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General overview of social policy

What is social policy?

The concept of social policy covers all provisions and measures aimed at removing or alleviating situations of distress and social problems at either the individual or collective level, as well as improving the welfare of the most vulnerable groups in the society.

Social policy objectives include:

  • social justice (equality, equal opportunities)
  • social security (protection against risks)
  • social peace
  • greater common prosperity shared by the greatest number.

Social policy fields

In the strictest sense, social policy refers to measures which directly serve to combat or prevent poverty, chiefly social security and social welfare, as well as other cantonal means-tested benefits. In a broader sense, other policy areas, such as labour market and employment policy, education, health, housing and even fiscal policy, can also be considered as part of social policy.


Social policy is underpinned by the principles of federalism and subsidiarity. Besides the public authorities (Confederation, cantons and municipalities), a range of other actors are involved in social policy: private institutions, churches, charitable works which undertake different types of social action and which implement public policies, notably on a performance contract basis. Associations and voluntary organisation networks also have an important role to play.

The role of the Federal Social Insurance Office (FSIO). As part of its mission to develop social insurance and to promote policies which serve the interests of families, the young, children and the elderly, the FSIO is responsible for establishing the relevant legal bases within its remit. The FSIO must also encourage collaboration with different actors and ensure the coordination of its measures and those taken in other areas of social policy.

The "Family, Generations and Society" domain of the FSIO is i.a. responsible for tracking social policy development and monitoring the context which underpins social security. The FSIO writes reports and compiles background documentation on relevant topics of interest. These are then submitted to the Federal Council and Parliament for consideration. In addition to its participation in commissions, and in internal and external working parties, the FSIO carries out research, organises conferences and provides information.

Its main fields of interest are poverty, social welfare, integration, relations between generations, alternative social security models (minimum income), sustainable development and migration.

Bodies which bring together institutional social policy actors include:

Swiss Conference of the Welfare Ministers of the Cantons (SODK/CDAS) deals with all current sociopolitical issues in Switzerland. It issues recommendations on subjects such as poverty, precarious living conditions, social security, means-tested benefits, social welfare, family policy and equal opportunities' policy insofar as they have a direct bearing on social policy, social issues linked to the elderly and the disabled, migration, victim support, dependency, education and social statistics.

Swiss Conference for Social Welfare (SKOS/CSIAS) is a professional association which focuses on the form which social welfare in Switzerland takes. The CSIAS is made up of municipal, cantonal and federal representatives, as well as members of private social welfare organisations. It issues recommendations and guidelines on the form and dimensions of social welfare, and develops instruments for practitioners.

Association romande et tessinoise des institutions d'action sociale (ARTIAS) provides information on social welfare in the French- and Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland. It creates networks of regional actors, and sets out social policy issues and discussions, in particular through the provision of online files which each deal with a particular aspect of social welfare.

Initiative des villes: politique sociale (Initiative of Swiss Cities on Social Policy) voices the interests of towns at the federal and cantonal level. It is committed to the harmonisation of federal, cantonal and municipal social security systems. It consists of a network of around 50 towns and is a specialist organisation within the Union of Swiss Towns (UVS/SSV).

Legal bases

Federal Constitution

The Preamble to the Federal Constitution declares the social commitment of the community as a whole: "The strength of a people is measured by the welfare of the weak".

Art. 2 The aims of the Confederation include promoting common welfare and ensuring the highest possible degree of equal opportunities for all citizens.

Art. 12 states that a fundamental social right for all is assistance in times of distress.

Art. 41 lists the social goals which are jointly pursued by the Confederation and the cantons. These goals concern access to all social protection, health care, paid employment, acceptable housing, basic and continuing education. Furthermore, families are protected and supported, as is the social, cultural and political integration of young people. It also contains an explicit reference to protection against traditional social risks ("social security"). Measures taken to achieve these social goals belong to social policy in the broadest sense of the term.

Art. 111 - 117 concern the different types of social insurance which are social security instruments in which the Confederation plays a preponderant role.

Federal legislation

Objectives of social policy, in the broadest sense of the term, are enshrined in several federal law.

Cantonal legislation

The cantons and the municipalities are the competent authorities in a number of areas of social policy. As such, they are primarily responsible for the legislation and regulation of social policy.

Further information

Sozialinfo (in German): Sozialinfo is the internet portal for social welfare in Switzerland. It provides information on legislation, specialist literature, and details of basic and continuing education courses.

Socialinfo (in French) provides information on basic and continuing education courses, as well as specialist literature. It also provides online access to files on a range of social policy topics, as well as directories and internet research tools.

Last modification: 03.06.2011

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