Social Welfare Bill to keep pension age at 66

Pension costs quadrupled since 1997 says Minister, as Sinn Féin calls for age to be 65

Heather Humphreys said 65-year-olds would not be on dole queue. File photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Heather Humphreys said 65-year-olds would not be on dole queue. File photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

 

A stop will be put to the increase in the State pension age to 67 as part of legislation to be introduced in the Dáil next week.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys told the House the pension age will be kept at 66 and the planned increases to 67 in January 2021 and to 68 in January 2028 will both be repealed as part of the Social Welfare Bill, which gives effect to the social welfare provisions announced in the Budget.

The Government pledged in the Programme for Government to keep the pension age at 66 pending the outcome within a year of the recommendations of the recently established Commission on Pensions.

Ms Humphreys was speaking during a Sinn Féin private member’s debate calling for a State pension age of 65.

The Minister said “we do need to look at one simple, inescapable fact – people are living longer with cost implications”.

She said spending on pensions had risen from €1.7 billion in 1997 to over €8.2 billion in 2019, accounting for 26 per cent of all income tax and PRSI receipts and about 40 per cent of the total social welfare budget.

Sinn Féin enterprise spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said the pension age was one of the biggest issues in the general election and there was such opposition to the increase that Fine Gael was forced into a U-turn.

Ms O’Reilly said “workers deserve better than to be told that they must go on the dole, although they do not have to seek work, which is what the Minister has tried to tell them”.

“That is the dole queue by another name and the Minister knows it. Sending people who have worked hard for all of their lives to the dole queue is not right. It is unfair and it is wrong.”

However the Minister said “I want to be very clear, the idea that 65-year-olds will have to stand in dole queues is absolute nonsense”.

She said the €203 payment rate is less than the full contributory pension rate but a 65 year old in the State is “is still better off than any pensioner in Northern Ireland”.

And she accused Sinn Féin of saying one thing in the Dáil while “doing the exact opposite in Northern Ireland” where the pension age increased to 66.

Sinn Féin Roscommon-Galway TD Claire Kerrane, a leader in the party’s Stop67 campaign said Ms Humphrey’s “will know well that there is not a country in the world that moves retiring workers onto a jobseeker’s payment and which treats them as someone who is unemployed.

“Since 2014, more than 35,000 65-year-olds have been forced onto a jobseeker’s payment at retirement.”

She said the Government gave a commitment to replace the jobseeker’s payment for 65-year-olds with “an early retirement allowance”. But she said this was nothing more than a name change because the allowance will still be paid at the same rate as the jobseeker’s allowance.