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Sunday 19 August 2018

Padraig O'Morain: Retirement age rise makes us prisoners

It's a ticking bomb waiting to explode in the political system: the increase of one year in the qualifying age for the State pension from 2014, with further increases on the way.

Those who are aware of it will react with every emotion from sadness to anger. That so few have reacted yet suggests that only a few have realised what is going on.

Joe Higgins was, I think, right to point out in the Dail that most people are not really aware of it all.

The real timebomb lies in its implications for the retirement age from work. I don't like the concept of a forced retirement age which sees good workers sent off into the sunset at a time when they want and are well able to go on.

But many people have worked hard at unpleasant jobs to support their families and have dreamed for years of the day when they will retire and do things that they actually want to do.

For them, this is a bitter pill. You could say that the change in the State pension age doesn't necessarily affect changes in the retirement age from work. But many people work in jobs in which the pension will be very small indeed. Without a State pension in addition there really is no question of them being able to afford to retire.

If their employer still obliges them to leave at 65, they will be in real trouble until the State pension comes along.

Initially, the change is not too bad with an increase of one year in the State pension age from 65 to 66. Under provisions in the Social Welfare Bill, that increase will take place in 2014.

The sickener is in the provisions to increase the age again to 67 in 2021 and 68 in 2028.

And the real fear will be that these increases will go through earlier than is outlined in the current Social Welfare Bill as governments continue to seek to cope with our financial issues. That is the way of politicians and that fear will motivate many people to oppose these measures.

Enda Kenny seems to be under the impression that we all know about this change and that we all agree with it. In my opinion he is wrong. The fact is, most of us are only just waking up to what is happening and when people are fully aware of it I believe he will have a fight on his hands.

Measures of this kind have probably been on the way for more than a decade. The move is not just a product of our financial woes as a country but is a response to the ageing of the population.

A situation in which falling numbers of workers pay taxes to provide services for increased numbers of pensioners has long been forecast.

That is why, as a society, we should be glad that immigration brought more young people into our economy than would otherwise have been the case.

That's why it is so very sad that so many of our own young people are emigrating for work.

Those of us who never had a wish to retire at 65 might, you would think, welcome this. What we wanted, though, was choice. As I said above, many people very badly want to retire at that age and for them it looks as though the choice is being taken away.

Locked

It's like the difference between being in a room with a locked door or an unlocked door. So long as the door is unlocked you might be happy to stay. But while it remains locked you feel like a prisoner.

That's why I think Kenny faces a firestorm when people finally realise what is going on: the Government is locking the door and they won't like it.

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