State pension will not be cut, insists Joan Burton

Pensioners have ‘nothing to worry about’, says Tánaiste

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said: “Now that the economy is recovering, I can assure older people that they have nothing to worry about, and that their pensions are secure.” File photograph: Getty Images

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said: “Now that the economy is recovering, I can assure older people that they have nothing to worry about, and that their pensions are secure.” File photograph: Getty Images

 

Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has said the Government will not cut the State pension and is committing to maintaining the current rates of payment.

Ms Burton was responding to a report in yesterday’s Irish Times that revealed officials in the Department of Public Expenditure argued cuts must be considered as an option to ensure the State pension’s sustainability.

An expenditure review drawn up by departmental officials expressed strong concerns about the future of expenditure levels on the State contributory and non-contributory pensions, and related universal benefit schemes for older people.

It suggested that, without changes and in the face of demographic pressures, the State could have to provide annual increases of nearly €200 million in these areas up to 2026.

Ms Burton said the Coalition will not implement any pension reductions and will maintain the current rates. Pensioners have “nothing to worry about”, she added.

She said the arguments put forward by officials do “not represent official Government policy, which is to protect the State pension given its enormous importance to older people”.

“There is absolutely no question of any reductions to weekly pension rates.

“As Minister for Social Protection throughout the economic crisis I ensured there were no reductions to the State pension despite enormous pressures on the welfare budget,” Ms Burton said. “Now that the economy is recovering, I can assure older people that they have nothing to worry about, and that their pensions are secure.”

The department said the pensions proposals were part of a “series of papers” prepared in advance of the budget but said “no such cuts are being considered”.

“The papers released show that the budget is based on a rigorous and robust analysis of spending and policy options. This has allowed the Government to be very clear about its priorities for the period ahead – protecting welfare rates, investing more in the health system, investing more in social housing and homelessness, increasing teacher numbers and the number of special needs assistants,” it said.

“It is the role of officials in the [department] to examine and monitor the totality of public spending, probe and stress test spending proposals, to insist on value for money and to drive reform. The papers released show how that process works.”

It said the papers did not represent the position of Minster for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin or his department.

Speaking on Monday, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said “those people who worked hard for their pensions needed to be alerted to this”.

“It is a matter of whether you believe the senior Government Ministers or not,” Mr Adams said, while accusing Ms Burton and Taoiseach Enda Kenny of wanting to “nationalise austerity” in Northern Ireland as well.

“The Tánaiste was at the talks in the North. Her only interest there was to nationalise austerity. The Tánaiste never said a word during all of these matters.

“People need to be very alert that this is a Government that is wedded to austerity and those who have worked hard, paid their dues, have their pensions coming to them need to be alerted to this possibility.”