State pension and the marriage bar
Sir, – In its recommendations published on April 24th, the Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality urged the Oireachtas to immediately address the impact of the marriage bar, the ban on the employment of married women in the Civil Service and wider public and semi-State sectors, which was not lifted until 1973, by automatically qualifying women affected by the marriage bar for a State pension. This is a welcome recommendation and one which should be prioritised, given the ages of those affected.
While retrospective reforms, such as the homemakers’ scheme and home carers’ scheme disregard a certain amount of “home caring periods” (time out of the workplace due to caring responsibilities) when calculating a person’s yearly average contributions for a State pension (contributory), neither scheme applies to those born before September 1st, 1946.
The affected group – each now at least 74 years of age – are most likely to be female as, historically, women were obliged to give up work upon marriage, either by law or because it was societally expected of them.
This group of older women continue on a reduced pension rate despite having previously worked, and no rationale is offered to explain why one must be born after September 1st, 1946, in order to be eligible for the schemes. The schemes, in our view, are discriminatory against older women and are incompatible with both Article 40.1 of the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. Yet this discrimination survives principally because no-one affected by it is in a position to take on the enormous cost, risk and stress a legal challenge would necessarily entail. The contributions of these women to our society must be recognised and their exclusion from the State pension (contributory) rectified before it is too late. – Yours, etc,