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Parliament backs crèche funding boost

Politicians voted in support of a proposal to allocate SFr100 million a year to help finance childcare facilities

(Keystone)

The House of Representatives has approved plans to increase the number of crèche places in Switzerland by up to 100,000.

Politicians voted on Wednesday in support of a proposal to allocate SFr100 million a year to help finance childcare facilities.

The initiative, which was put forward by the Social Democrat parliamentarian, Jacqueline Fehr, would initially run for four years at a cost of SFr400 million. The funding could ultimately be extended over ten years.

The proposal, which was approved by 117 votes to 53, will go before the Senate later in the year.

It is likely to face opposition from the Swiss cabinet, which argues that the federal government can only afford SFr25 million per year. This would only be enough to finance an average of 100 extra crèche places per canton.

Interior minister Ruth Dreifuss said she did not know where any additional funding would come from.

Under the proposal, the money would be used to cover up to a third of the running and set-up costs of crèches. Kindergartens and school-based mealtime services would also have access to the funding.

Economic benefits

The lack of crèche places in Switzerland is slowly being recognised as a major barrier preventing women from returning to the workplace.

Where once crèches were seen as a necessary evil, allowing poorer mothers to work, they are now seen as essential for the health of women, their children and the economy.

Business groups have increased pressure on government by urging it to fund more childcare places in order to free up more educated and skilled women for the workforce.

Economic studies suggest that government spending on childcare is recouped fourfold through extra taxes and spending by families where both parents work.

Shortage

During Wednesday's parliamentary debate, Fehr said around half of all working parents have children that are left unsupervised outside school hours.

"Switzerland has a shortage of around 200,000 crèche places for children up to five years old," she said.

Parliamentarian Hugo Fasel added that "the biggest traffic jam in Switzerland is not at the Gotthard [tunnel], but on the waiting lists for crèche places".

Right-wing opposition

The proposal is likely to face opposition from some German-speaking and rural areas, where mothers are more likely to face social pressure to stay at home.

Switzerland's right-wing People's Party is also fighting the initiative, arguing that "overburdened parents" are demanding a legal right to have taxpayers support their childcare.

But in cities such as Geneva, authorities have long-recognised the financial benefits, helping to double the number of subsidised crèche places.

swissinfo with agencies


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