Social welfare (Switzerland)

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In Switzerland , a distinction is made between social assistance in the broader sense and social assistance in the narrower sense.

Social assistance in the narrower and broader sense

Social assistance in the broader sense includes all needs-based benefits as well as social assistance in the narrower sense. Required benefits upstream of social assistance in the narrower sense are risk-specific. Anyone who gets into financial difficulties due to a certain life situation has a claim. The upstream needs are diverse and differ depending on the canton. Basically, three groups of services can be distinguished:

  • Services that guarantee access to basic public services (training contributions, reduced premiums for compulsory health insurance, etc.)
  • Benefits that are paid in addition to insufficient or exhausted social security benefits (supplementary benefits for old-age and disability insurance, unemployment benefits, family allowances, etc.).
  • Benefits that come into effect as a result of insufficient private security (alimony allowance, housing cost allowance, etc.)!

Social assistance in the narrower sense comes into play when a household cannot secure its existence despite these benefits. It is a social service under public law which, in the social security system, has the function of providing a minimum income for the lowest safety net. It ensures the livelihood of needy people, promotes their economic and personal independence and supports their social and professional integration. Social assistance makes an active contribution to the prevention and prevention of poverty and thus to social peace in Switzerland. The financial benefits of social welfare are based on individual needs and are only paid out if your own funds are insufficient and all other help is not available or not available on time. In addition to economic help, social welfare provides personal support in the form of social counseling. Social assistance is a central pillar of the social security system in Switzerland. It is regulated by law by the cantons and financed from public funds. The cantons use the SKOS guidelines as a guide when designing the support services . Public welfare is supplemented by private welfare from aid agencies and other organizations.

The following remarks refer to social assistance in the narrower sense.

Legal basis

Federal level

Basic right to help in emergencies (Art. 12 BV)

The Swiss Federal Constitution guarantees everyone in Switzerland a right to help in emergencies. Article 12 BV reads: "Anyone who gets in need and is unable to look after themselves has a right to help and care and to the means that are essential for a decent existence." The right to livelihood security enshrined in this article forms the most important basis for social assistance at the federal level. However, no statement is made about which resources are necessary for a dignified existence. So there is no subsistence level established.

Article 115 BV and the law on jurisdiction (ZUG)

Article 115 of the Federal Constitution is a competency norm that determines that the cantons are responsible for supporting those in need. The cantons are constitutionally obliged to regulate and implement social assistance. However, Article 115 also states that the Confederation can regulate jurisdiction and exceptions. He regulated this in the Competence Act (ZUG) of 1977. The ZUG deals with social assistance law and essentially regulates the obligation to reimburse costs between the cantons (with regard to support residence, canton of residence, home canton, etc.). The ZUG also specifies responsibility for Swiss people with permanent residence abroad, foreigners, refugees or stateless persons. In December 2012, the Swiss parliament decided to amend the Jurisdiction Act so that the canton's home canton's obligation to reimburse is abolished.

Legislation on social assistance for Swiss nationals abroad

The law on social assistance and loans to Swiss nationals abroad is based on Art. 40 of the Federal Constitution and regulates the entitlement to social assistance for people who are domiciled abroad, have been there for more than three months or have been abroad after at least three years return to Switzerland and need support.

Social assistance to foreigners

Foreigners from the European Union and EFTA can only receive social assistance if they have a valid residence permit and have worked in Switzerland for at least one year. In June 2017, the Federal Council dealt with the issue of more severe restrictions on access to social assistance for people who are not citizens of EU or EFTA countries.

Legal foundations from the asylum area

If asylum seekers, temporarily admitted persons, persons in need of protection and refugees (during the first 5 or 7 years of residence) or persons with a legally binding eviction decision are dependent on social assistance benefits, the cantons and the communes are responsible for providing the benefits, but the costs are increased adopted by the federal government. This enables the federal government to enforce provisions on the payment of social assistance benefits for these groups of people.

Cantonal level

In every canton there is a cantonal social welfare law that has been passed by the respective parliament. The details are regulated by a social assistance ordinance. This is issued by the cantonal government. This means that social welfare law varies from canton to canton. All cantons orient themselves in one way or another to the guidelines of the Swiss Conference on Social Welfare (SKOS).

SKOS guidelines

The Swiss Conference for Social Welfare (SKOS) is a private law association and professional association, on whose board the cantonal social welfare offices, cities, municipalities and regions as well as organizations of private social welfare are represented. Members of the SKOS are the cantons, federal offices, cities, municipalities and private organizations.

