“I’m here,” the woman said to me, “because my mam is being punished for having reared five tax-paying children and at the age of 68 has to keep working because her pension is so small.”
She was one of hundreds of people who took their demand for a fair State Pension to Leinster House last week.
All week members of the NWCI and the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, joined by trade unions like SIPTU and Fórsa, alongside organisations representing older people like Active Retirement Ireland, Pensioners for Equality and ourselves have been ringing their elected representatives.
We have one simple message – reverse the cuts to the State Pension that were introduced in 2012 and have punished more than 40,000 Irish pensioners for taking time out of work to rear their families.
Many are losing more than €30 a week because of what one member rightly describes as a “mean and sneaky cut”. Our Minister for Finance calls the situation “bonkers” and there isn’t a pensioner in Ireland who doesn’t agree with him.
The cause of this problem is that in 2012 the Government changed the rules for the State Pension. It didn’t affect people on the top rate but those who would have been in line for smaller pensions saw them reduced even further.
Not everyone gets the full State Pension because not everyone has a full record of PRSI contributions. Many pensioners, mostly women but including a lot of men, left the workforce to care for their families.
While they were doing this they weren’t paying PRSI contributions or stamps as many people remember them being called.
Under the old system, if you had an average of 20 contributions, for example, you would have been entitled to almost €230 a week. But after 2012, this dropped to less than €200, a cut of more of more than thirty euro each and every week.
And it’s a cut that these pensioners are reminded about every October. They know that when the Government announces the pension is going to go up by €5 that doesn’t apply to them. Because they’re on smaller pensions they’ll be lucky to get half that amount.
The situation is made worse by the ‘averaging rule’ used to calculate your pension.
To figure out what you will get in retirement the Department takes the number of contributions you made over your lifetime and divides it by the number of years between your very first day of work and when you claim the pension.
For example, take someone who worked for a few months in 1968 and then left to raise a family. During her time away from work she would not have made any PRSI contributions.
She goes back to work in 2000 and retires in 2016.
Her total number of contributions are divided by 48, from when she started work in 1968, and as a result she gets a much smaller pension. Her time caring for her family is not only ignored, it actually reduces her pension.
But here’s the real scandal; if she had not gone to work in 1968 she would have been entitled to a full State Pension because her contributions would be divided by a smaller figure.
There are thousands of people being punished with reduced pensions because they went to work in the 60s and 70s not knowing it would cost them €20 a week in 2018.
TDs and senators from every party and none at all joined us outside Leinster House yesterday.
To her credit, Minister Regina Doherty TD came out and spoke directly to the men and women who are losing out every single day because of these cuts.
We know the politicians have heard the anger, the frustration and the sense of injustice in the voices of older people. What we don’t know yet is whether they’ve listened.
Next week the Cabinet is due to make a decision on proposals Minister Doherty has brought forward to address the unfair treatment of this group of pensioners.
We don’t know what is contained in those proposals but we do know what Ireland’s pensioners want.
They want to see the cuts introduced in 2012 reversed.
They want a fair deal for the people who were getting up early in the morning a long time before it became a catchy soundbite.
We want to work with Minister Doherty to build a State Pension system that is fair, that doesn’t punish people in retirement for rearing a family, that doesn’t treat women pensioners as second class citizens, that values and rewards Ireland’s carers.
The first step in building that system can be taken next Tuesday (tomorrow) if the Government listens to Ireland’s pensioners and reverses the 2012 cuts.
Justin Moran is Head of Advocacy & Communications at Age Action