Social security – SWI

© Keystone / Gaétan Bally

Switzerland has a social insurance network that covers risks in many areas: work, health, family, old age.

This content was published on March 20, 2022 – 18:01

The Swiss social state is difficult to compare with that of other countries, because it includes many insurance schemes with very different mechanisms. Its financing is distinguished by a lesser use of tax revenues, significant individual foresight and the influence of private institutions.

In addition, federalism and direct democracy guide social policy, slowing down the implementation of certain aids, but sometimes accelerating the process. Disability insurance, for example, was introduced in 1960 after the filing of several initiatives calling for such a tool, while maternity leave was only introduced in 2005 after being initially rejected by the people.

In international comparison, social spending in Switzerland as a percentage of GDP occupies an intermediate position, close to the European Union average.

Retirement provision

The Swiss pension system is based on three “pillars”: compulsory state pensions (old-age and survivors’ insurance, AVS), occupational pensions (LPP) and individual pensions.

The amount of the pension depends on the years of contributions and income. It is supposed to ensure the subsistence minimum. If this is not the case, the pensioner in need can apply for additional state-funded benefits.

Disability insurance (AI)

Disability insurance is compulsory. It is financed by contributions from employees and employers as well as by the Confederation via various taxes.

The AI ​​intervenes when a person cannot carry out a gainful activity or can only do so partially due to an attack on his physical or mental health. The insurance finances rehabilitation measures to enable reintegration into the labor market as well as total or partial pensions.

Allowances for loss of earnings (APG)

This insurance is compulsory and financed by contributions from employees and employers. APGs compensate for loss of income during military service, civil service, civil protection, maternity and paternity.

Since 2005, women have been entitled to 14 weeks of leave after the birth of their child, paid at 80% of their salary. Since 2021, men have been entitled to 2 weeks leave after the birth of their child, paid at 80% of their salary.

Parents who have to interrupt or reduce their gainful activity to care for a child with serious health problems are also entitled since 2021 to 14 weeks’ leave, paid at 80% of their salary.

unemployment insurance

All employed persons in Switzerland who have not yet reached retirement age are compulsorily insured against unemployment. Contributions are paid by the employees and the employer.

To qualify for unemployment insurance benefits, the following conditions must be met:

– Have worked at least 12 months during the last two years preceding unemployment
– Be domiciled in Switzerland
– Have a work permit
– Register with a Regional Placement Office (ORP)
– Take personal steps to find a new job

Unemployment benefits amount to 70% (80% with dependent children) of the average salary earned during the last six to twelve months of work. Benefits are generally paid for two years, but there are many exceptions.

Unemployed persons at the end of their entitlement from the age of 60 can receive transitional benefits in order to ensure them a decent standard of living until their retirement.

Health Insurance

Basic health insurance (LAMAL) is compulsory for all persons domiciled in Switzerland. It is financed directly by the residents, who pay a fixed monthly premium to a private insurer. If the cost of insurance is too high, it is possible to apply for assistance from the canton of residence (subsidies).

LAMAL covers most health problems, from childbirth to visits to the doctor and serious illnesses. Most prescription drugs are covered.

Accident insurance

Employees are automatically insured by their employer against accidents and occupational diseases. If they work more than 8 hours per week with the same employer, they are also insured against non-occupational accidents.

Housewives, housewives, children, students and pensioners must insure themselves against accidents with their basic health insurance. The self-employed are not obliged to insure themselves against accidents.

Family allowances

The operation of family allowances may vary from one canton to another. As a rule, these aids are financed by employers, self-employed workers and the cantons.

The purpose of family allowances is to partially offset the costs resulting from the care of one or more children. Active people can apply for financial assistance for each of their children up to their 16th birthday. They can then obtain an allowance for each of their children in training up to their 25th birthday.

Some cantons have also introduced a birth or adoption allowance.


People in financial difficulty whose social security benefits are insufficient, who have not been able to benefit from them or who are no longer entitled to them can apply for social assistance. It aims to ensure a minimum standard of living for everyone.

Social assistance is generally financed by municipal and cantonal taxes. It is regulated by the cantons and most of the time implemented by the municipalities, its operation and the amount of aid can therefore vary greatly depending on the place of residence.

People who need financial support should contact their regional social service. Assistance is allocated on a case-by-case basis depending on the situation and needs. Social assistance benefits are often paid to the elderly whose pension is too low, to single-parent families, but also to the unemployed at the end of their entitlement, to people with heavy debts or to workers whose salary is not enough to support them. Household chores.

Nearly 10% of the population residing in Switzerland benefits from some form of social assistance in the broad sense: supplementary benefits to old-age insurance, allowances for families, housing aid, advances on alimony or general economic support for daily life.

System flaws

Despite the aid put in place in Switzerland, many people slip through the cracks and find themselves in a very precarious situation. About a third of people entitled to social benefits give up asking for help.

Several studies show that the system is complex and that many are unaware of their rights. Information is sometimes difficult to obtain and competent services are not always available. Many people feel guilty and fear stigma when seeking state assistance. In addition, some cantons provide that part of the social assistance granted must be reimbursed when the individual’s situation improves.

Foreigners risk having their residence permit withdrawn if they use social benefits. And people who are illegal or in an irregular situation do not want to take the risk of being arrested or even expelled by the authorities.

So many elements that make precariousness increase in Switzerland: in 2020, 8.5% of the population was affected by poverty, despite the intervention of social insurance.

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In accordance with JTI standards

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