasional support with the children.

Social and debt counselling support when in need

Anyone who, like Mrs Mangan, falls through the social security net can turn to Caritas. During the budget counselling session, the client’s financial situation is examined and solutions are sought. If the savings potential is exhausted, Caritas can provide support with financial contributions. Such help gives Mrs Mangan a short-term breathing space – but the structural problems are not resolved. She is nevertheless grateful: «Caritas supports me reliably and on equal terms. So I feel less alone with my worries.»

Switzerland must eliminate structural poverty

As the case of Mrs Mangan clearly shows, there are serious gaps in the social security system. In July 2023, Caritas Switzerland produced a position paper calling for a «decent livelihood for all». Mrs Mangan would then receive family allowances as supplementary benefits which would drastically improve her situation.

Inflation 2023

Inflation in 2023 was 2.1%, with noticeable rises in the cost of energy, food and rents among other things.

Health insurance premium 2023

In addition to the general inflation, health insurance premiums in 2023 were 6.6% higher than in the previous year.

Health insurance premium 2024

For 2024, an unprecedented 8.7% rise in health insurance premiums is forecast.

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© Andreas Schwaiger

Header image: The Mangan family lives on the breadline © Andreas Schwaiger