Sunday 21 January 2018

'I regret having to bring in changes hitting women's pensions - but ministers could have fixed it' - Burton

Joan Burton
Joan Burton
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Former Tánaiste Joan Burton has defended creating the scenario where thousands of women are on lower pension rates - but also said that it must be remedied.

The Labour Party TD, who was social protection minister in the last government, claimed it was "in the gift" of her successor Regina Doherty and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe to fix the problem.

Earlier this week, Mr Donohoe admitted it was "bonkers and unbelievable" that women were losing out due to changes in pension eligibility rules introduced in 2012.

Thousands of women are getting smaller pensions because they left the workforce before 1994 to care for children.

Others are taking a pension hit because they once had a summer job or worked part-time for a while.

It is estimated at least 23,000 women and 12,000 men have been hit with the lower payments that averaged more than €1,500 a year.

No efforts were made to address the issue in Tuesday's Budget and a series of ministers has indicated a solution could cost €230m.

However, Ms Burton said: "I certainly left the structure in place to address this."

The ex-Labour Party leader said she had hoped the cuts would be reversed in the same manner that the Government was dealing with public sector pay.

"He can do it, if he has the money, in one fell swoop or else over time," Ms Burton told KFM radio.

"It is entirely in the gift of Paschal Donohoe and Regina Doherty if they want to address this. It will cost money. I think it can be done in stages."

Defending her decision to make the changes in Budget 2012, Ms Burton said she "regrets" all the cuts made during the austerity years, adding: "Just as you will recall during the crisis, public servants took reductions, people on social welfare payments except pensions took reductions."

Her colleague Ged Nash, who is now the party's social protection spokesman, criticised the Government for "doing nothing" to address the pension issue in the past two years.

Read More: Q&A: Why pension change hit women hard

"Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was also aware of this anomaly and did nothing to address it while Minister for Social Protection.

"As the economy has recovered, just as there has been a process of pay restoration for reductions made under Fempi [Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act], there should now be similar action on this issue.

"For example, the Social Insurance Fund has a projected surplus in 2017 of €1bn now, compared to a deficit of €2.8bn in 2012," the senator said.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil that work would be carried out in the coming months on the issue. She said it was "almost impossible" to believe that the marriage bar was in place up until the 1970s. "I am acutely conscious of the problems women are experiencing in accessing adequate pension provision," she said.

Irish Independent

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