“Only in the RWW is a regulation given, not in the ABW itself. The IOAW offers the possibility of hearing the committee ”. Louw de Graaf usually uttered these kinds of sentences without any hesitation. Then, as part of an hour-long speech, effortlessly switch to the problems with the NWW, the WWV, the WAGW, the AKW, the AAW, not to mention the WAO.
Few political subjects where the inscrutable abbreviations are rampant as social security. For CDA politician De Graaf, whose death at the age of 90 was announced at the end of last week, the Dutch benefit system was almost as familiar as the Bible texts he grew up with. As Secretary of State for Social Affairs in three cabinets, De Graaf spent almost eleven years in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time he also replaced the Minister of Social Affairs twice for a few months.
The grocer’s son who received his training through the Mulo, an unfinished HBS course and a framework course from the CNV trade union, was a walking social security almanac. With his distinctive accent, which reflected his Frisian origin, he was able to reproduce every benefit law. As a result, De Graaf also knew the weaknesses of the system that had been gradually built up in the Netherlands since World War II, and especially expanded. When he was vice president of the CNV, he warned cautiously in 1975 in a note about the consequences of the increasing burden. He was proven right. The system has not “proved to be able to cope with unexpected economic storms,” said De Graaf, who had now become State Secretary, a decade later.
Sustainability was his motivation for the countless adjustments he made as a member of government in social security. In 1978, in the Van Agt-Wiegel cabinet, which was supported by the CDA and VVD, it was still a modest but fundamental discount on the benefits. It meant that they no longer automatically grew with the wages leaving the famous link (once called a “form of civilization” by a CDA Member of Parliament).
At the time of the first two Lubbers cabinets that emerged from the same coalition, Louw de Graaf was the architect of the much more drastic system reform of social security. This was not just about the amount of the benefits, but also about the system as such that was completely overhauled. In addition, the equal treatment of men and women, partly prescribed by Europe, had to be established in the benefit rules.
De Graaf’s austerity policy regularly brought him into conflict with his ‘old friends’ in the Christian trade union movement. He could live with it and meanwhile kept hoping that the CNV would repent. There was no repentance, but there was understanding. “Over time, relationships have gotten better. Louw de Graaf undoubtedly belongs to the series of prominent men that the Christian trade union movement has produced ”, the CNV says in an in memoriam.
In 1977, as vice president of the CNV, De Graaf was the logical candidate to succeed departing chairman Jan Lanser. But he consciously chose politics and agreed to a place on the candidate list for the House of Representatives of the CDA, which had just been formed. Its roots were with the Anti-Revolutionary Party, one of the three parties that make up the CDA.
The Reformed “men’s brethren” were of the principle that should be fiercely contested. De Graaf participated firmly in this. Within the ARP he belonged in 1967 to the group of so-called ‘regret voters’ who expressed in an open letter to the party administration their disappointment that the party wanted to govern with the VVD instead of with the PvdA. “Christian politics must be Christian radical or it must not be,” the letter said.
After his departure as State Secretary in 1989, Louw de Graaf was chairman of the Zfr for a further ten years and subsequently chairman of the Health Insurance Board for four years. But his name would remain tied to the major cuts in social security in the 1970s and 1980s. In an interview with de Volkskrant he said about this in 2003: “I never had the feeling, Louw, you are wrong. It has been difficult, but I never thought: you do things that you should not do. Social security has not been thrown overboard. ”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on July 27, 2020
A version of this article also appeared in nrc.next of July 27, 2020