Oral Questions – Minister for Social Protection

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Clare submitted questions for Oral answer by the Minister for Social Protection on the 25th of May on the continuing inequity of women who were subject to the so-called ‘marriage bar’ (a system that prevailed up until the 1970s whereby women who got married had to leave their jobs) receiving reduced pensions because of it; and on the introduction of a universal second-pillar pension system. Her questions were not selected from the lottery, unfortunately, but you can read the Minister’s answers below.

Question No: 40 Ref No: 11638-16
To ask the Minister for Social Protection given the budgetary surplus reported in his Department and further to Parliamentary Question Number 9 of 30 September 2015, in which the former Minister stated, in relation to plans to address the inequality experienced by persons who are in receipt of reduced pensions because of the marriage bar, that ‘we do not as yet have the resources as a country to be in a position to fund what it would cost’; and if he will now address this issue.

– Clare Daly.

For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 25th May, 2016.

R E P L Y

The ‘marriage bar’ describes a rule that existed in most of the public service and some private sector employments, where women were required to leave their employment on marriage. This practice was abolished in 1973 when we joined the EEC.  As employees in the public service generally paid a reduced rate of PRSI which provided no cover for the State pension, the marriage bar would not have impacted on State pension entitlement.  It would have impacted on their continuing public service employment, and eventual entitlement to a Public Service pension.  This is a matter for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Budget 2016 contained a number of measures to benefit pensioners. Firstly, the State pension (contributory) rate was increased from €230.30 to €233.30 per week, and the State pension (non-contributory) rate was increased from €219 to €222 per week.  Where a pensioner does not qualify for a full rate contributory pension, they may make a claim to the latter payment, which is means-tested, if that entitles them to a higher payment.

These increases will benefit more than 676,500 pensioners and their dependents this year.  Proportionate increases also applied for qualified adults on pensions where they are aged 66 or over.  Secondly, a couple in receipt of the maximum rate of the State pension contributory would have received a 75% Christmas Bonus of €327.50 in the first week of December 2015.  Finally, pensioners may also have benefitted from the increase in Fuel Allowance from €20 to €22.50 per week for the duration of the fuel season.

ENDS

Question No:  44 Ref No: 11639-16
To ask the Minister for Social Protection to outline plans for a universal second-pillar pension system including the timetable for its introduction.

– Clare Daly.

For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 25th May, 2016.

R E P L Y

The last Government established a Universal Retirement Savings Group (URSG) to proceed with work to develop a roadmap and timeline for the introduction of a universal supplementary workplace retirement saving system.  The Group was asked to consider the constituent factors involved in constructing an efficient and effective model for such a system.  The Group comprises of Assistant Secretary level representatives from a range of Departments/Agencies including experts from the UK Department for Work and Pensions and the OECD.

Initial work has concentrated on whether the optimal model would be one which is mandatory for all workers currently without supplementary retirement savings coverage or one which would automatically enrol those without supplementary retirement savings coverage whilst allowing individuals to opt out should they so choose.  The Group also undertook a consultation process to facilitate input from, and engagement with, consumers and sectoral interests from the pensions industry along with employers and employee representatives.  Officials also engaged with a range of international/Irish subject matter experts.

I have indicated that the development of a universal retirement savings system will be a priority area of work for my Department.  In order to achieve the goal of increasing retirement savings coverage and adequacy levels, it is crucial that the design and structure of any system is appropriate and suited to the national environment.

I now intend to consider the body of work completed to date and put in place a work plan for delivery.

ENDS