Swiss Government Takes Childcare In Hand| MENAFN.COM

Saturday, 01 April 2023 11:08 GMT

Swiss Government Takes Childcare In Hand

(MENAFN- Swissinfo) Around 90% of daycares in Switzerland are privately owned. © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

Childcare in Switzerland is a private matter and expensive. This has clear economic and social repercussions. Parliament is now taking action to lend parents a hand – but it will cost a lot of money.

This content was published on March 17, 2023 March 17, 2023 minutes

Switzerland has many faces, and each has many stories to tell. I am interested in the country in all its diversity. I write about agriculture and banks, diplomats and folk-style wrestlers, but also industrial excellence and cultural achievements.

more from this author | german department

Journalist and deputy head of the editorial group for German, French and Italian. Earlier, worked for Teletext and Switzerland's French-language national broadcaster.

more from this author | french department
  • Deutsch (de) die schweiz macht kinderbetreuung zur sache des staats (original)
  • 日本語 (ja) 子育て世帯に冷たいスイス政府、労働力不足で変化
  • Français (fr) la suisse veut faire de la garde des enfants une affaire aussi publique
  • عربي (ar) جهود البرلمان السويسري للحفاظ على استمرار الأمهات في سوق العمل

For many mothers, bringing up two children in Switzerland is reason enough to give up on gainful employment. Two full-time places in daycare can eat up 46% of a middle-level income . Even keeping a job at a low part-time rate is therefore rarely worthwhile for the average Swiss mother of two.

When it comes to professional childcare, Switzerland ranks as the most expensive of all the countries of the Organisation for Economic and Cooperation and Development (OECD).

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One reason for this is that 90% of daycare centres in Switzerland are privately run, and mainly financed by parents, according to a 2015 sector studyexternal link .

The state does grant tax relief, but otherwise mainly takes a back seat. Childcare is organised by the cantons and municipalities, and the cost varies considerably depending on place of residence.

Switzerland lags behind

In total, less than 0.1% of Switzerland's gross domestic product (GDP) is designated for financing childcare, a rate below most European countries. By comparison, 0.8% of GDP is allocated to the military.

In terms of childcare costs, Switzerland ranked 37th among 41 highly-developed countries in a 2021 comparisonexternal link by the UN children's agency UNICEF.

But is the expensive care actually any good? The answer is no. Switzerland does not score well on this count either, and ranks 25th with regard to quality. One of the criteria used by UNICEF is the number of children per trained caregiver. In Switzerland, the ratio stands at 18 to one, whereas in Iceland, which tops the table, it is five to one.

Grandparents as a cornerstone of childcare

Switzerland's scores are low in part because of the relatively short maternity leave it grants.“Even some of the world's richest countries, like Switzerland, have both short leave and low enrolment in childcare,” the UNICEF report sums up.

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Expensive daycare places, poor quality, little parental leave – all of this means that, in Switzerland, grandparents often step in to take care of children, or parents organise themselves on a private basis.

UNICEF also drew up a league table for this. Here, too, Switzerland ranks at the bottom, alongside Hungary and the Czech Republic, with a high reliance on informal childcare arrangements.

Expensive Swiss children

Families are particularly affected by the high cost of living in Switzerland. According to the child cost tableexternal link provided by the Zurich Youth Welfare Office, an individual child costs a family between CHF935 ($994) and CHF1,790 ($1,903) a month, depending on age and family constellation – and this does not include childcare costs. A spot in a daycare centre sets families back a further CHF130 per day and child.

This creates a financial problem for young families in the short term as well as a long-term structural problem for Switzerland, since having children often leads to a drastic drop in the employment rate of one of the parents. In Switzerland, this phenomenon primarily affects women. Half of all mothers in the Alpine country work part-time, most of them less than 50% .

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This so-called“child penalty” can still be felt even after the children have left the nest, as the years mothers spend bringing up their children often have a negative impact on the rest of their professional livesexternal link , specifically in terms of career development, salary and retirement benefits.

Industry and women join forces

It is therefore hardly surprising that groups fighting for women's rights and equality – above all the women's umbrella organisation Alliance F – are also campaigning for better childcare solutions.

However, their demands have gained political punch only in recent years, when businesses also noticed that the country was short of skilled workers. Employers gradually began to see the potential in the highly-trained women of Switzerland.

So the shortage of skilled workers brought the influential employers' association on board. Women and employers have united in calling on the state to subsidise childcare and make it 20% cheaper. The estimated cost of this project is currently CHF770 million.

Do subsidies have an impact?

In early March, a spending package drawn up by a parliamentary education committee was submitted to the House of Representatives, which spent five hours debating the matter. One sticking point was the fact that childcare is actually the responsibility of the cantons and municipalities. The federal government would like it to stay that way. According to interior minister Alain Berset, there is simply not enough federal money to finance the scheme.

But do such initiatives actually encourage more mothers to return to work or increase their working hours? A study by the University of Zurich, based on data from Austria, could not substantiate such an impact. The author of the study, economist Josef Zweimüller from the University of Zurich, spoke of a“frustrating result”.

“Our research shows that the problem runs deeper,” he told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.“In Switzerland, a traditional, conservative way of thinking about the distribution of parental roles still dominates.” Other studies do not see a linear connection either, but they do describe a structural effect.

Wheels set in motion

The right-wing conservative Swiss People's Party and the male contingent of the economically liberal Radical-Liberal Party argued against the proposed spending package in the House of Representatives. They spoke out against“one-sided gesture politics” and the too-high costs. Nevertheless, the House of Representatives approved the plan by 107 votes to 79.

The proposal will now go to the Senate for further elaboration. Observers expect that the amount allocated will be whittled away and the blanket approach done away with.

But the momentum of the first decision will be hard to ignore. One thing is certain: the Swiss economy has recognised the impact of the social failing and will not want to bear the costs on its own.

Translated from German by Julia Bassam/gw



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