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Child allowance should benefit all children

How much do your parents get? Keystone

Working parents will be closely following a parliamentary debate on Thursday on harmonising the amount of child benefit paid across Switzerland.

The proposed legislation to be presented in the House of Representatives would also ensure that self-employed or unemployed parents are included in the scheme.

Child allowance is critical for many parents, enabling them to make ends meet.

Even though all 26 cantons pay out child benefit, the sum differs widely from canton to canton.

In Vaud, parents receive SFr150 ($129) per child per month, while at the other end of the scale, canton Valais pays out SFr260. The monthly average paid out by cantons is SFr160–190.

Under the current system, this allowance ends up in the pay packet of working parents, which is paid out by their employer, thus shutting out the unemployed and self-employed.

This would no longer be the case if the proposed legislation is approved. It would ensure that even unemployed parents receive financial assistance from the state.

The amount would not be means-tested and would follow the “one-child-one-payment” principle. The minimum payment suggested by some politicians is SFr200.

Missing out

More than 300,000 children or every sixth child in the country miss out on child-benefit payments, mostly because their parents are not working or are self-employed.

“As a self-employed woman, it is unfair that I do not get any child allowance. Those who don’t have a fixed employer need [this money] more than those who do,” said Marlies Pawlik, a mother-of-one, and the owner of a private crèche in Bern.

She would welcome a state-based solution.

“Every child should get the same amount of money and it should not be dependent on the parents’ income or on the canton they live in,” Pawlik told swissinfo.

Not enough?

Two years ago, Travail Suisse, one of Switzerland’s largest employee unions, collected enough signatures from the public to bring the issue of child benefits to the notice of parliamentarians.

Under the “yes to a fair child allowance” initiative, it called for a harmonised system, which would pay at least SFr450 per child per month.

For the organisation, a monthly payment of SFr200 suggested by some politicians does not go far enough. It argues that it costs more than SFr1,000 a month to bring up a child.

For her part, Pawlik would be happy to receive SFr200 towards bringing up her 14-year-old daughter.

“More would simply be too much. If half has to be paid by employers, a compromise has to be reached. SFr250 should be the maximum,” she said.

Cover costs

And the money would be put to good use – Pawlik explained that it could go towards meeting the costs of her daughter’s childcare, including after-school lunches.

However, some parents say that child benefit in any shape or form makes little or no difference to the state of their finances.

“It won’t have a big impact on us, as our regular income is sufficient to cover our needs,” said Martin Jakob, a Zurich-based actuary and father-of-two.

He believes politicians are missing the point.

“They should make [child-benefit payments] dependent on the income of the parents,” he told swissinfo.

There are other services that the government could pour money into, which would make a decisive difference to his and his wife’s life, such as improved childcare.

“It would be much more important for us to have a good network of crèches and kindergartens for [children of] all ages than [to receive] these payments,” said Jakob.

Whatever politicians debating the issue decide, the government has made clear that it is looking for a solution, which will not “overburden the economy”.

All sides agree that the current system needs to be revamped, with the days of payments varying from canton to canton banished to the past, and child benefits paid out for all children, regardless of the status of their parents.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza

The House of Representatives is set to discuss the introduction of harmonised child benefits across Switzerland for all children.

The payments are currently determined on a cantonal basis and are made only to employed parents.

A minimum monthly payment of SFr200 per child is likely.

Travail Suisse launched its “yes to a fair child allowance” people’s initiative in April 2003.

It is asking for at least SFr450 per child per month.

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