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Poverty alarm sounds in Swiss cities

One in ten Swiss children is living below the poverty line

(Keystone Archive)

One in ten children in Swiss towns and cities is living below the poverty line, according to a report published on Tuesday.

The study of nine urban areas in northern Switzerland showed an “alarming” ten per cent rise in welfare cases in 2003.

The report, compiled by Urban Initiative, noted that welfare cases rose by 15 per cent in Zurich and Basel.

The organisation, which represents 50 Swiss towns and cities, called for an end to cutbacks, saying the time had come “to invest rather than economise”.

It said more staff were needed to help people come off social security and rejoin the workforce.

Child poverty

The biggest concern is the number of children classed as living in poverty. Statistically, 87 of every 1,000 children in Switzerland fall into this category.

In Basel last year, 12.5 per cent of children and young people under 18 were on welfare – almost three times the average for adults.

“The highest social welfare assistance ratios involved children and young people under 18,” revealed Michael Hohn, director of social affairs for the city of Bern.

The report called on businesses to step up training and recruitment initiatives, adding that more than half of all new cases were related to unemployment.

Hohn said children in cash-strapped families had limited access to education and training schemes, and faced a greater prospect of poverty in adulthood.

Back to work

Above all, Urban Initiative wants extra staff to give social workers more time to help those on benefits back into employment.

“A welfare officer who is handling 150 cases isn’t able to advise people and help them get back to work,” said Ruedi Meier, president of Urban Initiative and social affairs director for the city of Lucerne.

He said such a strategy would pay for itself. Meier added that the upturn in the Swiss economy had yet to ease caseloads in the towns and cities studied.

Cities in French-speaking Switzerland were not included in the study, but participants said the higher jobless rate in those areas suggested similar problems.

Basel’s director of social affairs, Rolf Maegli, said the sharp rise in cases in the city was due to a number of “decisive factors” including a high population of foreigners, housing costs, high taxes and expensive health insurance.

He said Basel had instituted a counselling programme and increased its welfare assistance. More job training is also being offered.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

On average, one child in ten lives below the poverty line, according to a study of nine Swiss cities.
The proportion of people under 18 on welfare is 12.5% in Basel and 10.9% in Zurich.
That amounts to more than twice the proportion of adults on welfare, which averages 4.3%.
Welfare cases rose by 10% in 2003.

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