As the general election campaign entered its second week, most political parties were caught off-guard by the emergence of the pension age as an election issue. Currently the age at which workers can claim the state pension is 66. It’s due to rise to 67 in 2021, and to 68 in 2028.
This means workers whose contracts oblige them to retire at the previous pension qualification age of 65 are forced to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance for a year. The allowance is worth less than the state pension rate, and it’s conditional on being available for work.
Fórsa has supported ICTU and Siptu campaigns to halt next year’s planned increase in the eligibility age for the state pension.
A brief media storm broke out when it emerged that some public servants – those employed between 1995 and 2012, whose occupational pensions are coordinated with the state pension – have access to a supplementary pension scheme.
But there were important inaccuracies in some reports and commentary about the arrangements.
The supplementary pension was introduced in 1995 to deal with issues that arose when the Government reformed pension arrangements by coordinating the occupational pension with the state pension for the first time.
It was designed to ensure that staff who retired before age 65 – as was an option for many – would get the same benefits under the new administrative regime as under the old arrangement.
The supplementary pension is not equal to the state pension – it’s substantially less. This is because it brings payments in line with comparable pre-1995 retirees, not with the current state pension.
A number of media outlets reported this as an ‘unfair advantage’ for public service workers. The tone of the coverage briefly descended into a ‘public versus private sector’ discussion, risking unnecessary division among workers and shifting the focus away from the planned increase to the state pension age.
Fórsa took steps to put the record straight behind the scenes, providing briefings to journalists and political parties on the precise nature and history of the scheme.
Media interest swiftly moved on, while the planned increase in the pension age continued to be a hot election topic. Most political parties have made election pledges either to introduce some form of interim payment for retired workers, or to reverse the plan to increase the pension age.
Fórsa said the priority for any new administration must be to act quickly to end the unnecessary and undignified process of forcing retired workers to claim jobseekers allowance in order to bridge the gap between their retirement and qualifying for the state pension, and to abandon plans to further increase the state pension eligibility age.