Willem Drees (1886-1988), pensioners’ father

Willem Drees was an exceptionally popular politician. He was a member of the Dutch Labour Party (Sociaal-Democratische Arbeiderspartij, later Partij van de Arbeid) and rose to prominence through local politics in The Hague. In 1933, he was elected to parliament. He served as minister for social affairs in the first postwar government. As such he was able to alleviate some of the financial problems that many of the elderly were suffering. In 1947 he initiated legislation (noodwet-Drees) to provide a regular state pension to seniors who had no resources. It was immensely popular. ‘They’re getting from Drees,’ it was said, as if he were paying their pension from his own pocket. It earned him the nickname Papa Drees.

From 1948 to 1958, Drees served as prime minister. He led four successive cabinets. This was a key period for the Netherlands. Postwar reconstruction required careful management. Willem Drees was the right man at the right time: loyal to his social-democratic ideals, honest, respectable, astute and pragmatic. By the time his last cabinet fell, the broad foundations of the welfare state had been laid.

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