The establishment of the Social Welfare Department (SWD) under the Ministry of Labour and Welfare in June 1946 marked the beginning of organised social welfare services in Singapore.Created in the immediate aftermath of the Japanese Occupation, the department administered welfare services to help the population cope with post-war hardships. At that time, the SWD comprised five sections: Food, Settlements, Relief, Youth Welfare, and Women and Girls.
Led by the first Secretary for Social Welfare, T. P. F. McNeice, the SWD successfully ran communal feeding programmes to provide cheap and nutritious meals to the population in order to counter the effects of widespread malnutrition and curb mounting food prices. On 29 June 1946, the first People’s Restaurant opened in a converted godown in Telok Ayer, which sold meals at 35 cents per plate. However, many people could not afford the 35-cent meal and this prompted the department to set up Family Restaurants that served meals at 8 cents per plate. In addition, children of pre-school age could obtain free meals at child-feeding centres, the first of which was set up at Havelock Road. The feeding scheme also extended to mass catering where specially selected restaurants known as People’s Kitchens prepared 30-cent meals for distribution to offices, schools and other locations in Singapore.
As conditions slowly returned to normal, the SWD expanded its scope to provide more permanent social services to the people. In December 1947, the department conducted Singapore’s first social survey on the living conditions of the population so as to better formulate long-term social policy. In 1949, it put forth the first social welfare plan for Singapore, which was a five-year plan proposing further development of youth welfare services and extension of social assistance to the aged, widows and orphans, the sick and the temporarily unemployed.
The SWD was transferred from the Ministry of Labour to the newly established Ministry of Social Affairs in 1963. Today, the functions of the SWD are undertaken by the Ministry of Social and Family Development.
1. Social Welfare Department. (1948). Annual report 1947 (p.1) [Microfilm: NL 9517]. Singapore: Social Welfare Department.
2. Social Welfare Department. (1947). Beginnings: The first report of the Singapore Department of Social Welfare, June to December 1946 (p. 1) [Microfilm: NL 28506]. Singapore: Social Welfare Department.
3. 35-cent lunch is a reality. (1946, June 28). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Eight-cent family meals for S’pore. (1946, December 14). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The size of the 8-cent meal was similar to the 35-cent version. Benefitting from the bulk purchase of surplus army foodstuffs, the SWD was able to offer meals at much reduced prices at Family Restaurants for some months.
5. Free meals for Singapore children. (1946, November 30). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. 50,000 cheap meals each day. (1946, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Cheap meals for schools. (1946, August 26). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (p. 241). Singapore: NUS Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR.
8. Turnbull, 2009, p. 242; Social survey begins. (1947, December 16). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Unanimous support for 5-year welfare plan. (1949, October 20). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 5-year social welfare plan. (1949, July 29). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. S'pore govt makes changes in portfolios. (1963, December 9). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.