A referendum aimed at cutting welfare expenses in the canton of Bern was narrowly rejected by 52.6% of voters on Sunday.
The initiative, supported by a majority of the canton’s parliament aimed to reduce the canton’s welfare spending, which has risen 54% over the last 10 years despite a decline in the number receiving it.
Over the last 10 years the number of welfare recipients in the canton fell from 48,800 to 46,500, while welfare spending rose from CHF 303 million to CHF 469 million, a cost shared equally between municipalities and the canton.
The initiative planned to cut welfare payments by an average of 8%, rising as high as 30% for those failing to study, job hunt or improve their language proficiency.
Supporters think spending has risen partly because life on welfare is too comfortable. They saw the cuts as a way to encourage people back into the workforce.
Those against the plan cited examples of people struggling to get by on current payments.
Other cantons were watching the vote. It is the first time a referendum has been used in an attempt to contain welfare spending. According to RTS, the cantons of Aargau and Basel-Landschaft are considering cuts to their basic welfare payments.
Basic monthly welfare payments in Bern are CHF 977. The initiative planned to cut them to CHF 907. The CHF 977 payment is designed to cover the basic costs of living excluding rent and health insurance. It breaks down into CHF 355 for food, CHF 84 for clothing, CHF 41 for energy, CHF 55 for transport, CHF 171 for telecommunications, CHF 145 for sport and leisure and CHF 125 other things.