SKOS issues guidelines on the method of calculation and the determination of the individual support budget when receiving social assistance benefits. These are made up of the basic needs for subsistence, housing costs and basic medical care as well as the situation-related benefits. With the help of an allowance system, personal integration efforts and the individual life situation are specifically taken into account. The guidelines also provide information on the offsetting of income and assets, on dealing with financial claims against third parties, on the rights and obligations of those receiving social assistance as well as on requirements, possible sanctions and measures for integration. These guidelines are recommended in nature. They only become legally binding through their inclusion in cantonal legislation, communal legislation or case law. Today, however, all cantons orient themselves to the SKOS guidelines in different ways.

The guidelines are prepared by practitioners. The “Guidelines and Practical Aid (RIP)” commission includes over twenty experts from the field of social assistance and the management of social services in larger and smaller municipalities, cities and German- and French-speaking Switzerland. Changes to the guidelines are also supported by the “Legal Issues” Commission from a legal point of view and the “Social Policy and Social Assistance” Commission from a socio-political perspective. The guidelines are adopted by the board of directors of SKOS and the board of directors of the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Social Directors (SODK). This mechanism for setting or revising the guidelines ensures that the guidelines are broadly based.

Organization of social assistance

Responsibility and implementation of social assistance are organized very differently depending on the canton or municipality. It can be organized cantonal, regional or communal. With the creation of specialized social services at cantonal or regional level or in large municipalities and cities, the professionalization of social assistance is strengthened. These social services provide material and personal help in emergencies. It can be assumed that 80–90% of all people in Switzerland today live in the catchment area of ​​such a social service.

The social welfare authority also handles objections to decisions. In the second instance, a cantonal supervisory authority usually deals with this. As a last step, recurrent persons can also go to the competent courts.


In Switzerland as a whole, 261,983 people received social assistance benefits in 2014. That is 3.2% of the Swiss population. The social welfare rate hardly changed between 2009 and 2014. But there are big differences between the cantons. Urban cantons have a higher rate of social assistance than rural areas. Young adults, people with a low level of education, single parents and foreigners are particularly dependent on social assistance.

Social assistance rate by age group (2014):

  • 00-17 years, 5.2%
  • 18-25 years, 3.9%
  • 26–35 years, 3.9%
  • 36–45 years, 3.6%
  • 46–55 years, 3.3%
  • 56–64 years, 2.7%
  • 65–79 years, 0.2%
  • 80+ years, 0.3%

Social assistance rate by nationality (2014):

  • Swiss nationals, 2.2%
  • Foreign nationals, 6.3%

Support units by household structure (2014):

  • 65.5% of all cases concern one-person cases
  • 18.6% of all cases concern single parents
  • 10.5% of all cases affect couples with children
  • 5.3% of all cases concern couples without children

44.2% of all recipients of social assistance have no vocational training (2014).

For 53.5% of all social assistance files, social assistance was the only source of income. In 27.5% of the cases, social assistance had to supplement earned income. If the labor force was 90% or more, we speak of working poor .


middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, social assistance, then known as poor relief, was a matter for the churches, which distributed alms to those in need. Religious orders ran simple hospitals and hospices, where the poor were treated free of charge. In the late Middle Ages, the villages and towns themselves began to maintain such poor houses.

16th to 19th century

In 1551 the Diet of the Old Confederation decided that each parish or parish should pay for its own poor. This also corresponded to the development in England and France: The poor should stay where they are. It was also felt that the poor should be helped where their needs are known - namely, where they live. If a Swiss became “arganous”, that is, in need of support, the home community had to pay for him.

The Diet decided in 1681 that the hometown of a poor man should pay for his support. This often simply shifted responsibility for the poor, the sedentary and the homeless, and in some communities these marginalized groups made up up to 10% of the population.

The notorious shortage of money only changed in the 18th century, when the communities opened funds from donations and fines in order to have liquid funds available for the poor. At the same time, the principle was often applied that the relatives of those in need had to pay for their support.

The regulation with the place of origin sometimes led to a certain discrimination, since one cannot lose one's place of origin. Acquiring a second or a third hometown was and is only possible through an expensive naturalization at the new place of residence. An attempt was made to master the increase in the poor with marriage bans, which was ended with the constitution of 1874, which prohibited a distinction between people according to social situation. Until the end of the 19th century, however, people dependent on welfare received money to emigrate to America. In return, the poor man was declared homeless, so that no Swiss community had to pay for him anymore.

In the second half of the 19th century, the first cantons began to create laws on welfare benefits; In 1920 such regulations finally existed in all Swiss cantons. A decisive change began in 1857 when the canton of Bern decided that the municipality of residence, but no longer the hometown, was responsible for supporting the poor, even though 59% of the people still lived in their hometown at that time. By 1939, all cantons had adopted the place of residence regulation. The place of origin only has to pay for the subsistence level for people in need who are obviously homeless and homeless.

