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Welfare office denies foreigners cheat the system

Swiss people are twice as likely to receive invalidity benefits than foreigners swissinfo.ch

The Federal Social Insurance Office (SIO) has hit back at rightwing claims that foreigners are abusing the invalidity benefit system.

This content was published on January 15, 2004 - 19:55

The SIO dismissed the allegations as "populist propaganda", prompting some parliamentarians to accuse it of bias.

The rightwing Swiss People’s Party launched a campaign last year against bogus invalidity benefit claimants.

As part of the campaign, the party said foreigners living in Switzerland received a significant portion of Switzerland’s benefit funds.

But the SIO says a study of the number of people receiving benefit, published on Thursday, proves otherwise.

“The report shows half as many foreigners receive invalidity benefit as Swiss citizens,” said Béatrice Breitenmoser, vice-director of the SIO.

This is despite more foreigners working in jobs in Switzerland where their health is at risk.

The report also showed that more Swiss citizens than foreigners claim benefit for psychological reasons.

The proportion of Swiss to foreigners receiving invalidity benefit has stayed the same since 1995. The Swiss account for 65 per cent of claimants, with foreigners making up the rest.

More than 20 per cent of Switzerland's 7.3 million population are foreigners.

Widespread abuse

The SIO said it had published the report to correct what it described as the People’s Party’s attempts to manipulate the public with “subjective opinions” in the place of facts and figures.

But Yves Bichsel, People’s Party spokesman, said the SIO's motivations for releasing the figures were biased.

“The SIO is part of a department led by a member of the Radical Party [Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin] which lost out in the last elections,” he said. “Are they now seeking to vent their frustration at the vote?”

Bichsel said the People’s Party remained convinced of widespread abuse of the benefits system.

He added that the government department was simply trying to justify the fact that benefit costs had rocketed in recent years.

“Those who are familiar with the system know that there is large-scale abuse, with people trying to get benefits on all manner of pretexts,” said Bichsel.

The number of people claiming invalidity benefit grew from 164,000 in 1990 to 271,000 in 2002.

Illness accounts for around 80 per cent of claims, with one in three claimants suffering from mental illness.

Overseas claimants

The People’s Party has also drawn attention to the large number of claimants who live abroad.

According to the SIO report, 11 per cent of invalidity benefit payments paid out in January 2003 went to people living outside Switzerland - mostly foreigners.

“This shows that only a small part of the benefit payments go to people in other countries,” said Breitenmoser. “And that these people include Swiss living abroad.”

However, she admits the agency is looking into ways to cut mounting costs following the sharp increase in claims since 1990.

Last Sunday, Breitenmoser told the German-language newspaper, “Sonntagszeitung”, that the SIO was considering limiting the period during which a person can claim invalidity benefit before being reassessed.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

According to the Social Insurance Office, a foreigner is half as likely to receive invalidity benefit as a Swiss person.

The proportion of Swiss to foreigners receiving invalidity benefit has stayed the same since 1995, with Swiss making up 65 per cent of claimants and foreigners 35 per cent.

The rightwing Swiss People's Party launched a campaign last year against bogus benefit claimants.

The number of people claiming invalidity benefit in Switzerland grew from 164,000 in 1990 to 271,000 in 2002.

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