The inequality of wages and wealth in Switzerland is striking and the gap is getting larger, according to the charity Caritas.
At its annual forum in Bern on Thursday, the non-governmental organisation focused on social inequality and solidarity, notably on education.
The richest ten per cent of Swiss households had incomes six to ten times that of the poorest ten per cent, the forum heard. And just 0.14 per cent of Swiss taxpayers possessed more than 20 per cent of total private wealth.
What's more, these disparities were widening. In recent years higher incomes had grown faster than lower ones.
Economic analyst Hanspeter Stamm pointed out that when it came to wealth inequality, Switzerland was above the international average.
In surveys the public always came out in favour of a more equal society and one that expressed greater solidarity, Stamm added.
Education was the foundation stone for a person's place in society – and even there not all children had the same opportunities.
"In international comparisons we saw certain connections between individual characteristics and performance," said Huguette McCluskey, national project manager in Switzerland for the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).
"For reading girls were much better than boys," she told swissinfo.
"But we also saw differences on the socio-economic level. Switzerland is in the middle – it's not below average for OECD countries – but the impact of socio-economic status is still quite big and this has to be corrected."
McCluskey spoke of the problems experienced by people without higher education when finding jobs and trying to make ends meet.
Yves Flückiger, professor of economics at Geneva University, focused on wage inequality, which he said was also increasing – "not very fast, but it is increasing".
"In Switzerland even if two people have exactly the same level of education, they work in different sectors and have a very high level of wage inequality," he told swissinfo.
Flückiger also emphasised the negative economic impact, explaining that low wages contributed to a reduction in productivity and a slowdown in growth.
He added that low salaries were de-motivating and often led to people changing jobs, which was costly for companies.
The economics professor said politicians could do their part by creating equal access to education – and promoting further adult education.
He said the law should be enforced to suppress discrimination. "We still see in Switzerland a wage inequality for two people with the same education due to the fact that one of them is a woman and one is a man."
swissinfo, Thomas Stephens
Poverty in Switzerland
Anyone with disposable income of less than SFr2,480 ($1,950) per month is considered poor in Switzerland, according to official figures from 2004.
The breadline for a family of four was set at SFr4,600 after deductions for taxes and social security.
An estimated one million people – one in seven – in Switzerland live in poverty, according to Caritas.
Among them are 250,000 children, nearly 200,000 old age pensioners and more than 600,000 people aged 19 to 64.
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