20th century

After the First World War, special training courses were created to train the first social workers. They ran homes for orphans and the disabled. In 1948 the AHV was introduced, which together with the IV and the EO takes over part of the previous poor welfare.

Basic principles of social assistance

  • Preservation of human dignity: Social assistance is rooted in the constitutionally protected right to a decent existence. Your main task is to provide the needy individual with the bare essentials for life and to free them sustainably from their specific plight.
  • Subsidiarity: Social assistance is granted if the needy cannot help themselves and if help from third parties is not available or not available in time. The person in need of help is entitled to a comprehensive clarification of their personal and social situation.
  • Individualization: Social assistance benefits are adapted to the individual case. Supported people are not in a material better position than unsupported people who live in modest economic circumstances. The primary goal is to ensure the autonomy of those affected with the best possible integration into the professional and social environment.
  • Performance and consideration: The granting of social assistance is linked to the cooperation of the person seeking help. Efforts in the form of gainful employment or charitable work are taken into account by granting an allowance or an allowance.
  • Final principle: Social assistance is provided regardless of a reason that led to poverty. The dictionary of social policy defines it this way:

“If a service is provided because a need has arisen, one speaks of finality. The causes that led to this need do not matter. The classic final systems include public and private social assistance. Among the social insurance schemes, AHV, IV, EL and occupational pension schemes are among the final systems. Although they are linked to a certain risk (old age, death, disability), they do not differentiate according to its cause (accident or illness). "

- SocialInfo, the dictionary of social policy


Social assistance is a need benefit. This means that it is clarified on a case-by-case basis whether a person or a household is able to cover its expenses with the funds available. If this is not the case, the household receives social assistance. In the case of shared apartments, where there is not necessarily a mutual obligation to support, the situations are considered separately. Social assistance provides economic support and, as part of social counseling, personal, i.e. H. advisory help.

Economic social assistance

Calculation of needs / expenses considered

A household is entitled to basic needs, housing costs for a suitable apartment and health care costs. In addition, there may be other situation-related benefits for expenses such as childcare in addition to the family, professional expenses, etc.

According to SKOS guidelines (new amounts from January 1, 2016) the basic requirement (CHF) is:

  • 1 person 986
  • 2 people 1509.
  • 3 people 1834.
  • 4 people 2110.
  • 5 people 2386.
  • per additional person 200

The following expenditure items are to be settled from the basic requirement:

  • Food, beverages and tobacco products
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Energy consumption (electricity, gas, etc.) without ancillary housing costs
  • Ongoing housekeeping (cleaning / maintenance of clothes and apartment) including refuse fees
  • Small household items
  • Health care without deductibles and deductibles (e.g. medicines you have bought yourself)
  • Transport expenses including half-fare card (local public transport, maintenance of bicycles / moped)
  • Message transmission (e.g. telephone, post)
  • Entertainment and education (e.g. radio / TV license, sports, toys, newspapers, books, school costs, cinema, keeping pets)
  • Personal hygiene (e.g. hairdresser, toiletries)
  • Personal equipment (e.g. writing materials)
  • Other (e.g. association fees, small gifts, drinks and food taken out of town)

Social assistance only pays support for current expenses. Social assistance does not finance the ownership, maintenance and use of cars unless they are used to maintain work or are necessary for health reasons, for example in the case of mobility problems. Social assistance does not clean up debts either.

In the case of medical treatment, social assistance pays the annual deductible and the deductible from the health insurance company. Uncovered but essential treatment costs are also paid. Dental treatment must be simple, economical and practical. To be on the safe side, a cost estimate must be sent to the competent authority, if possible by registered mail, before consent is given to treatment by the welfare recipient. The authority can have this checked for plausibility by a medical examiner, who is obliged to observe medical confidentiality, but has to bear the resulting costs himself if the ordered examination by the authority’s medical doctor was unjustified.

Additional expenses for vacation are not paid by social assistance. However, those receiving social assistance can use the support money made available to them relatively autonomously and, to a limited extent, also make smaller excursions without other expenses. In special cases, the social service can request private foundations for contributions to recreational trips.

Further information on what social assistance pays and what does not can be found on the SKOS website.

Crediting of income and assets

On the income side of the needs calculation, all available funds are taken into account, i.e. earned income, other social benefits and assets.

An income tax allowance is granted on the earned income, i.e. part of the income is not taken into account. How high this amount is varies from canton to canton. As a rule, the tax exemption is between 200 and 600 francs.

