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State pensions need to stay on a decent level urges academic

Maintaining a decent pension in the forthcoming Budget is vital to keeping elderly people out of the poverty trap, it was claimed today.

An academic revealed that 84pc of pensioners would be at risk of poverty if it was not for social welfare payments and allowances.

Professor Mary Daly, of Queen's University, Belfast, examined the issue of poverty measurement for older people for Older & Bolder, an umbrella group for organisations which support the elderly.

She said poverty rates among pensioners shot up during the early years of the Celtic Tiger but fell considerably in recent years and are now below average.

"It is clear, though, that looking at the situation of older people vis-a-vis other sectors of the population, their heavy reliance on state pensions and social welfare generally to stay out of poverty is very striking," she said.

"The fact that income poverty rates among older people have come down underlines the importance of a decent state pension as pensions play a key role in keeping older people out of poverty."

Prof Daly's research paper, Measured Or Missed? Poverty And Deprivation Among Older People In A Changing Ireland, questioned how poverty and deprivation among older people are measures in Ireland.

She revealed that no adjustments were made for levels of healthiness or disability and, unlike UK research, it did not show that older people were less likely to say they cannot afford an item and more likely to say they do not want it because of pride, dignity and different values.

Prof Daly called for a public debate on the subject and the development of a programme of research on effective approaches to measuring poverty, deprivation and social exclusion among older people.

Patricia Conboy, Older & Bolder's project director, said the alliance was concerned major policy decisions could be made shortly by Government, for example on the State Pension, based on questionable information on the levels of poverty and deprivation among older people.

"Ireland's National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016 presents a vision for the inclusion of older people," she said.

"This vision looks to older people's full participation in civic and social life; access to adequate income; support for independent living in their own homes in old age; and access to health and social care services. Critical elements of this vision for inclusion are clearly missed in our existing approaches to poverty measurement and social exclusion among older people.

"In Older & Bolder's view, there is a manifest need for a better match between national policy on social inclusion and national policy and practice on measurement of poverty and social inclusion."

PA Media