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Editorial: 'It's time to challenge those who deny a pension time-bomb'

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We have a housing crisis and health service problems because we have failed to plan. In another generation, we risk having a pension crisis for failure of planning. (Stock photo)

We have a housing crisis and health service problems because we have failed to plan. In another generation, we risk having a pension crisis for failure of planning. (Stock photo)

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We have a housing crisis and health service problems because we have failed to plan. In another generation, we risk having a pension crisis for failure of planning. (Stock photo)

We have a housing crisis and health service problems because we have failed to plan. In another generation, we risk having a pension crisis for failure of planning.

Amid the noise of an election auction, we now seriously risk losing our way over the pensions issue. We badly need to strip out the noise and look coldly at the facts.

The good news is that Irish people are living longer. Thirty years ago we averaged a lifespan of 75 years - now that average is 82. Better again, unlike other countries, there is no sign of change.

That also means that many people currently up for retirement at 65 can live more than 20 more years. That raises serious questions about pension funding - especially for the State's old-age pension, upon which most private-sector workers depend. The issue is compounded by an all-time low birth rate in this country. Once the decades roll on, the number of people at work and paying PAYE and PRSI will decrease and pensioner numbers will increase from 586,000 in 2015 to a projected 1.4 million in 2050.

There are devices to tackle the problem: reduce pension payments, increase taxes to fund it or increase the working age. There could also be a medley of these three.

In 2011, Fine Gael and Labour legislated to increase the pension age from 65 years to 67 from January 1, 2021. It will rise to 68 from January, 2028. This was in line with a plan endorsed by the previous Fianna Fáil-led government and was an example of forward planning to head off a pensions crisis. It attracted only limited public discussion until last week, with the election campaign building and the first age-extension deadline drawing closer.

There were some very basic omissions in the age changes which were very unfair. Many workers are forced to retire at 65, and forced to depend on welfare payments lower than the pension and designed for people out of work, making these retirees sign on and allegedly be actively seeking work.

That is an abuse, and insult is added to injury by a top-up scheme to bridge the time-gap for public sector workers and generous terms for our lawmakers benefiting from gilded pensions. Those wrongs must be righted and nobody must be obliged to continue working when they can no longer meet the job demands.

But it is wrong to dismiss the pensions crisis. On RTÉ radio at the weekend, People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith cited a campaign by Siptu which dubs the pensions crisis as "a myth". Yesterday on RTÉ, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald airily said "the demographics will look after themselves".

Both these claims are wrong and must be confronted. The pensions time-bomb is no myth and neither will it resolve itself. We now risk writing cheques which must be paid by the next generation, instead of discussing and planning the required mix of remedies.

Irish Independent