State pension form of wealth, says ICMSA
A FARMING group has called on Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn to include public sector pensions among the forms of wealth that would be considered for means-testing when new eligibility criteria for third-level grants are introduced.
The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) said it was concerned by reports that farms, bank deposits and second homes could be considered as assets in a means-testing system.
Association president John Comer said “simple justice dictated that the kind of gold-plated pensions” available to politicians and public sector workers should be considered in the same light.
A review of how grant eligibility is assessed is expected to be published next month.
Reports yesterday suggested the interdepartmental group examining the issue had raised the possibility of second homes and savings accounts being included as forms of wealth in the means test.
The Department of Education has said no proposals or recommendations have been made by the Capital Asset Implementation Group.
It has described a public debate on a decision yet to be made as premature.
Mr Comer said Mr Quinn and others calling for a broad-based classification of wealth could not consistently argue that a guaranteed pension of half a final salary and a tax-free cash lump sum “did not constitute wealth”.
He said: “If Mr Quinn refuses to recognise that public sector pensions were wealth comparable with – and, indeed, hugely superior to – the assets that he is reported to be considering, then it will be obvious that his proposed changes are one-sided and discriminatory.”
Reports on the means test have shown divisions between the Government parties, with Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney and backbench Fine Gael TDs stating their opposition to the value of capital assets, such as farms, being included in the process.
The chairman of the Labour Party, Colm Keaveney, said he was concerned that farmers and other self-employed people could manipulate their income by raising capital expenditure in a given year so that their children qualify for grants.
Figures from the Higher Education Authority suggest that more than 40 per cent of farmers and close to 50 per cent of all self-employed people secured a college grant for their children, compared to just 17 per cent of those from families headed by a “lower professional”.
The percentage is also relatively low for a range of other groups including non-manual workers (27 per cent) and “higher professionals” (10 per cent).