An important reform was the establishment of the Departments of Health and Social welfare in 1947. They recognized these areas as distinct policy areas with separate ministerial responsibility.
Irish society at the time was much more agricultural and rural based than the United Kingdom. The resource is available to government who are much lower, and the Irish equivalent of British reform were shaped in that context.
The Interparty government which took power in 1948 agreed a 10 point policy plan which included a commitment for comprehensive social security plan to provide insurance against old age, illness, blindness and unemployment etc.
The Labour Party leader and Minister for Social Welfare, William Norton presented the plans in the 1949 White Paper Social Security. The unification of administration of all schemes under the newly established Department was an important aim.
Legislation was prepared to give effect to their reforms in the 1950 but lapsed with the collapse of the government. The legislation was divisive in a government with a very wide range of interests. Norton was forced to make compromises which changed scheme from the initial proposal which was closer to the UK scheme.
The Social Welfare Act as passed and that proposed by the interparty government were substantially similar. However, there were a number of key differences.
A salary limit was introduced. Females in agriculture and domestic service had been proposed, to be included but were excluded by the final act. The bill from the Labour Party leader had provided for insurance for private members of cooperatives. . This was excluded.
There was provision of old age pension at 65 years for men and 60 years for women. This was not included in the 1952 Act, but unemployment benefit was available. A provision for a death grant was excluded in the Act. Generally, the act provided for lower contributions and lower benefits, that the original 1950 bill.
Many of the administrative issues had been resolved and the groundwork was laid, when Fianna Fail government secured passage of the Social Welfare Act 1952 which implemented Norton’s proposals with modifications. The 1952 Act was a result of a lengthy gestation and involved ideological battles regarding the redistribution of resources. In a sense it amounted to the birth of the social welfare system in Ireland.
The reforms in the 1953 Health Act and the 1952 Social Welfare act, defined the Irish welfare state until the 1970s. The 1952 Social Welfare Act came into force in 1953. It replaced the separate scheme for unemployment, national health, widow and orphans’ pension.
A single social insurance scheme was provided for. All persons between 16 and 70 employed under contract for employment were compulsorily insurable under the legislation. It covered male employees in agriculture and domestic service.
The scheme could be modified in relation to members of local authorities, governmental authorities, defence force, teachers and persons employed in statutory transport undertakings. These groups were given more limited coverage contributions.
An income of £600 initially applied. This was removed to apply only to non-manual workers. Provision was made for persons who were formerly subject to mandatory insurance to continue making voluntary insurance for the purpose of widow and orphans’ pension only provided they had made the records with number of contributions.
Flat rate contributions were payable by employers and employees. There were ordinary and special rates of contribution. There were provisions for voluntary contributions. Reduced rates applied to contributions from employers and employees for persons engaged in agriculture (man) or women engaged in agriculture or domestic service.
The same benefit rates were payable for sickness, unemployment , maternity and widows. Disability and unemployment benefit qualified for adult and child dependency rates. The child dependent allowance was payable to widows in receipt of a widow’s pension.
Married women ceased to be entitled to benefit after marriage unless they continued employment of 26 contributions subsequently. The rates applicable to married women were lower those for single women.
On marriage, an insured woman might qualify for a marriage large lump sum in compensation for termination of insurance rights. She could continue as a voluntary contributor if she met certain requirements of the scheme.