Welfare and dependency in Switzerland
SWITZERLAND is not often thought of when we discuss the welfare state. In many respects it is not a welfare state. There is, for example, no national health service and most of the population is covered by voluntary health insurance. There is also no central program to provide a minimum guaranteed income for all of the population (other than for the aged and infirm) as found in England, Norway, and Sweden. Unlike the major European welfare states, the Swiss federal government defers in much greater measure to local autonomy. But in one critical respect it has achieved what the United States and European nations traditionally defined as welfare states have not: It has all but eliminated “welfare dependency,” or intergenerational poverty, and it has done this in a strikingly different manner than other developed societies. Whether Switzerland has lessons to offer the troubled welfare states of Europe or the United States is another question. But first, let us describe how Switzerland deals with the poor, and how it shapes policies to encourage self-sufficiency and to prevent the development of dependent people in its population.