I am delighted as the incoming Minister of Social and Family Affairs to publish the Annual Report of the Department for 2001. The publication of this report provides an opportunity to look back briefly at the changes which have taken place in Social Welfare over the past five years.
The effects of our social and economic policies over this period are clear:
- In 1997, consistent poverty was almost 10%. By 2000 it stood at just over 6%.
- In 1997, unemployment was 10.3% - now reduced to 4.3%.
- Long-term unemployment has been reduced from 5.6% to just 1.2%.
- The number of people in employment has increased by 400,000 since 1997.
- Consistent poverty among children has been halved from 17% in 1997 to 8% in 2000.
The Government has increased spending on Social Welfare from £4.5 billion in 1997 to €9.4 (£7.4) billion in 2002 - an increase of two thirds in just five years.
This increase in spending reflects our commitment to reduce poverty, increase pensions, reduce unemployment, and support all of our children through hugely increased Child Benefit.
Pension rates have increased dramatically over the period. In 1997 the old age pension (contributory) stood at £78 per week. Today this pension is €147.30 per week which is 31% of average industrial earnings compared to 28% when we came into office.
Because of the success of our employment support services the overall number of people of working age dependent on welfare has declined rapidly. Our expenditure on employment supports is now equivalent to 21% of the expenditure on unemployment payments at €202m. Compare that to the situation five years ago when expenditure on active measures was equivalent to less than 10% of expenditure on unemployment payments.
The largest single category of Exchequer-funded payments is Child Benefit, at over €1.4 billion. This represents an increase of 50% over expenditure in 2000, and is due to the substantial increases in Child Benefit in the last Budget, as well as the decision to bring forward the payment date to April.
This Annual Report demonstrates just how much we have turned around our social welfare system.
I want to pay tribute to the work of my predecessor Dermot Ahern and I look forward to further improvements and developments in the system in the years ahead.
Mary Coughlan TD
Minister for Social and Family Affairs