First Steps towards a Welfare State

When the German Reich passed its first social welfare acts in the 1880s, the Swiss Confederation was not even able to engage in social policy. First, a constitutional basis for social welfare law needed to be established – starting with health and accident insurance.

Read on Close

The constitutional article that granted the Confederation the power to set up a mandatory accident and health insurance system was passed with a decisive majority in the popular vote of 26th October 1890. It transferred responsibilities from the cantonal level to the Confederation and represented a significant step towards national welfare policy. The new constitutional article drew impetus from civil liability in occupational accidents, which had led to dissatisfaction on the part of both workers and business owners. Whereas workers ran the risk of coming away empty-handed from a case, business owners carried all of the responsibility of buying their employees into a collective policy with an insurance company. The predominantly bourgeois Parliament instructed the Federal Council in 1885 to start preparations for the introduction of a mandatory workers’ accident insurance. In the course of these preparations, the Federal Council incorporated health insurance into the bill. 

The Federal Council commissioned several statistical surveys and ordered a number of expert reports, including the notable memorandum by Ludwig Forrer, a National Councillor from the canton of Zurich affiliated to the Free Democratic Party. He advocated the insurance principle (‘spreading the risk to many’) and the establishment of a mandatory public accident and health insurance following the model set by Bismarck: ‘liability means dispute, insurance means peace.’ The Federal Council and Parliament followed this visionary, pragmatic concept. However, the proposal submitted by the advising committee of the National Council to expand the legislative powers of the Confederation to include ‘other types of personal insurance’ and lay the constitutional foundation for old age, disability or unemployment insurance straight away did not gain acceptance.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Lengwiler Martin (2006), Risikopolitik im Sozialstaat: Die schweizerische Unfallversicherung (1870–1970), Köln; Degen Bernard (1997), Haftpflicht bedeutet den Streit, Versicherung den Frieden: Staat und Gruppeninteressen in den frühen Debatten um die schweizerische Sozialversicherung, in H. Siegenthaler (ed.), Wissenschaft und Wohlfahrt. Moderne Wissenschaft und ihre Träger in der Formation des schweizerischen Wohlfahrtstaates während der zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts, 137–154, Zürich.