Not all older people are in the same boat

There’s a new ad to defend the state pension (and all associated supports – see how they slipped that line in there). It’s slick, it tugs at the heartstrings and it will most likely be effective but it’s wrong in its demand that we view every last person over the pension age as being in the same situation. It’s that mentality that lead to us giving a medical card to everyone last person over 70 from millionaires on down at a time when children weren’t entitled to a medical card.

We pay people a state pension because it is the right thing to do and is a mark of civilised society. It is not, as people like to make out, a case of them getting their money back or anything of the sort, you don’t get it because you deserve it for living a productive life and where you contributed to your community.

There is a very dangerous emphasis in this petition on the idea that all older people paid for their pensions through their working lives. They didn’t. They paid for the pensions of those older people alive at the time they were working, far fewer of them than now, and at a comparatively much lower level than now too. And whisper it but many of them didn’t pay any PRSI contributions at all towards their state pension. We give it alike to people who never did a rap of work, and spent most of their lives in the pub and to those who shouldered huge burdens and hardly ever knew a days rest neither of whom would have made PRSI contributions. That isn’t why they’re getting the state pension, that’s not why they’re entitled to it.

We need a proper, grown up debate about pensions, how to provide for them and what they are intended to do. We’ve needed it for a long time and while in the middle of a recession is probably the worst place to have it, we still need to have it. That includes make the tax deductions for private pensions deductible at the standard rate rather than the higher rate of tax as suggested by Fr. Sean Healy, Fintan O’Toole and others. It also means that people need to realise that their state pension is not something that they paid for in its entirety but is instead something they contributed only a portion towards and that with the considerable increases of the last 15 years what they are getting is far more than they ever put into it. And it is from the coffers of those who are still working now that it is being paid not from some magical pot of money that was sent aside for them.

There is a myth in Ireland that all older people once they reach retirement age turn into magical folks, let’s remember that the highest cohort who voted for FF at each of the last elections were older people. Let’s remember that not all of them made Ireland what is today, and those that did didn’t always make it a better place.

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