Minister’s pension reforms to benefit far fewer women than expected

Credit for years as home carer available only alongside 520 full PRSI payments

Pensions reform: Regina Doherty announced the changes last month. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Pensions reform: Regina Doherty announced the changes last month. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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Pension reforms announced with fanfare by Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty will benefit far fewer women than campaigners had originally expected.

The changes, announced last month, were designed to take account of the fact that many women had big gaps in their social-insurance contribution records because of time they had taken out of the workforce to raise a family or take care of older relatives. A lot of these women had seen their right to a pension disappear or the payment reduce under a tightening of the rules in September 2012.

But the department clarified on Monday that the minimum requirement for anyone seeking a State contributory pension, of at least 520 full PRSI contributions, remains in place. That threshold was doubled in the contentious 2012 reform, from 260 previously, locking out women who would previously have qualified for at least some pension.

And they remain shut out of the new regime. The credit for up to 20 years as a home carer, under the reforms announced by Ms Doherty, is open only to those who already qualify for a contributory pension through the minimum of 10 years’ PRSI stamps “over the nearly 50 years of working-age life available to them”, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Protection.

She added that those who don’t meet that requirement could still qualify for a means-tested noncontributory State pension on the basis of their share of household means.

“Extremely worrying”

Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, said the continued existence of the 520-stamp minimum threshold means that the reforms “do not bring anyone into the pension, although it does improve the pension paid to women who had already qualified”. She said this was “extremely worrying”. “It looks like a far smaller number of women will benefit from the Minister’s announcement than had been presumed.”

Of 42,000 people who lost out under the 2012 changes, about 60 per cent are women. The department has not yet given any figures on how many people will be affected by the new rules. The women’s council is among a number of groups that have sought detailed briefings from the department, but it says these have yet to be offered.

The Minister’s reforms have already been criticised because they make no provision for retrospective payment of pension to people who have lost out since the September 2012 tightening of the scheme and because they will benefit only a small minority of people affected by the marriage bar, which forced many women out of the workforce until it was abolished, in 1973.

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