30.06.2017 The federal government supports caregiving relatives

Caregiving relatives. The Swiss population is getting older, and there is an increasing shortage of skilled carers in the labour market. This affects the need for nursing staff as well as the willingness of relatives to take on caregiving and nursing responsibilities for their family members. There are many reasons for this. As the level of education in Switzerland increases, fewer and fewer employees are prepared to take on unpaid care and nursing tasks. Other factors include changed family structures, the increasing number of single-person households and the higher spatial distance between family members, which make these tasks more demanding. The "Relief programme for caregiving relatives" is designed to make it easier for family members to provide home care or nursing without significant loss of income or an irreparable reduction in your pension.

Pictures The federal government supports caregiving relatives


Bild/Copyright: iStock

Pictures The federal government supports caregiving relatives


Pictures The federal government supports caregiving relatives


The number of elderly people who need care and nursing is expected to increase significantly during the next few years. This means that there is also a growing need for qualified staff in hospitals, retirement and nursing homes, as well as Spitex (home care) services: about 18,000 healthcare personnel will be needed in these areas by 2020. This is in addition to the 60,000 qualified staff who will retire and need to be replaced, and the general need for qualified personnel who are urgently needed in Switzerland. The "Relief programme for caregiving relatives" is also a result of the "Qualified Staff Initiative plus" (1).

Economic relevance

In this context, relatives can be regarded as a resource for performing caregiving and nursing tasks. Of course they already function in this role, but the general public needs to be made more aware of the economic significance of reconciling caregiving and nursing responsibilities with regular employment. These caregivers are lost from the labour market when they stop working to support and care for their relatives.

Avoid a loss of income or an irreparable reduction in the pension

According to the Swiss Labour Force Survey of 2013, about six per cent of the working population in Switzerland or approximately 200,000 people currently care for or nurse their relatives or loved ones (see fig. below). About 15 per cent of these carers therefore have limited employment options, while 17.5 per cent would spend more time on care and support if it were better organised. The federal government's action plan and relief programme are intended to help these caregivers to find a viable solution to these problems, so that they can care for their relatives without giving up their work in the regular labour force. Because: if you stop working partly or completely, you will earn less – and this can rapidly result in a state of emergency, or even cause an irreparable reduction in your pension.

Beneficial for companies as well

It can be worthwhile for a company to support its employees, i.e. helping them to reconcile work and caregiving. Increasing the motivation and commitment of employees improves their productivity and work-life balance. It also reduces staff turnover, which lowers the cost of recruiting new employees and their induction training (2 The level of education in Switzerland is also rising steadily. Qualification at tertiary level (e.g. at universities) is expected to increase from 35 per cent in 2009 to about 50 per cent in 2025 and around 60 per cent by 2035. And we can no longer neglect the role of women as qualified personnel. It is mostly women who take on caregiving and nursing responsibilities for their relatives.

The policy makers respond

The topic of relief and support for caregiving relatives became a pressing political issue in 2009. Anne Seydoux-Christe filed a postulate (09.4199) in December of that year, which requested a report on a possible supplement to the Swiss social security system. This proposed a paid holiday of sufficient length to allow a parent to care for a child with a serious illness. This was because neither the Swiss Labour Act (Article 36) nor the Swiss Code of Obligations (Article 324a) adequately regulated situations that might result in months of absence from work. The Joder parliamentary initiative of 27 September 2012 (12.470): "Improved support for seriously ill or severely handicapped children who are cared for at home" and the postulate of 25 April 2013 (13.3366) "Care allowances and relief options for caregiving relatives" kept this issue on the political agenda.

However, it soon became clear that it was not only the parents who needed relief and support; provisions were also required for people who wanted to care for their relatives or loved ones at home, but were unwilling or unable to give up their employment.

The action plan

Although an analysis of the situation by the federal government in December 2014 showed that many approaches to the support of caregivers are already available, it was also apparent that further efforts are needed with regard to professional support and compatibility with employment. The "Action plan for the support and relief of caregiving and nursing relatives" was adopted by the Federal Council in December 2014. Its four fields of action were intended to address the concerns that had been raised on the political agenda.

Action areas 1 and 2: information and data

These two action areas related specifically to the "Relief programme for caregiving relatives" with its two sections: "Developing models of good practice" and "Developing knowledge bases".

An inventory of existing programmes took place in 2014. Information on support and relief programmes as well as on financing of temporary assistance services was made available to the cantons, communes, cities and NGOs as well as to relatives. In general, information for relatives is still too widely scattered and difficult to find. However, companies are making it easier for their employees to exercise nursing and caregiving responsibilities alongside their regular employment. Their experience should be made available to other companies, which would encourage them to provide support too (programme section "Developing models of good practice").

Expressions of interest for research projects will be requested annually from 2017 to 2020. The results will be made available to all stakeholders for the further development of their existing programmes (programme section "Relief programme for caregiving relatives").

Action areas 3 and 4: legal framework and care leave

In these two fields of action, the federal government is committed to developing a clear regulation (capable of achieving a majority) on reconciling employment with the care and nursing of sick relatives. At its session on 1 February 2017, the Federal Council commissioned the Federal Department of Home Affairs to submit a template together with the Federal Department of Justice and Police and the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research.

The Labour Act only covers a paid absence of three days for caregiving parents, spouses or registered partners. However, credit notes for caregiving are already available for the care of persons with at least a moderate need for care. ‘Related persons’ here includes spouses, parents-in-law and step-children. Long absences or the care of non-family members such as life partners are not covered – even for short-term absences. However, working relatives who wish to nurse seriously or terminally ill family members should be given the opportunity to do so. Measures related to survivors' insurance for cohabiting couples are also under consideration.

Although some cantons and communes already provide support for relatives, this is primarily in the form of recognition. More than this is needed in order to stay in the workforce, since these measures do not even cover the loss of wages, let alone expenses for care.

How will the support programme be set up?

The "Relief programme for caregiving relatives" (2017–2020) will provide stakeholders in the cantons, communes, companies and other organisations with evidence-based knowledge bases and models of good practice, so that they can develop or promote their own programmes or introduce appropriate new offers themselves.

It is important that all information about programmes for the relief and support of relatives is made available quickly and simply, so that it is just as quick and simple for the relatives to receive relief and support.

(1) This initiative will be in operation until the end of 2018, and is administered by the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, together with the cantons and community partners.

(2) See the publication "Manual for SMEs – Work and Family" (in German and French), supported by the Swiss employers and trade associations; published by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), 2016, p. 2, URL: http://bit.ly/205wbuV (German); http:// bit.ly/2eaVbnW (French).



Regula Rička-Heidelberger, Section National health policy, regula.ricka@bag.admin.ch

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