Poverty in Switzerland

The corona crisis exacerbates poverty in Switzerland

Even before the corona crisis, 600,000 people in Switzerland were experiencing poverty. The crisis has further aggravated the poverty situation in Switzerland and made it visible in many areas. In response to this increased poverty, Caritas is engaged in the largest relief effort in its history to support the Swiss population. The experience gained with the people affected exposes gaps in the social safety net. Hence, Caritas Switzerland calls on the federal government and the cantons to introduce direct payments based on the system of supplementary benefits and to increase short-time working compensation for people in precarious situations to 100 percent. 

 

In crisis situations, it is the weakest members of society who are the most severely affected.  This is the case in the current corona crisis. The majority of the households whom Caritas has helped were already in difficult financial situations before the corona crisis. Many of those affected were families with under-age children, with an above average number of single parents. In French-speaking Switzerland, it was also evident that the many undocumented migrant workers in crisis situations are without any social security. In most cases, the reason for the acute financial problems was loss of earnings due to the corona crisis. Despite unemployment insurance and income compensation allowance, unemployment and short-time working mean a huge loss of income. Moreover, many families increasingly had to take second jobs to make ends meet, and these were the first ones to disappear in the corona crisis. 

Caritas’ largest relief effort for more than 100,000 people in Switzerland

At Caritas, the number of enquiries from people in need has risen sharply since the start of the corona crisis. Despite various federal and cantonal aid packages, there is a large group of  people who have faced hardship since the start of the corona crisis and need support.

Caritas Switzerland and the 16 Regional Caritas Organisation have so far supported around 14,000 people in need with direct financial assistance so they can cover their rent, health insurance bills and other expenses. In our social counselling services, we noted a doubling of advice sessions in the past months. More than 10,000 people were supported with counselling, informed about other services and referred to the appropriate office. In addition to direct aid and social counselling, Caritas responds with regional projects to the specific needs of the people who are suffering hardship as a result of the corona crisis. Around 78,000 people benefit from these services. In order to help people in poverty to meet their daily food needs, we distributed 31,000 shopping vouchers in our Caritas Markets. Thanks to the support from our suppliers and donors, we were able to reduce prices across the entire product range by 5 per cent. Since the start of compulsory mask wearing, we have distributed half a million masks to our customers, since these were not provided by the authorities in many regions.

The total aid provided by Caritas so far amounts to 12.2 million Swiss francs, of which 9.7 million francs come from the substantial support given by Swiss Solidarity. Depending on the duration of the crisis, it is to be feared that the funds will not be sufficient.  

Caritas calls for stronger measures by the federal government and cantons to assist people affected by poverty

The most important lessons learned from Caritas’ support programme so far is that corona pushes many people into poverty without them being able to do anything to prevent it. This includes people who have lost their additional earnings, who do not have a regular residence status, or who fall below the subsistence level due to the drop in income. Caritas’ daily experience with people affected exposes the gaps in social security. The general perception that welfare assistance as the ultimate safety net can and should solve this problem falls short of the mark. Many people who fall below the subsistence level get into debt, tensions in the families increase, and marginalisation progresses rapidly. 

Caritas’ demands:

  • Households and individuals whose income is below the level that entitles them to supplementary benefits must receive targeted and unbureaucratic direct payments. 
  • Caritas demands 100 per cent short-time working compensation for people in precarious situations who are put on short-time work. 
  • The funding for premium reductions must be substantially increased, by at least 50 per cent in the next two years.
  • All those living and working in Switzerland who are experiencing financial hardship must be supported by the government. We demand a decoupling of welfare assistance and residence permits. The livelihoods of undocumented migrants must also be secured.  
 

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