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Tuesday 17 September 2019

Plans to give pensioners more security are 'being blocked in Government'

Laura Bambrick
Laura Bambrick

Anne-Marie Walsh

Plans to ensure the State pension keeps its value are being blocked by a Government department, it has been claimed.

A senior union official said the Department of Finance is putting the brakes on proposals to give older people greater security.

This would be done by ensuring the value of the State pension never drops below the equivalent of 34pc of the average wage.

At the moment, the pension is not pegged to any economic markers - and pensioners are dependent on the goodwill of politicians at budget time for increases like the extra fivers given in recent years.

The Government has been urged to move on its commitment to link the pension with pay after missing its own deadline to roll out the proposal.

Its Roadmap for Pensions Reform said it would set a formal benchmark of 34pc of average earnings for the pension by the end of last year.

It also promised to roll out a process whereby payments would be "explicitly linked" to inflation and average wages in the same timeframe.

"The Department of Social Protection has informed us the delay in progressing the legislation is with Finance," said Irish Congress of Trade Unions social policy officer Laura Bambrick.

She said its reluctance may be down to potential costs and a loss of power over budget priorities. It is vital the changes are brought in ahead of a planned auto-enrolment pension scheme in 2022, she added, so the public can be confident the Government does not plan to replace the State pension over time.

When asked if the deadlines were missed or why, the Department of Social Protection did not say.

In a response, it said it is "currently considering options" to implement benchmarking and indexation.

When asked if it is blocking the plan, a Department of Finance spokesperson said the query "is appropriate" to the Department of Social Protection.

The Government's pensions roadmap highlighted a need to benchmark the pension to provide a "basic level of pension adequacy".

It said current pension rates already meet this objective - but future increases should be linked to the cost of living and wage levels in order to ensure the value of the State pension is maintained.

"As pensioners generally have fixed incomes, and can expect 20 or more years when they may be at least partially reliant on the State pension, any uncertainty about future rates can cause anxiety, particularly among pensioners with no other source of income," it said.

It said Ireland is atypical among EU countries by giving discretionary increases through political decisions in annual budgets.

"The Government believes a regime of automatic indexation would introduce greater long-term certainty for our retirees," it said.

Meanwhile, pensioners have no idea how many years' contributions they will need to qualify for a full State pension in future.

The department said it is designing a new "total contributions" approach for post-2020 pensioners and the minister will bring a proposal to government "in the near future".

Irish Independent

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