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'It will get worse': 'Embarrassed' over-65s forced to sign on the dole

Sinn Fein has pledged to restore the pensionable age to 65

OLDER PEOPLE BEING forced to sign on the dole is fast becoming an issue on the election campaign, with Age Action saying there is a sense of embarrassment for those who are over 65 years old and ‘signing on’. 

The group, which advocates for the needs of older people, said there is no dignity for thousands of people who have left work, but who cannot get their pension.  

A pension policy anomaly has resulted in thousands of 65-year-olds signing onto Jobseeker’s Benefit since the government increased the pension age to 66.

The age is to rise to 67 in 2021, and 68 in 2028.

Many people are forced to leave their jobs when they turn 65 because of compulsory retirement clauses in their employment contracts, while others may not be physically able to continue to work.

However, they must wait until they are 66 to receive their State pension. 

RTÉ’s Liveline highlighted the topic this week when one man, Martin, described how he has been working for 49 years, but will have to go on Jobseeker’s Benefit when he retires, losing €45 per week. 

A spokesperson for Age Action said being forced onto unemployment payments, rather than receive a pension, means a loss of nearly €2,400 a year for single people, and up to €7,000 for a couple. 

“The lack of joined-up thinking by the government has resulted in inadequate policy planning which unfairly impacts older people. Raising the age at which people can access the State pension while not dealing with mandatory retirement practices forces people into claiming unemployment benefits.

“Every year in Ireland older workers are forced out of their job for no other reason than they turn 65. This is possible because Irish law permits employers to impose mandatory retirement ages in their employees’ contracts, in effect, facilitating ageism and creating a set of second-class employment rights for older workers,” they said.

Age Action explained that previously those retiring before the contributory State Pension age were eligible for a transition pension.

This was set at the same rate as the pension and was payable for the year prior to the State Pension age of 65-66 years. However, the transition pension was abolished in 2014 and replaced by access to Jobseeker’s Benefit.

As Jobseeker’s Benefit is based upon the final year’s salary, it is a particular concern for people who may have worked reduced hours prior to their retirement for health or caring responsibilities. Callers to Age Action’s Helpline have highlighted the lesser value of Jobseeker’s Benefit in comparison to the previous transition pension.

Callers have also spoken about a sense of embarrassment having to ‘sign on’.

They added that another concern is that older people must remain in the country to receive the payments, which means many retirees, who wish to travel abroad or visit their families for a number of weeks are unable to do so for fear of having their payment cut off. 

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald made the issue one of the first for her party to campaign on, pledging to reduce the pension age back to 65. 

Speaking from Cabra in her Dublin Central constituency, McDonald said that plans to increase the age at which workers are entitled to a State pension to 68 are “wrong, unfair and don’t represent the values of the Irish people”. 

She told, that it is “only decent” that when people reach the age of 65 they have the option of availing of the State pension. 

“We should be saying thank you to our older people for everything they have done for the country,” she said, adding that people should not be driven into poverty.

Pension problems

The situation is set to get worse, according to the Irish Association of Pension Funds (IAPF), with up to 30,000 people who are set to turn 65 over the next 12 months being forced to claim unemployment benefit for two years as a result of further changes to the pension age. 

The IAPF said thousands of workers will be “forced to join the dole queue” which is “highly concerning”, it said.  

Fianna Fáil said the issue will have to be addressed, stating that its party policy will be announced in the coming days. 

The party’s spokesperson Michael McGrath said while the move to allow civil servants work until they are 70 is to be welcomed, no such reforms have been rolled out for the private sector. 

Every week, he said he meets with people who have been forced to retire at 65. These people are forced onto Jobseeker’s Benefit for nine months, before moving onto Jobseeker’s Allowance, which is means-tested. 

The issue will only be “exacerbated” when the age increases to 67 as that will be another year to bridge for people who will remain on the means tested payment. 

“The government has failed to prepare the ground and bring in the changes that are necessary in relation to pension policy,” he said, adding that Fianna Fáil is conscious of the demographics but also understands the economics. 

He said the party is examining the issue “very closely” and that a decision and a commitment will be made in respect of the 2021 changes. 

Any changes will come at a cost, said McGrath, adding if no changes are made going from 66 to 67, there will be a “very real human crisis for many people”. 

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