I welcome the publication of the 2002 Annual Report of the Department, which demonstrates our ability and our record of delivery of policies which are making real changes in the lives of those dependent on social welfare.
In 2002 this Department disbursed over nine billion euros in social welfare payments to a wide category of recipients, in child benefit, pensions, illness and care supports and unemployment benefits, to name a few.
In my first year as Minister for Social and Family Affairs I set a number of goals.
I intend to build on the significant foundations already place to promote a caring society and to combat poverty.
Our policies are informed by the ideal of equality of opportunity, and in seeking to accomplish this goal, this Government has adopted a two pronged approach.
Firstly, our policies aim to provide that opportunity and to equip people to access that opportunity.
By countering the economic challenges and ensuring social partnership we are working to create the economic environment that will result in job creation. Because, put simply, the best and most effective way to counter poverty and social exclusion is to provide sustainable employment.
Secondly, for those who are ill or disabled, elderly, unemployed or disadvantaged and who need help in participating in our society, on-going supports are provided by the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
Our social service policies allied to our policies on education, housing, health and governance to name a make real differences to the lives of our citizens and lead to employment which gives our citizens choices – choices that end the trap of social exclusion and help build a healthier economy whose fruits, in turn, can help others.
From birth, through life to death, our system of social supports administered by my Department helps approximately one in three citizens at any one time.
With a Budget spend last year of €9.52 billion the increase again in social welfare spending has remained above the rate of inflation and increased by over €3.5 billion between 1997 and 2002.
Payment rates for both recipients and their families have improved in real terms.
Children and older people have been specifically targeted in our policy drives. We have consistently recognised the central role in our society of our older people who laid the economic foundation stones of this economy. We are on target to fulfil our pledge to them to increase the lowest pension rate to €200 a week. A further increase was delivered in the Budget ensuring rates for a pensioner couple have increased by 50 per cent between 1997 and 2002.
We have continued our unprecedented strategy to increase the level of child benefits. This payment of €1.462 billion to 522,441 families is the most effective way to support children without contributing to work disincentives or poverty traps.
I intend to further the family role of my remit in 2003, and took an early step on that path by establishing the Family Support Agency. I look forward to the role they will play in providing assistance and information through a national professional network of family support organisations and services.
I look forward to the challenges of the year ahead, and I take this opportunity to formally place on the record my gratitude and appreciation of the commitment and hard work of all the staff of the Department of Social and Family Affairs throughout the country.
Mary Coughlan TD
Minister for Social and Family Affairs
2002 Annual Report of the Department of Social and Family Affairs