Swiss Conference of Welfare Organisations (SKOS)

The Swiss Conference of Welfare Organisations (SKOS) is a professional association of welfare stakeholders. It edicts guidelines used by the Confederation, cantons and municipalities. The SKOS dates back to the Swiss Conference on Poor Relief set up in 1905.

From the Swiss Conference on Poor Relief to SKOS

The Swiss Conference on Poor Relief has convened regularly since 1905 with the aim of supporting poor relief both professionally and politically. The first such conference took place in Brugg and comprised only men, including numerous pastors and representatives of cantons and municipalities in German-speaking Switzerland. At this time, however, many women were also committed to poor relief, primarily as members of charitable and non-profit organisations. Pastor Albert Wild was a leading figure behind the poor relief conference. He headed the conference for decades, published the journal ‘Der Armenpfleger’ (The Poor Relief Worker) as well as technical publications on poor relief, and acted as the secretary of the Swiss Philanthropic Society from 1913 to 1938. According to the statutes of 1911, the Swiss Conference on Poor Relief sought to improve dialogue between poor relief workers and members of authorities, provide information on poor relief and promote progressive poor relief policy.

The western Swiss section of the initially predominantly Swiss-German poor relief conference – Groupement des institutions d’assistance de la Suisse romande – was founded in 1922. It was replaced by Association romande et tessinoise des institutions d’action sociale (ARTIAS) in 1995.

During its early years, the poor relief conference advocated a switch from the canton of origin principle in welfare provision to the principle of residence. This was to provide inhabitants without municipal citizenship with access to social welfare in their place of residence (see: poverty). The conference thus established the Intercantonal Concordat for Residential Support that entered into force in 1920; all cantons had joined this agreement by 1967. The Swiss Conference on Poor Relief changed its name to the Swiss Conference for Public Welfare (SKöF) in 1966 and to the Swiss Conference of Welfare Organisations (SKOS) in 1996. It is organized as a society and professional association, drawing together key social welfare representatives: cities and municipalities, cantonal social authorities, federal authorities and private welfare organisations.

The SKOS Guidelines on the Configuration of Social Welfare

Since the 1960s, the poor relief conference and its successor organisations SköF and SKOS have been releasing guidelines on the configuration and assessment of social welfare. These guidelines constitute recommendations and are directed at cantonal and municipal social welfare authorities as well as private welfare organisations. They only become binding upon legal recognition in the cantons. The SKOS guidelines also serve as a reference for legal procedures.

Social welfare is traditionally organized on a means-tested basis. This means it is adjusted to the individual needs of the welfare recipient, making its assessment rather difficult. In practice, this assessment has to be conducted by cantonal and municipal authorities, exhibiting varying degrees of professionalism. The guidelines set by SKOS are intended to help these authorities by defining the basic needs of welfare recipients and offering methods for calculating welfare amounts. Since 2005, this basic material provision has been combined with conditions as well as financial incentives for re-integration into the workplace.

The SKOS guidelines were prepared in response to the lack of standards in social welfare as opposed to social insurance, which gave cantonal and communal welfare authorities substantial discretionary powers when dealing with welfare recipients. On the one hand, the guidelines are intended to create commitment more binding framework and, on the other, harmonize the welfare practice of cantons and municipalities.

The generosity and democratic legitimacy of the SKOS guidelines has been the subject of controversy in Swiss social policy since 2010. Some cities and municipalities have left SKOS as they have been calling for more restrictive welfare policy. In response, SKOS reformed its guidelines in 2015.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Tabin Jean-Pierre, Togni Carola (2013), L’assurance chômage en Suisse. Une socio-histoire (1924-1982), Lausanne; Frauke Sassnick Spohn et al. (ed.) (2010), Von der Armenpflege zur Sozialhilfe. Ein Jahrhundert SKOS & ZeSo, Bern ; Schnegg Brigitte, Matter Sonja (2010), Von der Unterstützung der «würdigen» Armen zum Recht auf Existenzsicherung. Die Ausgestaltung der Schweizer Sozialhilfe im 20. Jahrhundert, in C. Kehrli (ed.), Schwerpunkt. Armut verhindern, Luzern, S. 129-142; Kehrli Christin; Knöpfel Carlo (2006): Handbuch Armut in der Schweiz, Luzern.