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No place to be poor

Children living under the poverty line are isolated socially in Switzerland

(Keystone)

Statistics show that one in ten children in Switzerland live below the poverty line.

Charity workers warn that, as well as lacking basic necessities, children from deprived homes in Switzerland have little chance of escaping the poverty trap as adults.

Swiss Labour Assistance (SAH), an independent charity, this week launched a campaign to tackle the "rising level of child poverty" in Switzerland.

Basing its figures on data provided by the Federal Statistical Office and regional welfare offices, the charity reckons that up to 250,000 children in Switzerland could be living in poverty - but it warns that the real picture could be even worse.

"This is a calculation based on the number of families claiming social benefits," SAH director Brigitte Steimen told swissinfo.

"But it's also been estimated that as many as half of the families entitled to benefit don't realise they can make claims, so in reality we could be talking about one child in five."

Lacking

Rather than measuring poverty by comparison to the national average income, the charity has concentrated on a detailed examination of incomes set against regional costs of living.

According to Steimen, this means the children concerned are not just poor in relative terms, they are also lacking in all but the most basic materials.

"We looked at the amount of money that you need in Switzerland just to meet the bare requirements of rent, food, clothing and health care.

"We found that a woman bringing up two children would need around SFr4,300 a month although that could rise substantially in some of the cities where rent is likely to account for at least SFr1,000.

"Clearly many people don't have that sort of money. I know personally of one woman who needs a new mattress for her children but just can't afford it. There's also no way she can take a holiday and I don't mean going overseas. Even a simple excursion is out of the question."

International aid

As well as fighting to improve conditions for the poor in Switzerland, SAH provides development and humanitarian aid in 12 other countries, including Burkina Faso, Romania and Iraq.

But while the charity knows that old mattresses and a lack of holiday money is on a different scale to the idea of poverty in those countries, Steimen insists that the problems of child poverty in Switzerland should not be underestimated.

"The poorest children in Switzerland may not be starving, and they generally have enough clothes to wear, but their situation has to be seen in comparison to other Swiss children.

"When they are poor, even the very young children in Switzerland find themselves socially excluded, and unable to participate in social activities.

"All the studies on the subject show that when you grow up poor you're more likely to remain poor so what we're demanding is not equality but at least equal opportunities. I think it's scandalous that we don't have that in one of the oldest democracies."

Public appeal

One of the charity's most direct approaches to the problem of child poverty will be a poster campaign asking for public donations.

Although some of the money raised will go directly to the country's poorest families, most of it will be used to fund programmes providing education and training for poor children and teenagers.

In the longer term the charity will be addressing what it calls the systematic causes of child poverty - urging politicians and business leaders to address perceived inequalities in tax breaks, provide more child-care centres or finally make maternity insurance mandatory in Switzerland.

As long as the economy as a whole remains in its current doldrums, however, charity officials admit that those arguments could fall on deaf ears. Which means that the hard times may continue to be felt most by the country's poorest families.

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom

In brief

Statistics show that one in ten children in Switzerland live below the poverty line.

Charity workers warn that, as well as lacking basic necessities; children from deprived homes have little chance of escaping the poverty trap as adults.

Swiss Labour Assistance (SAH), an independent charity, has launched a campaign to tackle the problem.

SAH provides development and humanitarian aid in 12 other countries, including Burkina Faso, Romania and Iraq.

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