Why Lausanne Loves Welfare Recipients

Lausanne, all hope magnet

Poverty Social assistance plagues Vaud’s capital

Strong population growth contributes to increase in cases

The politics of the left-wing majority are no stranger to the phenomenon

The most visible and noisy occupy the Place de la Riponne in the center of Lausanne. Or hurry to the soup kitchen in the evening. The majority live in the shade with the absolute minimum. The Vaud capital has the highest share of social assistance recipients among Swiss city centers after Biel, according to figures from the Federal Statistical Office (FSO). This rate has been rising since 2006, although the curve dipped last year.

In 2013, the participation rate exceeded 11% in Bienne and increased to more than 10% in Lausanne. In Geneva it is 7.1%; Zurich stands at 4.7%; Basel drops to 6.5%; Bern is at 5.3 per cent. The country’s average peaks at 3.1%. In Lausanne, 26% of new inquiries in 2013 came from people who had moved in less than twelve months earlier. More than anywhere else, social assistance is sought shortly after arrival in the city.

Fourteen days ago, the press conference of the Cities Initiative for Social Policy, which gathers data from 13 localities for fifteen years, handed down an embarrassing verdict.

Shaken, the Lausanne authorities challenged the way in which these figures were established. The municipality is against those with lower percentages and nuances the explosion of cases. “In Lausanne,” explains Michel Cornut, “we open and close a lot of files turnover is incessant. OFS’s statistics, says the head of the Social Services, punish us because they sum up the recipients over the course of a year instead of taking into account their number at a given time ”(reading box). Despite these methodological differences, city officials admit that “the problem exists.”

The economic boom and the attraction of the Geneva region could paradoxically partly be the cause of the unfavorable statistics in Lausanne. For a decade, strong demographic growth has led to young working people, often foreigners and singles, coming in search of employment whose profile does not necessarily meet the demands of companies. The labor market is both very dynamic and highly competitive. It shines by its heterogeneity between highly qualified places and other smaller ones. New people easily find a job, but can lose it just as quickly and become unemployed. Later, especially those without a solid education in desperation will have to resort to the Integration Income (RI), the Vaudois version of social assistance; 39% of those registered with the Placement Office are untitled, one in two is foreign.

But demographics do not explain everything. Swiss cities have a high proportion of social assistance recipients among their inhabitants. This is the general trend. But in Lausanne, the scale of the phenomenon is surprising. Has Vaud, over time and with the left-wing majority that has ruled it for twenty-five years, become an El Dorado for households at risk of poverty? Do the municipality’s policies for social tourism encourage, as claimed by the right wing, the UDC at the helm?

At first glance, the city’s socio-economic profile seems to call for a positive response. The average disposable income for residents of Lausanne is lower than in other large cities. The capital of Vaudois has an unemployment rate of 6.7% (August 2014), twice as high as its German-speaking neighbors. The foreign community is very extensive and represents 42% of the population. Single parents are numerous (6.1%). The strong presence of these groups, recognized experts in the field, weighs on the IR speed.

Oscar Tosato, for his part, does not rule out that Lausanne could attract people who will sooner or later apply for social assistance. The Socialist municipal councilor, who is in his third term, “adopts” the “established” public policies of the pink-red-green majority. The magistrate mentions the availability of supported housing, ie 10% of the rental stock in Lausanne. The extensive development of childcare is, contrary to what is usually observed, “especially for the benefit of low-income families”. “Low-threshold” structures, intended for the marginalized, drug addicts and alcoholics, attract people who have difficulty accessing disability insurance. “In the canton of Vaud, practice is restrictive. Lausanne RI pays the price,” notes Michel Cornut.

The many instruments for social and professional reintegration developed by the canton could also play a role, argues René Knüsel. “The city is showing particular activism in this area,” notes the professor at the Department of Social and Political Science at the University of Lausanne. Oscar Tosato has already announced other initiatives that encourage returning to work. One is for young adults, the other for long-term RI recipients.

On the other hand, there is no question about the standards and scales of social assistance, states Michel Cornut. The same rules apply throughout the canton. The city can not be more generous than any other Vaud municipality. “Expenditures are comparable to those of other cities. In addition, Oscar Tosato is quick to point out that the fight against abuse is being carried out relentlessly.

On the other hand, René Knüsel categorically rejects the suspicion of social tourism. “This does not stand the test of facts. This would require a rationality based on reliable information; which is difficult in a system as complex as ours, the professor analyzes. Lausanne enjoys a good social reputation and openness, but it is not based on rumors one chooses to settle there.

“The argument about social tourism has been put forward to demand a reduction in social spending and continued abuse, but it is unfounded,” notes Jean-Pierre Tabin, of the University of Social Work and Health in Lausanne. . In short, “moving to Switzerland is not that easy. And when that happens, the search for a job, affordable housing or a separation is the main reason, ”says the professor.

The fear of social tourism also serves to justify attempts at harmonization. The Council of State refused to go into the matter. However, the Conference of Social Directors revived the idea last week. Canton elected officials want to fight inequalities between municipalities. In addition to Sarine, social assistance is a municipal matter, whereas the cantons of French-speaking Switzerland have more control.

“The city can not be more generous than any other Vaud municipality”

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