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Cantonal vote Citizenship hurdle ‘risks stigmatising welfare aid’

An elderly person eating eggs and bread

Many people would rather suffer in silence than risk the "shame" of asking for help. 

(Christof Schuerpf)

Voters in canton Aargau have decided to deny Swiss passports to people who have received welfare assistance in the last ten years. Creating this additional hurdle portrays social assistance in a poor light, says one expert. 

Ingrid Hess, spokeswoman for the Cantonal Conference for Social Welfare (SKOS), fears that this will further stigmatise welfare aid. Already, there are people who reject help out of shame, she tells swissinfo.ch.

Ingrid Hess, head of communications for the Cantonal Conference for Social Welfare. 

(© Béatrice Devènes)

swissinfo.ch: What is your reaction to the Aargau vote?

Ingrid Hess: Of course, I regret the decision. It once again paints a negative picture for social assistance and the people who depend on it.

swissinfo.ch: Does the vote indicate that people receiving social assistance are not worthy of becoming Swiss?

I.H.: Yes. It is already the case that the requirements for citizenship in Switzerland are generally very high.

swissinfo.ch: Do you understand the reasoning of voters in Aargau?

I.H.: When it comes to social welfare, many people just think of the cases of abuse that are highlighted in newspapers. It is understandable that people want to make access to civil rights more difficult for welfare abusers.

But the reality on the ground is often different. There are many people who face a crisis and need support only once in their lifetime. Almost half of such people no longer need social assistance within the space of one year. Others may not earn enough to support a family and may depend on supplementary social service contributions for a period of time.

swissinfo.ch: What about people who reject social welfare out of shame?

I.H.: We increasingly hear of such cases. There is a risk that people can leave it too late to ask for help, and then it is usually more difficult to get their feet back on the ground.

In our view, there is also a risk that children and young people from affected families will not be able to lift themselves out of poverty. If measures are too restrictive it hinders the successful integration of future generations.

swissinfo.ch: How does the vote decision affect your work?

I.H.: We have to work very hard to highlight the important function of social assistance and ensure that its image is not shaped by individual cases. Anyone can run into an emergency that requires help.

Social assistance is a success factor for Switzerland that ensures our prosperity and a peaceful society.

Raising hurdles for naturalisation

Anyone wishing to receive Swiss citizenship through naturalisation in the canton of Aargau should not have received social welfare assistance in the last ten years. Almost 65% of the voters approved this law change.

At a federal level, the regulations stipulate a limit of three years without receiving social assistance.

Aargau thus creates significantly higher hurdles for those wishing to naturalise than most other cantons. In 2012, voters in canton Bern also opted for a waiting period of ten years.

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