Burton to change rules for winding up pensions

 

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton will change the rules for private pensions being wound up to make them fairer, she has told the Dáil.

Ms Burton said when defined benefit pensions were being wound up, the current rules were inequitable. They favour existing pensioners ahead of former employees, who in turn are favoured above current employees.

The Minister said she was expecting a technical report on the issue and would bring proposals to Government with a view to changing the current order of priority.

She was speaking as she introduced the controversial Social Welfare Bill last night, which will give effect to budget changes including cuts in child benefit, the respite care grant and the PRSI allowance.

Few options

Amid trenchant criticism from the Opposition on the cuts, Ms Burton said she had few options when social welfare accounted for 37 per cent of exchequer spending. She said it was “not possible to exclude social protection schemes and services from consideration when it comes to cutting back on expenditure” or to exclude PRSI.

Defending her actions on child benefit, Ms Burton said any future reform of the payment would preserve the principle of universality. This was worth bearing in mind when Britain, “a country that can print its own money and is not in hock to any troika, will remove child benefit in its entirety from families that might be considered middle income with effect from next year”.

She also announced she would be making three amendments to the Bill: counting Sunday as a day of employment for jobseeker’s payments; delaying the implementation dates for cuts in the one-parent family payment; and making changes in the household budgeting scheme for local authority rents.

The Minister said: “We have to continue on the hard road we set off on when we came into Government to sort out the finances of this country.” She described the Bill, which TDs will vote on tomorrow, as one “we contributed to achieving that in a fair manner”.

‘Cruel’ grant cut

Fianna Fáil social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea said cutting the carer’s respite grant was “cruel and unfair”.

The Government could have raised €200 million by putting a 3 per cent increase in the universal social charge on the portion of incomes above €100,000. He said the “simple choice” was: “Do you put slightly more tax on the well-off or do you leave those alone and punish the poor?”

The Government he said had chosen the latter.

Sinn Féin spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh highlighted pledges made by Labour in opposition, particularly promises to protect children benefit.

He said Labour pledged the need to protect it because it was “mainly an issue for mná na hÉireann” but it had now taken the view that “it’s only women and children”. He said: “You are taking bread out of the mouths of children.”

Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan said the State was bringing in measures that would make more people dependent on the Society of St Vincent de Paul and other charities.