Disability: Insurance and Re-integration into the Labour Force instead of Assistance Benefits

At the end of the 1950s, the time was ripe for the introduction of disability insurance. Although modest in scope, it closed a significant gap in the social security system. It was dedicated to an innovative principle: ‘re-integration before benefits’.

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Parliament passed the Disability Insurance Act (IV) in June 1959. Until then, only a portion of workers were affiliated to accident insurance, or were members of pension funds or cantonal insurance schemes that covered them against the risk of disability. In 1925, the establishment of disability insurance was deferred – allegedly to enable a swifter implementation of old age and survivors’ insurance. Consequently, the Confederation only provided modest contributions to institutions dedicated to people with disabilities and charitable organizations such as Pro Infirmis. Many people with disabilities were therefore dependent on social welfare or charity. Disability insurance returned to the political agenda at the beginning of the 1950s. Several parliamentary proposals and two popular initiatives launched by the Swiss Workers Party and the Social Democratic Party also called for its introduction. In 1955 the Federal Council set up an expert commission and published a bill in the autumn of 1958. The bill was swiftly passed by Parliament, allowing the Disability Insurance Act to enter into force on 1st January 1960 without having to face a referendum campaign.

The AHV (old age and survivors’ insurance) served as a blueprint for disability insurance. Its pay-as-you-go system and benefits were adopted directly for the IV. Consequently, the first disability insurance pensions remained far below the subsistence level. From the very beginning, the Disability Insurance Act had at its core the principle of ‘re-integration instead of benefits’: The insurance not only offered cash benefits, but also provided for medical and occupational measures such as vocational guidance or job placement, as well as special educational measures and the provision of assistive devices like wheelchairs or hearing aids. In contrast to British and German legislation, the Disability Insurance Act did not impose quotas on private firms for employing people with disabilities; at the end of the 1950s, the ongoing shortage of labor was expected to create sufficient incentives.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Germann Urs (2008), Eingliederung vor Rente. Behindertenpolitische Weichenstellungen und die Einführung der schweizerischen Invalidenversicherung, Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Geschichte, 58, 178–197; Lengwiler Martin (2007a), Im Schatten der Arbeitslosen- und Altersversicherung. Systeme der staatlichen Invaliditätsversicherung nach 1945 im europaïschen Vergleich, Archiv für Sozialgeschichte, 47, 325–348.