Switzerland: Poverty In A Rich Society
The biggest obstacle to tackling poverty in Switzerland is its invisibility. When one walks the streets, one does not see poverty or beggars, and since being poor is considered shameful, people hide and are very reluctant to ask the state for money (Zarifeh). Switzerland is a very rich country, but the problem is that three percent of the inhabitants have ninety percent of the wealth, while the remaining ninety-seven percent have to share the rest. According to Regina Aeppli, a Swiss parliamentarian who has campaigned for legislation to combat poverty, the international reputation of Switzerland as a wealthy country is at the same time both accurate and misleading. The highest numbers of poverty can be seen among large families, single parents, the poorly educated and self-employed. The Federal Statistics Office states that people without formal training and foreigners from outside the European Union were likely to belong to the working poor. Self-employed people, especially those with no employees of their own, were also likely to end up below the poverty line. Employees with a fixed-term contract or those re-entering the workforce are likely to earn less.
Switzerland has a population of 7,500,000 and according to a secondary analysis of the Swiss Labor Force Survey (SAKE) of 2002, conducted by BASS for the Federal Office of Statistics, some 7.5 percent of Switzerland’s working population live in a household with an income that falls below poverty line guidelines. This translates into some 250,000 working people or a total of 535,000 people, including their dependents. This is a very substantial number indeed and proves that employment does not necessarily guard against poverty. However, the number of working people who live below poverty line has dropped in the last five years and this makes it clear that unemployment is a major cause of poverty. When the government intervenes with the economy to try to improve the rights of those with jobs, unemployment increases. For example, minimum wages raise the cost of labor to above the market equilibrium, resulting in people who wish to work at the going rate but cannot as the wages are higher than their worth to business, causing in unemployment. Laws restricting layoffs make businesses less likely to hire in the first place leaving many young people unemployed and unable to find work (Anderson).
Another important factor of poverty in Switzerland and in general is health. Poor access to affordable health care makes individuals less resilient to economic need and more valuable to poverty. Moreover, inadequate nutrition in childhood undermines the ability of individuals to develop their full human capabilities and thus make them more likely to fall below the poverty line. Especially elder people fall in this category of poor health. People who are actually working but belong to the working poor face major problems such as low education and therefore low chances of a job with adequate wages. The results are reduced social interactions, physical and mental illness, and no financial balance.
To help the poor, different programs have been adapted over time. The major one is welfare. The Swiss welfare system is based on the system of three pillar that guarantee personal and professional security, in addition to one’s next kin in case of retirement, disability and death. The first pillar consists of the State Welfare system that is a guarantee of a minimum allowance. It is mandatory, managed by the State and based on AVS( old age and survival insurance), AI( disability insurance) and additional benefits. Its financing is based on distribution that means active people pay for pensioners. The second pillar is the professional welfare that maintains the level of living. It is mandatory only for people working in Switzerland and earning an annual salary of at least $25,320. The purpose of this system is to maintain the standard of living for oneself, one’s next kin in case of elderly age, disability and survivals. The third pillar is private insurance. This pillar is optional and is for private needs. It is a saving system that intends to complete the cover of the 1st and 2nd pillars, and for tax optimization purposes (Swiss welfare system).
For the working poor, social welfare is currently the only institution in Switzerland with responsibility for them. However, it did not bring a solution yet to those problems that working poor households face. The institution was created to tide people over in the event of a temporary emergency with the guiding principle help people help themselves. This does not always seem to work because the working poor are not in a temporary predicament, but rather in a situation of permanent hardship. Moreover, if social welfare is used to top up the incomes of working poor households, then social welfare is subsidizing poorly paid jobs and offsetting the negative impact of inadequate social policies. So how can social welfare in Switzerland help alleviate the working poor’s dependence on social welfare benefits? A solution for the welfare conflict has been widely discussed among experts in Switzerland. Conclusions contain social research, social welfare and social policy. Research into poverty, should shift its focus away from the individual and concern itself more with households in future. Social welfare itself needs to be allocated more human resources and should do more to address the complex of problems working poor face. It should extend its counseling services and tailor them to the specific needs of its working poor clients. While social welfare should endeavor to keep these people in employment, however, it is the job of policymakers and other social partners to do their part by improving the earnings situation of Switzerland’s working poor( Mader,Kutzner,Knopfel).
Charity is another way to help the poor. About 250 million kilograms of edible food are destroyed in Switzerland every year (Hunt). If this could be passed on instead to those living below the bread line, each of them would receive one kilo of food per day. A major charity in Switzerland, Tischlein deck dich (Table be set), tries to save as much of the condemned food as possible for the people who need it most. Every week the charity provides food in all regions in Switzerland among 8500 people that live below the poverty line (Tischlein deck dich). Each of these people has been referred by social services. They must have their identity cards to prove it. The outward appearance of the people standing in line provides no clues as to their desperate economic state. They are mostly well groomed and neatly dressed. The beneficiaries vary from drug users and alcoholics to working people. The charity, which is financed by donations from the public from foundations and private companies, is on track to help more people in the near future.
In conclusion, this paper demonstrates that poverty exists also among the richest countries in the world. Switzerland is an example that even though poverty is invisible in daily life, it is still a big problem for a part of the population. Large families, single parents, the poorly educated and self-employed are most likely to fall below the poverty line. Welfare and charity are both ways to support the poor, however, there is still room for improvement for the function of the welfare system in order to decrease the numbers of the poor steadily over time. Important factors for improvements are more research into poverty and focus more on the complex problems rather than individual issues. Social welfare, the policymaker and other social institution have to work together to make a change in the future. The Bible says in Deut. 15:7: “If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks”. It’s not hard to understand; it’s just hard to do.