A study covering eight Swiss cities has found that the number of people requiring welfare assistance fell by six per cent in 2007.
However, the length of time spent in receipt of assistance increased, with 40 per cent requiring support for three or more years.
The city representatives have called for more harmonisation in the back-to-work programmes run by the unemployment benefit, disability benefit and social assistance agencies.
Under the current system those receiving social assistance are excluded from the integration measures run by the disability and unemployment insurance schemes.
The local social assistance authorities therefore have to set up a parallel structure in each city for reintegration into the workforce.
"Institutional cooperation is a good first step and it helps in individual cases, but what is needed is a more binding, comprehensive level of cooperation" Ruedi Meier, president of the eight-city grouping said at a news conference in Bern on Tuesday.
The report, compiled by the social work department of Bern technical college, showed that the situation for young adults between 18 and 25 had clearly improved in seven out of eight cities.
This can be attributed to the more favourable employment market and the success of work integration programmes aimed at young adults, the report noted.
However, the figures show a growing problem of long-term dependence on welfare. Some 40 per cent of social assistance recipients remained on the books for three or more years, compared to just 25 per cent in 2004.
Meier predicted an even greater shifting of the burden onto social assistance if the government's planned revision of the unemployment insurance scheme goes ahead.
"Tougher criteria will make it even more difficult to get away from dependence on welfare," he said.
Social assistance is means tested and often awarded to those who don't qualify for other insurance benefits.
This may be because they don't have a long or consistent enough employment record or because they cannot adequately prove their unfitness for work.
Single-parent families account for one in five social assistance recipients.
Last year, more than 40 per cent of social assistance recipients in seven of the eight cities were foreign nationals, according to the report. The level was just under 30 per cent in Lucerne.
Ernst Schedler, head of social services in Winterthur, told swissinfo that this was mainly due to the insecurity in low-skilled jobs where proportionally more foreigners are employed.
"Foreigners in low-skilled jobs tend to have poor job security and are more likely to lose their jobs at short notice," he explained.
In line with the falling numbers of welfare cases, costs fell in 2007 by 11 per cent – the first drop in spending in five years.
The cities and towns included in the report are:
According to figures released in May, overall about 245,000 people in Switzerland lived on welfare in 2006, or 3.3% of the population.
The Federal Statistics Office said that the improved economy and job prospects had had an impact on welfare.
Overall, those most likely to receive welfare were children and teenagers up to age 17. Almost 5% of this population group relied on financial assistance.
Foreign residents, single parents and people without professional training also relied disproportionately more on welfare compared with most Swiss citizens.
The cities initiative: Social Policy
This is a sub group of the Association of Swiss Cities, representing the interests of some 50 cities and towns at federal and cantonal level in the field of social policy.
It seeks to harmonise the social security services of the local, cantonal and federal authorities.
In compliance with the JTI standards