The assets are to be used up to an asset allowance. This is CHF 4,000 for individuals, CHF 8,000 for couples and CHF 2,000 for a child. Dispensable valuables, real estate, expensive cars and the like are to be sold in order to be able to live on your own capital for as long as possible. Financial claims against third parties (daily allowances, alimony, etc.) must be demanded from the social assistance recipient.

If there is an entitlement to social assistance, the relatives in ascending and descending family relationships can be requested to receive support. Siblings are not required to support, but spouses do. Relative support is regulated in Articles 328 and 329 of the Civil Code (ZGB). Since the revision of the SKOS guidelines in December 2008 - based on a federal court decision - a high standard of living of the relatives has been assumed for this requirement. For individuals, the SKOS recommends an income limit of 10,000 francs per month, for married couples of 15,000 francs. The asset exemption is recommended at 250,000 or 500,000 francs. Relative support is applied very differently in the cantons.

Personal welfare

Social counseling aims to help people who are threatened or affected by temporary or permanent social exclusion to regain access to the various functional systems of society. With methods such as the empowerment approach, social work tries to empower those receiving social assistance to lead a life that is as self-determined as possible. The social workers proceed in a resource-oriented manner and see their clients as autonomous, reflective people. Often the focus is on professional integration, but great attention should also be paid to social or societal integration, because in this way, in addition to safeguarding human dignity, consequential damage for those affected as well as the public sector can be limited. And it is not uncommon for social integration to be the first step towards professional integration.

Today's social assistance is activating. Social welfare recipients are to be motivated to perform work and integration through offers and incentives. In the SKOS guidelines, incentive elements are provided for employed recipients of social assistance or for those who make special efforts to ensure their professional and social integration. If recipients of social assistance take up gainful employment or if they expand their current professional activity, they receive an income tax credit on their wage income. The integration allowances are also available for non-employed people who provide benefits for professional and social integration.

Rights and duties of those receiving social assistance

Social assistance recipients have rights and obligations that can be derived from the objectives and basic principles of social assistance.

The person concerned has the right to have their legal capacity and capacity to act under civil law not restricted. The supported person also has the right to be heard and to inspect files. Furthermore, the decisions of the social welfare authorities must be ordered and justified in writing. After all, those affected have a right to be given the opportunity to improve their situation independently.

One of the obligations of social assistance recipients is to provide truthful information about their income, assets and family circumstances when clarifying their need. Any changes in financial and personal circumstances must be reported. If possible, recipients of social assistance must also help to reduce their plight. This includes, in particular, the obligation to look for or take up reasonable gainful employment as well as participation in social and professional integration measures as well as the obligation to assert third-party claims.


If these obligations are culpably breached, the basic subsistence needs can be reduced or canceled by a maximum of 30 percent as well as allowances for benefits (income tax allowance and integration allowances). Reductions must be proportionate and be ordered in a contestable form.

In practice, access to social assistance can be blocked for people affected by poverty with many bureaucratic hurdles, especially for people with chronic illness and / or mental problems. In the latter, sexual exploitation or drug consumption, or both, is often a major contributing factor. The fulfillment of official requirements requires a minimal ability on the part of those concerned to be able to fulfill them. If this is not the case, their fate turns in a fateful downward spiral. These people need intensive support in order to get out again.

Reimbursement of the service

When reimbursing social assistance benefits, a distinction must be made between lawfully and illegally received benefits.

If the financial situation of (former) social assistance recipients massively improves, lawfully received social assistance benefits can be reclaimed from the public purse. To what extent and to what extent such reimbursements are requested depends heavily on cantonal legislation.

If someone has received social assistance benefits illegally or has not used them correctly, they must also reimburse them. In particular, if someone works and earns money while receiving social assistance, he must declare this income to the social assistance authority; so the services can be adjusted. Anyone who fraudulently fails to fulfill these obligations risks being reported for fraud.

Acknowledgment of guilt

Even if a former needy person did not have enough assets to pay back the social assistance benefits, but barely manages to make ends meet, there are increasing complaints that some municipalities are starting - increasingly in the canton of St. Gallen - to have so-called debt acknowledgments signed with it a community can initiate enforcement in a simpler way. This is in contradiction to the will of the legislature, which provides that once supported people are not burdened with lifelong debts to the relevant authority. It is advisable not to sign such acknowledgments of guilt and to make a legal proposal in the event that debt enforcement is initiated.

By acknowledging guilt, a municipality aims to interrupt the reimbursement obligation recognized in most cantons for a maximum of 15 years and thus start over again.


