Poverty and social security during the Covid-19 pandemic

As part of its pandemic control efforts, Switzerland imposed restrictions on public and business life. This project investigates the impact on the financial situation and poverty levels of the country’s population.



The measures taken in spring 2020 with lockdowns are of particular importance for economic life in Switzerland. Instruments such as short-time work were introduced. The associated eco-nomic consequences for the population varied greatly depending on the socio-economic group. Which groups were most affected depends strongly on the economic set-up and the measures taken to stop the spread and dampen the consequences through social benefits. Conclusive studies are missing, and it is not known how inequality and poverty rates developed during the pandemic. Therefore, the role of the regular instruments of the social security system and the effectiveness of the pandemic-specific measures need to be clarified. In addition, it is essential to systematically reflect on the role of non-governmental organisations in social security during the Covid-19 pandemic and in future crises.

Course of action

Using linked tax data for 4.5 million people, the research group will investigate changes in income and assets between 2019 and 2022, focusing on the situation of people with few financial resources. By linking these data with data on social security benefits, it will also be possible to show how effectively the social security system protects the people affected. A further part of the project will use case data from Caritas Switzerland, the country’s biggest NGO, which supported more than 100,000 people during the pandemic. This social security safety net comes into play particularly when there are gaps in state cover. This basis will be used to develop a poverty monitoring early warning system for future crises.


The aim of the project is to answer the following research questions:

  • What impact did the Covid-19-pandemic have on economic inequality and poverty in Switzerland?
  • What were the short-term, mid- and potential long-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic?
  • How well were low-income groups protected by the social security system in the federal system of Switzerland?
  • Are differences in enforcement of corona aid by the various can-tons relevant?
  • Which social groups were most affected?
  • Who was covered by social security and who was not?
  • What is the role of NGOs in providing social security for the poor in a rich country in general and in a crisis?
  • How must a lean data collection procedure be established documenting supported clients of Caritas and their profiles?
  • How can this information be used to build timely poverty indicators and early detection of problem situations in a further crisis?

Looking ahead

The findings will provide the basis of a policy brief on managing any future crisis in a more socially compatible way. The early warning system will give an opportunity to acquire poverty indicators that deliver information promptly.

This project contributes to the following SDGs

  • 1: No poverty
  • 10: Reduced inequalities