Thousands are trapped in ‘no man’s land’ over their pensions

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John Downing

The number of people forced to retire at 65 years of age – but not entitled to a pension until 66 – is soaring.

New figures show that 5,000 older people are now in this ‘no man’s land’ when it comes to social welfare entitlements.

They are obliged to sign for the dole and formally pretend they are “available for work” until they qualify for the old-age pension 12 months after being forced out of the workplace.

Fianna Fáil welfare spokesman Willie O’Dea says the numbers left in this position will continue to grow as the Irish population ages.

The problem will be compounded by the raising of the pension age to 67 in four years’ time, and a further rise to 68 inside a decade.

Fianna Fáil is now pushing for the abolition of compulsory retirement at 65, allowing people the option of working on if they wish and are able to do so.

Mr O’Dea argues this is part of an overdue multi-pronged approach to tackling Ireland’s “pension time-bomb”.

“It is high time for action on the pensions issue. There are many people in jobs where they would be willing and able to continue working after the age of 65. It would not suit everyone, especially people in labouring work, but it would be a fit for many people,” the Limerick City TD said.

But Mr O’Dea condemned a recent report for the Government-backed ‘think tank’, the Economic and Social Research Institute, which recommended raising the pension age to 70.

It is now clear that the loss of taxes from people of working age, and the accompanying rise in the pension bill, will place a huge strain on the Irish economy.

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The 2016 Census showed numbers aged over 65 had grown by 100,000 over the previous five years, to a total of 640,000. The current pensions bill is put at €7.2bn, or over one-third of the entire spend on social welfare.

In 2013 the formal pension age was increased to 66 years and the so-called “retirement pension”, which bridged the gap for those obliged to quit at 65, was abolished.

Instead, people in that position are now obliged to sign on the dole. From 2021 the qualification age for the old age pension will increase to 67, going to 68 by 2028.

Mr O’Dea said it was disturbing to learn that there are now 5,000 people aged over 65 signing for either unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit.

“After years of work, retired people are entitled to their dignity and a feeling that they have earned a pension. It is entirely wrong that they are put in this bogus position by the social welfare system which is poorly thought-out and uncaring.”

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said any suggestion he won’t be seeking a rise in the State pension in the Budget is “disingenuous”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he “absolutely” plans to hike the pension next year but Mr Martin told the ‘Sunday Independent’ he would not say “yay or nay” on the issue.

He said the Government should focus on the area of disabilities and carers.

However, he issued a statement yesterday denying there was any dispute over pensions between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. He said the Confidence and Supply Arrangement provided for an increase in the old-age pension over the next number of years, and claimed credit for last year’s €5 increase.

“Fianna Fáil wants to see pensioners looked after in Budget 2018. However, no specifics have been discussed at this stage,” he said.

Irish Independent

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