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What you should know about 'minimum subsistence' in Switzerland

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
What you should know about 'minimum subsistence' in Switzerland
Switzerland will recalculate the vital minimum levels. Photo: Pixabay.

Switzerland is a wealthy country, with most people managing to live — either well or at least sufficiently — off their income. But some people have difficulties making ends meet.


Despite the standard of living that is among the highest in Europe — and even enviable on a global scale — some people in Switzerland  just don’t have enough money at the end of the month to make their ends meet.

In fact, one in 10 people in Switzerland — 8.2 percent of the population — live in poverty, which the government defines as an average of 2,284 francs per month for an individual and 4,010 francs per month for a family.

And that brings us to the ‘minimum subsistence’, a term used to describe the amount that a person must have available to cover their basic needs — essentials necessary for survival (read more about this below).

Are ‘minimum subsistence’ and ‘poverty line’ the same?

They are very similar and closely related, as the subsistence living calculation is used to determine the poverty threshold, and the minimum level of income that a person or family must have to cover basic necessities, without going into debt.

In Switzerland, this means costs of food, housing, health insurance, utilities like water and heating, social contributions, public transport, childcare costs, and schooling.

Taxes have not been included in determining the minimum subsistence level, but that is about to change.

Tax burden and debt

Current Swiss legislation does not allow cantons to include the tax burden into the calculation of the minimum subsistence level.

If, however, taxes are not added as an expense, low-income individuals will not have enough money to pay taxes which, in turn, may cause many of them to go into debt.

“Health insurance premiums, rent costs, etc. are part of the vital minimum calculations, but taxes are not. This can launch a new spiral of debt,” said MP Philipp Matthias Bregy, who is part of the parliamentary committee that has spearheaded the move to add the tax bills into the calculation formula.

As a result, a concerted legislative effort has been underway to remedy this situation.

After the Council of States in March, the National Council has also adopted a motion on May 27th, 2024 to integrate taxes into the calculation of the minimum subsistence.


By how much will the minimum subsistence level be increased?

It depends on the tax amount in question, which varies among cantons.

In establishing the subsistence treshold, the cantons generally use the guidelines set down by the Swiss Conference of Social Services (SKOS).

This association makes recommendations about the flat amounts of money needed to cover basic living expenses.

The Federal Council will then have to figure out how to implement this change.

Are foreigners also eligible for this help?

If you are living in Switzerland legally and have serious financial difficulties, then yes, you qualify for social assistance as well.



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