One in five disabled people who receive state benefits in Switzerland lives in isolation and has financial difficulties, according to a study.
The survey – the first of its kind in Europe – comes amid a debate about spending cuts and alleged abuses of the welfare system.
According to the study by the Swiss National Science Foundation the current political debate about benefits for disabled people is too focused on financial aspects, and does not take account of the individual needs of beneficiaries.
“The findings call for a differentiated approach depending on the disabled person’s social situation,” the authors told a news conference in Bern on Thursday.
“More than one in five who receive payments from the state invalidity scheme live near or below the breadline, they are alone and depend on help from outside,” said co-author Daniel Gredig of the Aargau College of Applied Sciences.
The survey found that nine out of ten of those on invalidity benefits live in private accommodation. Nearly two in three have no paid employment.
More than 80 per cent have only basic school education and professional training.
The study says 465,000 disabled people in Switzerland benefited from the scheme in 2002.
The authors underlined the importance of additional measures to complement state insurance. Some 42 per cent of recipients of invalidity benefits also received money from other sources.
Social Democrat parliamentarian Liliane Maury Pasquier welcomed the study, but expressed no surprise about the findings.
“Some people live only on state benefit payments which are very inadequate. There is no minimum salary in Switzerland and this also affects disabled people,” Maury Pasquier told swissinfo.
She agreed that the debate about possible abuses of the welfare system and the overhaul of the invalidity scheme by parliament was dominated by financial considerations.
“We tend to forget a bit what it is really like for disabled people,” she added.
But Roman Jäggi, spokesman for the rightwing Swiss People's Party, questioned the value of the study.
"This report doesn't really get us anywhere... The problem is that we have too many people claiming to be disabled. But the population is not as sick as these figures make out," he said.
Later this year the Swiss will vote on plans to cut federal subsidies for social welfare and give the country’s 26 cantons - some of which struggle with huge deficits - more responsibility for social matters.
Roger Cosandey of the self-help group for disabled people, Agile, pointed out the importance of integrating disabled people into the labour market.
“There is so much talk of saving money by cutting benefits. But I’m not so sure this is wise. Instead we should grant incentives to employers so they create more jobs for disabled people,” he told swissinfo.
465,000 disabled people in Switzerland received money from the state invalidity insurance in 2003.
55% were physically disabled, 39% were mentally handicapped.
42% of disabled people get funds both from the state benefits scheme and from other sources.