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Government defends countrywide child benefit

Families with children usually need all the financial help they can get

(Keystone)

Swiss Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin has launched the government's campaign in favour of a nationwide child allowance, ahead of a vote on November 26.

Couchepin said on Thursday that it was time to do away with the 26 cantonal systems in favour of a unified benefit that would be more transparent and less confusing.

"At a time when both parents work and often in different cantons, we have to sort out this problem," he told a news conference in Bern.

The government had originally only supported a formal harmonisation, demanding that each canton provide an unspecified child allowance. But parliament set minimum amounts to be paid out – SFr200 ($160.6) for children up to the age of 16, and SFr250 for others still in education.

Employers in Switzerland, who launched a referendum against the reform, can expect to fork out SFr450 million a year, or around 0.2 per cent of their salary bills. According to Couchepin, the amount is so small that there is no reason to oppose it.

But the alliance of business interests against the uniform benefit, which also includes economiesuisse, the Swiss Business Federation, says that it is unnecessary and simply too expensive. Opponents of the allowance add that tax breaks and more childcare would be a better solution for families.

Only four cantons will not have to review their child allowance system – Fribourg, Jura, Valais and Zug – if voters give the go-ahead.

Jungle

The interior minister said figuring out the 26 cantonal systems was like trying to make a way through a jungle. All cantons give child allowances to employees, but only ten pay them to self-employed people and just five to those without income.

Only farmers' children are guaranteed a benefit under federal law.

Critics say current policy is discriminatory and not family-friendly. Statistics show that more than 300,000 children in Switzerland miss out on child payments, mostly because their parents are not working or are self-employed.

Unions had denounced what it called employers' "ideological zeal" in opposing a uniform benefit as approved by parliament.

The Travail Suisse trade union umbrella organisation had called for a standard monthly benefit of SFr450 per child. This was rejected as "unrealistic" but it prompted parliament to tackle the problem, Couchepin commented.

swissinfo with agencies

Referendum

Laws which have been adopted by parliament can be challenged by the public in a referendum. For such a ballot to take place, at least 50,000 ...

In brief

Parliament approved the payment of a uniform monthly minimum SFr200 child benefit and SFr250 for children above 16.

The Swiss business community and part of the political right have challenged the decision.

The scheme would cost SFr600 million annually - SFr450 million from employers and at least SFr140 million from government resources.

Currently the payment of child benefits differs from canton to canton, ranging from SFr150 to nearly SFr290 per month.

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