The 2003 Annual Report of the Department demonstrates our record of implementing policies, which make real changes in the lives of those dependent on social welfare.
The strong economic performance of recent years has enabled us to make significant headway in promoting a caring society and supporting those who depend on social welfare services.
Social welfare spending rose by more than €4.5 billion between 1997 and 2003 to over €10.4 billion, an increase of nearly eighty per cent in that time.
Budget 2003 ensured that the value of all rates of payments were maintained or increased, additional increases were given to those over 66 years of age and in particular to widows and old age pensioners, and provided further increases in Child Benefit.
In 2003 the social welfare budget reached an all time high with a spend of approximately €10.5 billion. This represented approximately 970,000 weekly payments to recipients in various schemes, benefiting approximately 1.5 million people.
This Government Department is extremely customer oriented with a network of over 200 local offices and a pro-active information service. In 2003 the Department handled in excess of 59 million transactions demonstrating the sheer scale of the administrative task involved and the constant need to update and improve our delivery systems. The Department's modernisation and change agenda is designed to ensure that the customer comes first by being placed continually at the centre of its operations and that our staff are equipped and supported in the delivery of this objective.
In May 2003 I established the Family Support Agency, which brings together the main programmes and pro-family services providing a comprehensive and coherent response for families in need of those support services and for families generally.
I provided the Family Support Agency with a budget of €17.2 million for the year underlining my commitment to supporting families at a time of rapid social change in Ireland. In 2003 I also commenced a nationwide consultation on the family which will help inform a new families policy which I will be presenting in 2004.
The year 2004 will present fresh challenges. I look forward to them and would take this opportunity to formally place on the record my appreciation and gratitude for all the hard work and commitment shown by the staff of the Department of Social and Family Affairs throughout the country.
Mary Coughlan TD
Minister for Social and Family Affairs