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Wednesday 20 February 2019

Government under fire after saying it hopes most people will work until 68

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Anne Marie Walsh

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty's department is under fire after saying it hopes workers will keep working until they can claim the State pension at 68.

Age Action and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions accused it of abandoning workers who do not want to work or are forced to go on the dole as it pushes up the pension age.

Workers can draw the State pension at 66 now but the qualifying age is on the rise.

In 2021, they will have to be 67, and 68 in 2028, and it could rise even more.

Those who retire earlier - including those forced to do so at 65 because of clauses in their contracts - have to fall back on Jobseekers' Benefit of €198 a week

But this is more than €40 a week lower than the State pension.

In a response to questions from the Irish Independent, the department said it will pay the dole, but hoped workers would keep working instead.

"Where a person is entitled to a working age payment from the department they will receive it, regardless of age," it said.

"However, it is hoped that most people would, if they are capable, work up to State pension age."

Age Action's head of advocacy and communications, Justin Moran, said forcing people to work longer is not the solution to fund the pension system.

He accused the minister of refusing to restore a transition pension that was axed that would pay as much as the State pension.

"Unfortunately, the Government has abandoned those older workers who are forced out of their jobs because of ageist mandatory retirement contracts," he said.

"They must go on the dole, losing around €50 a week, for a year until they can claim the pension at 66.

"And this problem is going to get worse in 2021 when the pension age rises again, forcing older workers to spend two years on the dole."

He said legislation to abolish mandatory retirement contracts is before the Oireachtas but the Government will not let it go any further.

"We can't have a serious conversation about reforming the State pension if plans to increase the State pension age to 68 are not a part of that debate," he said.

He urged the minister to look at solutions including vast amounts of public money used to subsidise private pensions or higher PRSI rates to fund the system.

Congress social policy officer Laura Bambrick said anyone who has travelled across the US will be familiar with the sight of older people packing groceries and serving in diners.

"They are not doing this out of a desire to stay connected to the labour market. It is purely financial necessity. Is this the direction we are moving in?"

In its statement, the department said there have always been people who retire before State pension age.

"Their reasons for doing that and the ways in which they support themselves are very varied," it said.

It said some have an occupational pension, or a private pension, or a lump sum.

The department said others could retire early when their spouse reaches pension age and receive an increase for a 'Qualified Adult' payment.

A pensioner on the maximum payment of €243 a week could get an increase for an adult dependent under 66 of €162.

Irish Independent

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