Intergenerational equity and enmity


Sir, – Stephen Collins (Opinion, September 15th) correctly highlights that it is the relatively young in Ireland who are bearing most of the pain. I’m Irish living in Belgium since 1997. On my infrequent short visits home to Ireland over the last five years or so, one thing kept hitting me. So many retired people whom I know have been able to afford to carry out significant work on their houses, ie major extensions. I don’t know anyone under 50 who would be able to do the same at the moment, even those in a two-income household.

I find myself in the very same position as many Irish people of my age cohort (I’m 41). Since the crisis began, my income has been drastically reduced. In the past 16 months, I’ve had four months of paid contract work (I’m self-employed) and let’s just say that “hope” is not a concept that I strongly relate to at the moment when I think of the next few years.

However, I feel the Belgian state actually protects me.

I have a variable rate mortgage here. The interest rate I have to pay is not set by the banks. It is set according to a government-controlled index. When the economy is struggling, my rate goes down and when the economy is in rude health my rate goes up. So for the next year, my interest rate on my variable rate mortgage will be 0.68 per cent (that is not a misprint). Furthermore I am guaranteed that the rate can never pass 5.3 per cent, again thanks to government legislation. There is nothing my bank can do to change the interest rate I have to pay. I know what the bank would like to do; I just have to look to the Irish banks to get an answer to that question.

I have to pay around €100 per annum to a mutual for my health cover (a mutual is a non-profit making organisation that manages health care expenditure). I have free choice over which doctors and specialists I visit.

There is a set fee a GP working in the system can charge of around €28 per visit. I get reimbursed about 50 per cent of that. Prescribed medication is also generously subsidised.

All salaries in Belgium are automatically adjusted every year to account for increases in the cost of living. Employers have no say in the matter.

At the retirement age of 65. I can continue to work should I wish. However, if I earn over approximately €12,000 per annum, I will lose part if not all of my state pension. It seems the state pension here is viewed as a safety net and not a bonus payment.

None of these things came about by accident. It took legislation by the government. It required the government to ignore both sectional interest groups and also neo-liberal economics. – Yours, etc,


Avenue du Geai,

Watermael-Boitsfort, Belgium.