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What the Swiss voted on (UBI proposal)

Written By: - Date published: 11:47 am, June 7th, 2016 - 13 comments
Categories: benefits, democratic participation, referendum, welfare - Tags: ,

The wording of the proposal that was voted on,

The initiative proposes to insert the following article in the federal constitution:

1. The government will provide a basic income.

2. The basic income will allow the people to live in a dignified manner and participate in public life.

3. Legislation will determine the funding for the system and the actual amount of the basic income.

The Swiss use the term Unconditional rather than Universal, which reflects the fact that not everyone gets the full payment regardless of income. As with other UBI models, the payment is determined by existing income, and is designed to prevent and alleviate poverty.

How it might work 

Anyone who does not have a paid job would receive the unconditional basic income, and all paid work up to that amount would be replaced by this payment. To fund it, all earned income would be taxed to a maximum amount equal to the amount of the basic income.

In practical terms, assuming a monthly basic income of CHF2,500, a person who has an income of CHF1,500 would receive another CHF1,000. Someone with CHF2,500 would not receive more. Someone earning CHF6,500 would be taxed on a net income of CHF4,000.

The same mechanism would be applied in the case of benefit payments from social welfare. Payments up to CHF2,500 would be replaced by the basic income, while anything over this amount would continue to be paid as a separate social welfare payment.

These arrangements would cover 88% of the funding requirements for a basic income. For the remaining 12%, other sources of funding would have to be found.

The Swiss go through a rigorous pre-referendum political process that includes the Swiss parliament voting to accept, reject or counter-propose. In that time the left wing parties rejected the proposal,

This was not enough however to convince the Greens and other Socialists. “The Greens support the objectives of the Popular Initiative for an Unconditional Basic Income, but as it stands, it endangers our social system,” said Christian van Singer, spokesperson for the Greens. He argued that while one goal of the initiative is to simplify the social system, “it could level down the benefit system to the detriment of those who do not find work or cannot work.”

Similarly, the Socialist MP Jean-Christophe Schwaab said he opposed basic income because it could be a pretext to dismantle the welfare system and reduce wages.

Participation rate in the vote was 46.3% which is the mid range of turnout in Swiss referenda.

Only 2% of Swiss would stop working if the government paid them a basic income of CHF2,500 per month; a further 8% would consider quitting work depending on the circumstances. That’s according to an opinion poll carried out on behalf of the promoters of the initiative, using a sample of 1,076 people.

Source: Swiss News Agency

13 comments on “What the Swiss voted on (UBI proposal) ”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    Doesn’t sound like that good a policy, really.

  2. adam 2

    I’m glad they voted it down in that form.

    • AmaKiwi 2.1

      But the Swiss got a chance to vote. We wouldn’t. A Left government might start some form of Universal Basic Income and the next Right government would tear it to shreds.

      How about we have:

      1. a concrete, costed proposal.
      2. a lengthy country wide discussion (debate)
      3. a binding referendum which future governments cannot overturn without another clearly worded binding referendum.

      No, let’s just shout our way through the fog.

      • Lanthanide 2.1.1

        “the next Right government would tear it to shreds.”

        This is the sort of policy that is very difficult to touch once it is implemented, much as National has only made small adjustments to WFF and Interest Free SLs.

        Similarly, a properly implemented UBI would be significantly downsizing several government departments, which is another thing that makes it very hard to reverse.

        Really a UBI is good, because it boils a lot of the debate between the left and the right about how much money the weekly UBI should be, and because it effects everyone directly, it makes it much harder for rightwing governments to cut it – unlike their attacks on beneficiaries, both blatant and underhanded, which don’t impact on the majority of the public so they don’t care about it.

        • AmaKiwi

          “This is the sort of policy that is very difficult to touch once it is implemented.”

          Elected dictators can and do get away with almost anything. We protest but they do it anyhow. Vast new powers for SIS and GCSB. Sell power companies we voted in a referendum not to sell. TPPA. If PM Joyce, PM Collins, or PM Benett want castrate UBI, they will do it.

          Where have you been living the last 8 years?

          • Lanthanide

            Where have you?

            National railed against Working For Families as being “communism by stealth”, and interest free students loans were “middle-class welfare”. Both policies are still in effect and have only been marginally tweaked.

            The reason, is because policies that put money directly into the hands of the mainstream electorate are notoriously hard to repeal without upsetting people. UBI is obviously the most potent form of these policies that you can have, AND it requires a significant dismantling of the state that simply can’t be rolled back quickly and which many on the right would themselves rail against rebuilding as well.

            The mistake you’re making is that none of those other policies you’ve talked about directly impact the mainstream electorate on a personal basis from week to week, so they are much easier to get away with because most of the electorate either don’t understand or don’t care.

            • weka

              I tend to agree but I think it’s worth exploring the possibilities.

              What would stop the Nats reducing the amount? Or having various tax rates eg lessening the tax rate for higher earners?

              If the economic situation was serious enough, would people object if it was framed as incentivising people to work, or jump starting the recovery via austerity (or however they frame it).

      • OneTrack 2.1.2

        Good idea. Get the newly merged Labour and Green parties to start asap on step 1, a concrete, costed proposal, and we can go from there.

        • AmaKiwi


          “Get the newly merged Labour and Green parties to start asap on step 1, a concrete, costed proposal, and we can go from there.”

          They’ll lose yet another election.

          Governments change when enough voters hate the incumbents and decide to throw them out.

          Watch Winston. He’s an attack dog. When he speaks he damns his opponents. He promises nothing.

    • weka 2.2

      how come adam?

  3. Andre 3

    The proposal looks like what gets called a “Guaranteed Minimum Income” here. Which means there’s no financial benefit from doing any work at all if your likely total income will be less than the guaranteed minimum.

    Whereas the Universal Basic Income as most people here understand it, there’s no conditions or deductions on the basic income. Then any income you earn adds to your UBI (less tax on the earned income). So you’re always going to get some extra money from going out and working.

  4. Colonial Viper 4

    $122 p.w. income taxable UBI to each and every NZer over 18 please. On top of all other applicable government benefits and tax credits.

    Applies at a 1/3 rate under 18 years of age.

    Scaled up equal NZ Super at 65 years of age.

  5. Tory 5

    The Swiss are not stupid, I should know as I am married to one.
    I should also point out that the article in your blog links to ( via Basic Income Earth Network, BIEN, go figure…) the Swiss Newspaper Tages Anzeiger.

    The BIEN article states:

    ‘Ironically, while politicians were voting against basic income by a large majority, an online poll (Tagesanzeiger.ch) showed that 49% of the Swiss would vote in favour, while 43% are against it, and another 8% said it depends on the amount’.

    In fact only 3112 people took part in that poll, hardly a large majority even if 49% of the 3112 supported it (1524 voters). Add to that it only takes 5% of the electorate to initiate a referendum, most Swiss were clear that this was never a proposal that was going to get anything other than rejection big time.

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