New rules aim to stem rising poverty
The Swiss welfare authorities want to reduce the number of poor by rewarding those who take up paid employment.
The authorities say common guidelines introduced last year in an attempt to re-integrate welfare recipients into society and the labour market have been successful. But they argue that much still needs to be done.
Those people who find some form of paid work can benefit from an additional payment, while the basic welfare payout has been slightly reduced.
The extra funds range from SFr400-700 ($304-532) according to the region in which people live.
"It is important to give people a perspective in life," said Walter Schmid of the umbrella organisation of public and private welfare institutions on Tuesday.
He added that the number of poor people had risen again last year.
He told a news conference in Bern that about 500,000 people in Switzerland depended on welfare payments, although last year's increase – just under ten per cent – had slowed over the past few months.
Last month the Catholic charity, Caritas, said one million people - one in seven residents in Switzerland - were affected by poverty.
The new guidelines were approved at the end of 2004. Several cantons started introducing them last year and more put them into practice on January 1.
However, three of the country's 26 cantons prefer to maintain their own rules.
Officials said the local authorities had to invest more in work programmes for disabled people or those with limited intellectual skills.
The move comes as the biggest Swiss city, Zurich, is planning to employ several hundred long-term jobless for low-paid work.
A similar scheme has been tested in the eastern city of St Gallen since 1997.
The authorities on Tuesday also warned against attempts to burden the welfare institutions by tightening federal regulations for beneficiaries of invalidity payments.
Moves are underway in parliament to amend the invalidity insurance scheme in an effort to reduce its deficit.
swissinfo with agencies
Under the new guidelines basic welfare payout has been reduced.
But those beneficiaries who find some form of paid work are entitled to additional cash.
The aim of the coordinated policy is to facilitate re-integration of poor people into the labour market and society.
The official poverty line is SFr2,480 for a single person residing in Switzerland.
Couples with two children must earn a minimum net salary of SFr4,600 to remain above it.
According to the Federal Statistics Office, the percentage of poor in Switzerland was 12.5% in 2004.
It said there were 211,000 "working poor" in the country last year - people between the ages of 20 and 59.
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