Thousands of Swiss locked up just for ‘being different’ deserve life-long special income: report

Thousands of people locked up arbitrarily in "administrative detention" by Swiss authorities during the 20th century should receive life-long benefits, special investigators have said.

Thousands of Swiss locked up just for 'being different' deserve life-long special income: report
A victim of 'administrative detention'. Hubert Meyer was told he "lacked virility and was unstable". Photo: AFP

Under the system with heavily moralistic underpinnings, at least 60,000 people aged 16 and over were imprisoned without due cause for ‘crimes’ including alcoholism or plain ‘laziness’. The practice continued up to 1981 with the poor being particular targets.

Many of the people locked away by suffered physical or sexual abuse while many were also forced to undertake forced labour. Some were sterilized in what has been described as a “dark chapter” in Swiss history.

Read also: 'Locked up for being different' – The scandal of Switzerland's undesirables

The period of imprisonment has also left many with life-long health and psychological problems. In addition, without education or training, a large number have struggled to find work, meaning they now live in poverty.

An old building, part of the psychiatric hospital site of Cery, near Lausanne, where people were placed in 'administrative detention'. Photo: AFP

Now, after four years of investigation of the practice, an independent expert commission on Monday released its final report (here in German). The 400-page document sums up the work done in that period. 

It describes a system that took different forms depending on historical context and location and makes a series of recommendations.

These recommendations include financial measures such as tax relief for former prisoners with high tax debts, assistance with medical bills, the provision of free public transport network passes and even a special life-long income for victims of the system.

The independent commission, which was established by law in 2014, also called for the establishment a centre dedicated to informing the Swiss public about the system and providing victims with a place to exchange experiences and access education and services.

The Swiss parliament in 2014 formally recognized people locked away had been treated unjustly. Victims were given 25,000 Swiss francs (€23,000) in compensation but no one has been prosecuted for their part in the system.

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Almost one in ten live in poverty in Switzerland: Report

More than eight percent of Switzerland’s population live in poverty, while 12 percent struggle to make ends meet.

Almost one in ten live in poverty in Switzerland: Report
A number if people in Switzerland can't make the ends meet. Photo by Depositphotos

A study released by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) on Thursday shows that 8.7 percent of Switzerland’s public – around 735,000 people – live in poverty, which is defined at 2,279 francs per month on average for a single person, and 3,976 francs per month for two adults and two children.

When adjusted for purchasing power, this threshold is the second-highest in Europe, topped only by Luxembourg.


The numbers are for 2019, so the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is not yet included in the data.

The poverty rate in Switzerland is the highest it has been since 2014, the study found. 

Most financial difficulties were experienced by foreign nationals, people living in single-parent households, people without training, and those living in households impacted by unemployment, FSO reports.

Here are some of the study’s other findings:

  • For the 10 percent of the population with the lowest wages, this income was less than 25,868 francs in 2019. The median income has remained stable at around 50,000 francs. 
  • The poverty rate for the employed labour force was 4.2 percent in 2019. About 155,000 people were living below the poverty line, even though they were in paid work.
  • Just over 12.2 of the population said they had difficulty making ends meet, and 20.7 percent were unable pay an unforeseen expense of 2,500 francs in the space of a month . Of these, 15.1 percent had at least one payment arrears.

READ MORE: Switzerland’s economy forecast to recover 'from summer onwards' 

On the positive side, the country’s general standard of living remains among the highest in Europe.

It is estimated on the basis of the median disposable income, after adjusting for differences in price levels in various countries. 

In Switzerland, this income was 2.8 times higher than in Greece, 1.6 times higher than in Italy, 1.3 times higher than in France, and 1.2 times higher than in Germany and in Austria.

Despite the high price level in Switzerland, the standard of living was higher in Switzerland than in most of the EU countries.