Introduction of the Residential Principle in Social Welfare

Until the 1970s, it was still possible for impoverished citizens to be expulsed from their place of residence and returned to their municipality of origin. This practice was finally abolished in 1975. All impoverished people could now enjoy their full right of establishment.

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On 7th December 1975, voters took the opportunity to get rid of an outdated practice. The shift to the residential principle for social welfare was approved by 76 percent of the voters: this meant that Swiss citizens in need of assistance could now enjoy their full right of establishment.

Although the federal constitution of 1874 guaranteed the right of residence in general terms, it made an exception for Swiss citizens who required social support. If the home canton was not prepared to pay for this support, the canton of residence was able to deny residency rights to the impoverished and order their repatriation to their home municipality. Cantonal expulsions were also permissible for policing reasons, namely for former convicts.

In 1916, a number of cantons had already attempted to facilitate welfare support at the residence of the beneficiaries by signing a concordat. However, repatriations still occurred in the 1960s, as did penalties for failing to comply with these expulsion notices. It was not until 1964 that all cantons had joined the concordat stipulating residential support. The new arrangement of 1975 stipulated an obligation for residential assistance and became enshrined in legislation two years later. The 1977 Federal Act on Responsibility for Supporting the Impoverished therefore marked a significant point in the history of Swiss poor relief and social welfare, where the principle of support according to the municipality of origin (Heimatort) had always played an important role before. The new law, however, also enabled the cantons of residence to reclaim the costs for support provided during a period of ten years from the cantons of origin. This reimbursement duty was cut to two years in 1990. It was completely abolished in 2013.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Matter Sonja (2011), Das Wohnort- und Heimatortprinzip in der Fürsorge vor 1975, in J. Mooser, S. Wenger (ed.), Armut und Fürsorge in Basel, 239–248, Basel; Kreis Georg (2011), 1975 – Das endliche Ende der Heimschaffungen in der Fürsorge, in J. Mooser, S. Wenger (ed.), Armut und Fürsorge in Basel, 249–259, Basel.