Most marriage-bar women lose out under pension reform

Changes announced by Regina Doherty will impact those eligible for pension since late 2012

Minister for Employment Affairs & Social Protection Regina Doherty, centre, with Helen McDonald, principal, and Jim Duggan, assistant secretary of the department, in Government Buildings. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Employment Affairs & Social Protection Regina Doherty, centre, with Helen McDonald, principal, and Jim Duggan, assistant secretary of the department, in Government Buildings. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Many women forced out of their jobs by the marriage bar will be locked out of the State pension reform plan announced on Tuesday by Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty.

The measures are designed to address the position of more than 40,000 people who saw their State pensions reduced as a result of changes made in 2012.

They include a new Homecaring Credit of up to 20 years to cover time taken out of the workforce to care for family and a move to a Total Contribution Approach.

Under this approach, 40 years of PRSI credits – either paid, earned through the new Homecaring Scheme, or otherwise credited – will qualify for a full State contributory pension.

It gets rid of the existing “yearly averaging” system that disadvantages people who started working early but have gaps in their PRSI contributions.

The Homecaring credit mirrors the Homemakers Scheme already available on similar terms for women who took time out for family after 1994.

Prominent among those lobbying for change were women who had been required to resign their positions under a marriage bar that operated in Ireland until the State joined the European Economic Community in 1973. Although the bar was directed primarily at public sector workers, many private companies, including the banks, operated the same rules on the employment of married women.

Improved pension

However, only those who turned 71 after September 1st last year will be eligible for an improved pension under the measures, which apply only to people who retired after September 1st, 2012.

As the average age for marriage back in the early 1970s was 25, according to the Department of Social Protection, only women who lost their jobs under the bar in the early 1970s will benefit from the new regime.

That leaves thousands of women in their 70s and 80s, who have either been living on a State pension that was sharply reduced – or possibly only on a means tested non-contributory pension – outside the scope of the scheme.

It is primarily women who worked in the private sector who will lose out. Those who worked in the public service at the time were not entitled to the State pension anyway because they paid only reduced PRSI contributions. Had they been allowed to stay in employment, they would have received a public service pension. In the event, they only received a “marriage gratuity”.

Pensioners who feel they are likely to be impacted by the changes announced by the Minister do not need to take any action at this point. The Department of Social Protection will be getting in touch towards the end of the year and advising pensioners affected on what they need to do.