Three per cent of the Swiss population live on welfare payments, according to a survey published by the Federal Statistics Office on Monday.
Unemployment is often the main factor triggering the need for financial support by the authorities. Unskilled labour is most likely to depend on welfare.
About 220,000 people – mainly foreigners, single parents and youths – depend on welfare, said a report based on data from 2004.
Residents in the southern Ticino and the northwestern Jura regions, and those living in cities such as Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Bern and Lausanne, are more likely to become welfare receivers.
The authors of the study say 43.7 per cent of the beneficiaries aren't Swiss citizens and many of them have low-skill jobs.
Divorced couples, single parents, young adults or people living on their own also have a higher risk of becoming destitute.
The authors point out the crucial role of job qualifications, saying 46.4 per cent of claimants haven't had regular professional training.
Nearly 30 per cent of those receiving welfare payments had a job but didn't earn enough to make a living, according to the report.
Half of those households in need depend completely on payments by the authorities, and 54 per cent of all cases stay on welfare for more than 12 months.
Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin and the head of the cantonal welfare authorities, Kathrin Hilber, said they were concerned about the high percentage of young people who claim social assistance.
Sixty-three per cent of welfare claimants aged 18-25 have no specific professional qualification.
No proof of fraud
Couchepin said he was pleased the overall figure of welfare beneficiaries is only three per cent.
He added there was no reason to believe in a huge number of fraudulent cases of social assistance.
Couchepin also came out against proposals to introduce special inspectors to check up on welfare claimants.
The study, which is based on data by the country's 26 cantons, is the first of its kind.
A previous report showed that 12.5 per cent of residents in Switzerland live in poverty.
Last year the city of Zurich launched a controversial programme to get long-term unemployed back to work by creating low-paid jobs.
swissinfo with agencies
The Swiss social security system includes old age, invalidity and unemployment benefits as well as welfare payments. Health insurance coverage is also mandatory.
Income support is the responsibility of the cantons and local authorities. The overall cost is around SFr3 billion per year.
Official statistics from 2004 show 12.5% of residents in Switzerland live below the poverty line.
The bread line is defined by a net monhtly income of SFr2,480 ($2,053) for a single person and SFr4,600 for a family with two children.
In 2004 about 220,000 received welfare benefits, the equivalent of 3% of the population in Switzerland.
Nearly half of them lived in a city.
43.7% of welfare beneficiaries were foreigners.
63% of the young people without a professional qualification depend on welfare payments.
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