Austria has created a comprehensive social security system. The keystone of this system is social insurance, which provides a very high level of protection for both employees and the self-employed against the risks of illness, occupational accidents and illnesses, old age and invalidity plus, in the case of employees, unemployment.
Another major element of the system consists in statutory welfare programmes (Versorgungssysteme) for war victims, the armed forces and victims of crime. These welfare programmes provide benefits in cash and kind for physical injuries suffered, their treatment and the loss of earnings or livelihood caused, and include protection for surviving dependants. This area of welfare also includes the protection provided under the Victims Welfare Act (Opferfürsorgegesetz) for individuals wounded while fighting for an independent and democratic Austria, particularly against the National Socialist regime. In addition, career public service pensions are traditionally classed not under the heading of social insurance but under that of welfare, although this is becoming increasingly problematical since the legislators are gradually bringing the regulation of career public servants' pensions into line with that applicable to all other employees. At present, career public servants (Beamte) retiring from active service are guaranteed a pension which, after at least 35 years' service, amounts to 80% of their final salary. Under a recent reform, however, in future the pensionable earnings level (Bemessungsgrundlage) used as the basis for calculating their pension will not be their final salary but the average of their earnings over their “best” 15 years of service (i.e. the 15 years with the highest monthly earnings liable to contributions; in cases of retirement before the age of 65 the reference period is extended proportionately), and in addition the minimum length of service for eligibility to receive the maximum pension is increased from 35 to 40 years. Unlike their counterparts in, for example, Germany, Austrian career public servants pay a pension contribution of 11.75% (10.25% in future) of their salary (this alone is enough to throw doubt on the traditional classification of this pension system as welfare). Another statutory welfare programme consists in what is called “care provision” (Pflegevorsorge) which is essentially regulated by the Federal Care Attendance Allowance Act (Bundespflegegeldgesetz) and corresponding laws in the individual Länder. These provisions grant entitlement to an attendance allowance (Pflegegeld) for individuals suffering from a physical, mental or psychological disability or lack of a sensory faculty such that they require constant nursing and assistance (attendance). Beneficiaries are classed in one of seven categories according to the severity of their disablement and the amount of care needed, ranging from an average of over 50 hours to at least 180 hours a month, and the allowance varies accordingly.
Social security in the broader sense also includes state family allowances. The Family Allowances Fund (Familienlastenausgleichsfonds), financed from employers' contributions and general tax revenues, is responsible for providing benefits including, in particular, child benefit (Familienbeihilfe). This is mainly paid out by the tax offices, for all children below the age of majority and also for children up to the age of 26 who are in full-time education or training. The amount increases with the age of the child and, as a result of recently introduced tax allowances, the number of children in the family.
Lastly, yet another important element of the social security system which does not fall under the heading of social insurance is social assistance (Sozialhilfe). Owing to the provisions of the Austrian Constitution on legislative powers, each Land has its own Social Assistance Act (Sozialhilfegesetz), but common basic principles can be identified. For example, social assistance is granted in individual situations of need if own resources and payments from third parties are no longer sufficient to allow the person concerned to maintain a decent way of life (principle of subsidiarity). The most important benefit is assistance to provide the necessities of life, mainly in the form of cash benefits but also concrete forms of relief to provide the means of subsistence (such as food and accommodation) and any necessary medical treatment and care. These benefits are, in principle, the subject of a legal entitlement which can be claimed. There are also other benefits, usually discretionary, such as assistance for establishing and maintaining an economic means of existence (e.g. for ex-convicts), assistance in the event of natural disasters or exceptional misfortune, and the provision of social services (domiciliary nursing care, meal distribution services and the construction or financing of nursing homes and residential homes for the elderly).