Wednesday 24 July 2019

Top pensions: At least we've got the 'giver's glow'

Carol Hunt explains why giving everything we have to pay for top public sector pensions liberates the soul of the giver

John Bruton
John Bruton
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
Carol Hunt

Carol Hunt

If, as African American author Maya Angelou said, "giving liberates the soul of the giver", then Irish women must have the most liberated souls this side of Christendom. In fact, for the vast majority of us, our souls should be so liberated by now that they've forgotten what our bodies look like and have no intention of ever coming down near them again.

Which is probably just as well, because back here in the physical world, where we need such mundane things like food and shelter and heat, Irish women are not feeling so liberated - despite the amount of "giving" we are forced to do.

I am, it has to be said, saying this in a fit of ungracious martyrdom. Like many self-employed women of my generation, I have to admit, with reluctance, shame and an appropriate amount of Irish-Mammy guilt, that I do not have a pension. Yes, I know, I'm a negligent disgrace. And yes again, perhaps in my 20s, I spent money on shoes and champagne (the cheap kind) and chocolate that would have been better put into a pension pot, but by the time I hit my 30s and the mortgage and kids arrived, managing the childcare bill was the height of my financial achievements.

On the bright side however, as my taxes pay for the pensions of other people far more deserving than me, I, and others like me, can benefit from the act of "giving". We are all beneficiaries of the "giver's glow" or "helper's high" that is bestowed on us because of the manner in which we forget our own troubles and instead focus on the well-being, security and prosperity of others in receipt of large public pensions.

Yes, I know that when I eventually reach the age of retirement I look set to become a nasty burden on the state; and seemingly that's a burden that this country just cannot afford, as a study of state pensions by the Australian Centre of Financial Studies revealed this week.

You see, the facts show that the cost of our state pension liabilities are estimated at €440 billion - 111pc of GDP and this whopping great figure requires "significant reduction" under European budgetary rules.

Bottom line? There isn't going to be any money left if we continue to hand out gold-plated pensions to our politicians, top civil servants, judges, academics and all the other Very Important People in the country who get massive windfalls when they retire.

But don't worry. I promise I'll continue to work up until the age of 98 or so and then I'll cheerfully die in my sleep to avoid being any hassle to anybody. I'm not alone in my Irish Mammy-martyrdom, seemingly seven out of 10 women are in the same sinking boat, according to a Standard Life survey conducted last November, and I suspect, with childcare costs rising and the introduction of property and water taxes, that there are even less women today than ever able to put away a few bob for their old age. (Women also bore the brunt of the changes to the State's contributory pension scheme this year).

But even if we'd had a few quid to stash away, sure what was the point, when Mr Noonan was able to dip his fingers into it any time he wanted and filch a fair whack of it. Yes, I know that he very magnanimously declared last week that the 0.6pc levy is ending this year and that the extra 0.15pc levy will finish up at the end of 2015, so I suppose those 'lucky' enough to have had private pension pots just lying there waiting to be raided, should give thanks that this particular theft has been stalled.

After all the pension levy raised billions that the government needs to pay for the pensions of other people. People who are far more important than you, me or Johnny down the road who's been putting a few bob into the kitty every month in the hope he won't have to be dependent on his children when he hits 65.

You see, billions are needed to pay for the pensions of those who have "given the state some service", as the phrase goes. People who, because of their selfless devotion to this great little country of ours, are far more deserving of a rich old age than you or I.

People like the employees of both NAMA and NTMA (who Minister Noonan was able to confirm this week) have a coveted defined benefit pension scheme. They are, according to Fianna Fail's Timmy Dooley, "one of the most lucrative pension schemes" in the state. (Sadly, back out here in the real world, most private defined benefit pension schemes are in deficit).

They're not alone though. According to figures from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, over 500 public servants are on pensions in excess of €100,000. Over in AIB, that failed, now state-owned bank, 97 former employees are also being paid pensions in excess of €100,000. Of course they can't trump the dosh we hand out to our former presidents or compete with the fact that Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowes, among many others, are also in the six-figure pension category. And so is that great supporter of fiscal austerity for the soon-to-be-unwashed masses, John Bruton.

When asked about the huge cost of his extraordinarily generous - by all international standards - pension, Bruton said: "I acquired pension entitlements similar to other public servants. If the government makes decisions about public servant's pensions generally I have no issue with that".

The OECD has pointed out the unequal treatment of private and public sector workers when it comes to pensions in Ireland - but while the government and all their Sir Humphreys in the Civil Service are the ones making the decisions about their own pensions, I suspect we'll see little or no change in the status quo.

Meanwhile the rest of us can take comfort in the knowledge that our souls have been "liberated" - as well as our pockets.

@carolmhunt

Sunday Independent

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