In order to do justice to the paradigm shift to “welfare-to-work” (“workfare”) that took place in the USA , Canada and Great Britain in the 1980s, the revision of the SKOS guidelines in 2005 In Switzerland too, "material security in the event of impending poverty is now systematically linked to the condition that recipients of social benefits provide what is known as counter-performance wherever possible, that is, somehow defined work must be performed."

Social firms

Recipients are obliged to participate in workfare programs regardless of their working health. In many cases, these (relatively simple) activities include a. the recovery of raw materials ( e.g. computer parts), sewing jobs, housekeeping (laundry and kitchen), office work (such as administration of the company, artificial replication of customer orders) or IT tasks (for further training) or customer orders. Sozialhilfebeziehende - along with general unemployment benefit and IV -Leistungsbeziehende - such work in appropriate workshops, offices and internal staff restaurants in state institutions (non-profit organization as a "second labor market") to their physical and mental state or private law (as in the "primary labor market" active companies mostly profit-oriented) organized social firms . Such a social company usually includes training in job search and career advice .

Web links



  • Ruedi Epple, Eva Schär: donors, cities, states. Seismo Verlag, Zurich 2010, ISBN 978-3-03777-088-7 .
  • Gisela Hauss, Béatrice Ziegler: Help, educate, manage. Seismo Verlag, Zurich 2010, ISBN 978-3-03777-078-8 .
  • Peter Neuenschwander, Oliver Hümbelin, Marc Kalbermatter, Rosmarie Ruder: The difficult walk to social services. Seismo Verlag, Zurich 2012, ISBN 978-3-03777-124-2 .
  • Claudia Hänzi: The guidelines of the Swiss conference for social welfare. Helbling Lichtenhahn Verlag, Basel 2011, ISBN 978-3-7190-3086-5 .
  • Robert Fluder, Jürgen Stremlow: Poverty and neediness. Challenges for the communal social system. Bern: Haupt Verlag, 1999.
  • Andreas Huwiler: Organization of social assistance. Edition Soziothek, Bern 2008, ISBN 978-3-03796-408-8 (PDF file) free of charge
  • Guido Wizent: The need under social welfare law. A manual, Zurich / St. Gallen 2014.
  • Guido Wizent: Social Welfare Law, Zurich / St. Gallen 2020

Individual evidence

  1. Federal Statistical Office 2011. Statistical Social Report Switzerland 2011, p. 64ff. ( Memento of the original dated November 14, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. ^ Claudia Hänzi: The guidelines of the Swiss conference for social welfare. 2011, p. 81.
  3. The ZUG Competence Act
  5. ^ Claudia Hänzi: The guidelines of the Swiss conference for social welfare. 2011, p. 57f.
  6. Federal Council examines restrictions on social assistance for foreigners. Retrieved June 28, 2017 .
  7. ^ Claudia Hänzi: The guidelines of the Swiss conference for social welfare. 2011, pp. 59-63.
  8. ^ Claudia Hänzi: The guidelines of the Swiss conference for social welfare. Part 4, 2011, pp. 271-362.
  9. The SKOS guidelines
  10. [1]
  11. The SKOS guidelines at a glance, SKOS basic paper ( 2013) (PDF; 210 kB)
  13. ( Memento of the original from July 22, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  14. ^ Federal Statistical Office (FSO). Social welfare statistics 2014.
  15. ^ Federal Statistical Office (FSO). Social welfare statistics 2014.
  16. ^ Federal Statistical Office (FSO). Social welfare statistics 2014.
  17. ^ Federal Statistical Office (FSO). Social welfare statistics 2014.
  18. ^ Federal Statistical Office (FSO). Social welfare statistics 2014.
  19. Home law depending on ownership, descent, national specifics Peter Joksch, July 18, 2001.
  20. SKOS (2013). Social assistance briefly explained.
  21. Entry in the dictionary with references
  23. Norbert Herriger: Empowerment in social work: an introduction. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2012.
  24. guideline-consultieren/ (Chapter E.1.2)
  25. guideline-consultieren / (Chapter C.2)
  26. (Chapter A.8.2)
  27. ^ IG Sozialhilfe (Ed.): Annual report 2011. Zurich s. a., p. 4.
  28. ( Memento of the original from August 24, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  29. Online article on debt recognition in social welfare: Social welfare: A lifetime of debt , observer, article from March 20, 2015, accessed on April 14, 2015.
  30. Excerpt from work on workfare: Workfare in the social welfare reform, the revision of the SKOS guidelines in Switzerland ( memento of the original from March 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , P. 1, Sozialforschung Kurt Wyss, work from March 2006, accessed on April 14, 2015. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  31. ^ Concept of a social company: Concept of a social company , Working Group of Swiss Social Companies, accessed on April 14, 2015.