Saturday 20 December 2014

My modest proposal to help people on good public pensions put their expertise to use

Published 06/03/2014 | 02:30

Pensioners protesting outside the Dail last year against measures affecting them which were in the Budget. Photo: Collins
Pensioners protesting outside the Dail last year against measures affecting them which were in the Budget. Photo: Collins

TO paraphrase our great satirist Jonathan Swift, I have a modest proposal for preventing citizens on generous public pensions from being a burden on their country and for making them useful to the community.

I'm not about to suggest stewing, roasting, boiling or baking retired people who are flush with money from the public purse. While such methods would reduce payments, they would be a drastic way of achieving this. Nor should they be turned into human fricassée or ragout, nor "seasoned with a little pepper or salt", as the dean recommended in relation to one-year-old babies.

Being the fortunate possessor of a state-sponsored pension pot shouldn't be grounds for lobbing people into a cooking pot. Ravenous though the demands are on our wallets, civilised standards must be observed.

Never mind next week's property tax bill, water charges on the horizon and yet another austerity Budget due in the autumn. Cannibalism is no more the answer today than it was in 1729.

Let's leave predatory behaviour to bank bigwigs looking for bonuses and others cut from the same self-interested cloth. The rest of us should remember that we are members of the same family.

And so to my modest proposal.

Public service mega-pension beneficiaries ought to have their golden goose seasoned with a few conditions attached. Put them forward as suggestions, rather than stipulations, if you prefer, but let's at least make them.

Really, all it requires is for the plump to share with the lean. I don't mean financially, they'll be relieved to learn, but in terms of passing on their expertise.

In return for one of those succulent state pensions, recipients should be invited to do something constructive: acting as mentors and teachers, helping unemployed people or those in low-paid jobs to upskill.

This should be done for no payment. The tendency today is to set up consultancies and put a market value on any expertise which individuals possess. But that shows no esprit de corps from those comfortably riding out the recession towards those floundering.

Young people, in particular, need a helping hand programme – some of them have never had the opportunity to hold down a job. Think of the difference it could make to their futures if they had access to the experience and wisdom of retired senior public servants.

Consider how such a cohort could get them off the dole and arm them for the workplace. Currently, this relatively young and active body of pensioners pass their days in recreation. Golf courses, restaurants and airport departure lounges are packed with them.

With a little imagination and scarcely any outlay, the Government could mobilise this sector into a force for good – both in private enterprise and public life. In addition, there would be less resentment about the cost to the Exchequer of so many well-padded pension arrangements.

Just to be clear, my modest proposal is not directed at those on humble pensions, but at the beefy ones enjoyed by the upper echelons of the public service. Many retired people are just as worried about how to cope as those still in the workplace or those reliant on social welfare. But an affluent caste is cruising along – quite literally, in a number of cases – thanks to thumping big pension pots.

The troika has pointed out repeatedly that the scale of state pensions is a burden on the public finances, but to no avail – the political and mandarin classes who benefit have no intention of deflating their own featherbeds.

Granted, the levy on private pension funds acts as a tax on those pots. It was set at 0.6pc a year between 2011 and 2014 and raised to 0.75pc in Budget 2014. But there remains a pensioned-off class which wants for nothing that money can buy, within reason.

These people now have time at their disposal and expertise at their fingertips. Yet they are sitting on their hands. What a parallel universe they inhabit compared with the lifestyles of most citizens. What a waste of their talents and energy.

Some do voluntary work, it's true. But if they were mustered and motivated they could make a more focused contribution.

No doubt, some are already incentivised, but unsure how to put their talents at the disposal of others. There is no register to match skills to openings. How difficult would it be to establish a database?

Some of the pension-pot brigade may not wish to participate. Others may welcome the opportunity – they can see how their children are struggling. And many of those who retire do so at comparatively young ages, especially when increased life expectancy is taken into account. There may be decades ahead for practising that golf swing.

Neighbouring countries have nifty ideas which can be plundered, adapted or cannibalised. Perhaps our ministers could keep their eyes and ears open when they are abroad on St Patrick's Day business.

In Sweden, for example, an employment agency called Veteran Pool was set up to get senior citizens back into the workplace and has the backing of the Swedish government. Former professionals do all sorts of low-paid work, but say they are glad to feel useful and have a purpose. It keeps them healthier for longer, too.

They receive a wage, of course, whereas I'm proposing free labour. But with 11.9pc on the Live Register, jobs need to go to people with their way to make in life, rather than to those with pensions. But retired people can continue to play an important part in the community. The life experience of our senior public servants is invaluable. What a tragedy to see it going to waste on golf courses and foreign beaches.

Irish Independent

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