Howlin letter contains promise to address pension income gap crisis
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has vowed to fix the crisis facing people who are forced to retire at 65 but do not get the state pension until they are 66.
Mr Howlin made the promise to "comprehensively" address the problem earlier this month in a letter to Jack O'Connor, general president of Siptu, which has been seen by the Irish Independent.
The minister was responding to previous correspondence from Mr O'Connor, who had sought to highlight the income gap crisis caused by workers being forced to retire at 65, but who do not qualify for the state pension for another year. Mr Howlin said Mr O'Connor had raised an important issue.
"There would appear to be a disconnect between policy and practice here that needs to be examined," he said, adding that he was conscious that the state pension age is set to increase to 67 in 2021 and to 68 in 2028.
"This could exacerbate the problem you have outlined," Mr Howlin wrote.
"In light of this, I think we need to move now to address this issue in a comprehensive and sustainable way, including through legislation as required."
Mr Howlin wrote that he will present a memo to the Cabinet to bring the matter to the attention of his minis- terial colleagues.
He intends recommending that his officials and officials from other relevant departments "work together" to scope out the issues involved, define appropriate solutions and report back to him "as soon as practicable".
However, Mr Howlin's pledge to address the crisis was dismissed last night as a "shallow promise" by Fianna Fáil welfare spokesman Willie O'Dea.
"I have just read the Social Welfare Bill and there is no- thing in it, which means no-thing will happen in the lifetime of this Government," said Mr O'Dea.
"People who are forced to retire are essentially being left in No Man's Land, and I have heard of some having to apply for Jobseeker's Allowance until their pension kicks in, while others are being offered courses in order to get the dole. It is absurd."
Confirming the details of his letter on the crisis, a spokeswoman for Mr Howlin said last night that he is "concerned that this matter be comprehensively addressed".
"Officials are currently conducting an analysis of the issues involved, and a memorandum will be brought to the Gov- ernment in due course," she added.
Mr O'Connor last night said it was in the hands of the Government to act before it leaves office.
"They are the Government they can do it if they want to. They could amend the Social Welfare bill," he said.
Mr O'Connor said he has been lobbying for some time to have this income gap issue addressed.