Half a million struck by poverty in Switzerland

Making ends meet can be hard in an expensive country Keystone

Although Switzerland has a reputation for being exceptionally wealthy, more than half a million people in the country are affected by poverty. A national conference to try and stop the number growing took place on Tuesday.

This content was published on November 22, 2016 minutes and agencies

The conference’s aim is to see how far a five-year programme against poverty is coming along. It took place in the Swiss town of Biel/Bienne, where the mayor, Erich Fehr, told those gathered that poverty in Switzerland is often hidden from the public eye. “to a certain extent it’s hidden in the shadows,” he said.

Fehr added that many people suffering would often not contact social services for help, “sometimes from a lack of knowledge, but sometimes also from shame.”

Poverty is defined according to different scenarios in Switzerland. For example, a single-parent household with two children under 14 would be classified as living in poverty when the income for that household was at CHF3,490 ($3,905) a month. The risk-of-poverty rate is CHF3,933.

A professor at the University for Social Work and Health in Lausanne, Jean-Pierre Tabin, said that there were many people who would not ask for social support, even though they were entitled to it.

He said it was a “significant social problem” that stemmed partly from bureaucracy, a lack of familiarity with the system, complexity or simply just a fear of being discriminated against or stigmatised. He argued that these people needed to be included in the formation of social welfare policy.

In the run up to the conference, charity Caritas said that preventing poverty was in the long run a more worthwhile use of money than trying to fight or alleviate poverty. They urged the government to put more emphasis on education and training, as a lack of education is the number one cause of poverty.  

This is what poverty means for one mother in Switzerland.

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