Siptu launches coalition to stop State pension age rising to 67

Largest union wants age of State pension to revert to 65, and that a forum discuss the ‘white hot’ election issue

The country's largest union Siptu has launched a coalition to pressurise politicians to stop the State pension age rising to 67 next year and to consider reducing it to 65 again.

The union has joined forced with groups representing women and retired people (the National Women's Council of Ireland, Age Action Ireland and Active Retirement Ireland) to address what had become "the white hot issue" of the election, Siptu said.

The pension gap has become one of the most contentious issues of the campaign as older people have highlighted how changes in the State’s pension age have left them worse off.

The State pension age was raised from 65 to 66 in 2014 by the then Fine Gael-Labour government in a phased increase of when people could access their State pension.

READ MORE

This has left an income gap between the age at which most private and public sector workers are forced to retire (65) and the pension age of 66. This was initially met with a transition pension payment but retirees now have to apply for Jobseeker’s Benefit until the State pension kicks in.

The pension is due to rise to 67 at the start of next year and to 68 in 2028, widening the gap and creating further financial difficulties for retirees until their payments kick in from the State pension.

Launching Siptu's Stop 67 campaign, Joe Cunningham, the union's general secretary, said Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were making "very unclear statements" and "scrambling around" to devise transition payments to be put in place to help bridge the pension gap.

He called on the two main parties to “nail your colours to the mast”, and commit to reversing the plan to increase the State pension age to 67 from January 1st, 2021.

Mr Cunningham said Siptu hoped the State pension age would eventually revert to 65. He wanted “a forum of all of the interested parties” to come up with “a formula that is workable and much more flexible into the future”.

Indignity

The State pension age was increased as part of efforts to meet the higher cost of a larger population that is living longer in retirement that developed countries are experiencing.

Ethel Buckley, deputy general secretary of Siptu, spoke about the "absolute indignity" of someone approaching 65, expecting their pension and "being put on the dole instead".

She described as an “absolute farce” retirees on meagre funds being means tested for the bridging Jobseeker’s Benefit, and having their payment reduced because of the value of their house, savings or having a spouse or partner who is working or because they were abroad.

Ms Buckley criticised Fine Gael Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty for saying that she had "suddenly realised the sincerity of people's difficulty" over the issue.

“It is just appalling – the whole country has had a difficulty with it since 2014,” she said.

Siptu researcher Michael Taft estimated that it would cost €217 million a year to stop the pension age increasing to 67, and that this could be paid from the €1.4 billion surplus in the Social Insurance Fund, into which PRSI is paid and from which State pensions are paid out.

Timebomb

He rejected talk of a future pensions timebomb as a "myth", saying that the country had the youngest population in Europe and one of the highest pension ages. A "stakeholder forum" could consider future costs of funding pensions based on a stronger economy.

“There is no doubt that in the future we will have to increase resources to pay for pensions – no one is doubting that,” he said.

“The problem we have is that the scaremongering that is used is actually limiting the ability to have an evidence-based debate.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent