I thank the Acting Chair. This is a very interesting petition and is very timely in terms of the debate going on around the raising of retirement ages. The petitioner talks about the fact that many older people who are employed but who lost their jobs through redundancy during the financial crash have been unable to find work because, according to the petitioner, companies do not want to employ older people and that forcing people in that age bracket to re-educate, upskill or change career is just not viable and that no matter what people do, some remain unemployable. The petitioner is seeking this early retirement for those who are forced into a situation of being effectively on the dole. People come into our offices in respect of this. Those who are forced to retire early find themselves in that one-year or two-year gap, where they have to claim jobseeker's benefit. They find that a huge blow to their pride and morale and that it is insulting and depressing. Only in the last week we heard the Taoiseach speak about this in the Dáil. When he addressed the matter last week, rather harrowingly, he quoted life expectancy 30 years ago, in particular of males. I would not have much left based on life expectancy a few decades ago. I thank God life expectancy of males and of females is rising but in tandem with that, it will place pressure on the Social Insurance Fund.
The Department of Employment Affairs of Social Protection was before the Committee of Public Accounts Committee a number of weeks ago and it espoused the fact that the fund was in a positive place, but based on the trends in respect of ageing and the demographics, it is not going to continue in that space and hence, one has this debate. The crux of the issue is around the funding of this based on life expectancy in the future. The State is faced with this in terms of where it stands and how it is going to continue to be able to fund this, based on an ever-increasing life expectancy.
Conversely, we have heard from people who want to work longer and who find it infuriating that they are not allowed to continue to work in the workplace. It is a broader societal debate that is going to have to be had because, as in so many countries, if the fund is not there to pay pensions, it is a huge issue.
I do note the response from the Department in which it stated that an ambitious target had been set under Future Jobs Ireland to increase labour force participation rates among people over the age of 55 years from 34.5% to 38%, and that is considered ambitious. That is depressing in itself.
To go back to the central point, the petition is reflective of something that emanated in the years after the crash, when a huge cohort of people were caught in that gap. It might not be as prevalent now but it is worthy of recognition that that happened to people and that it was extremely hurtful to and hard on many people. The wider debate is whether we are going to be able to fund the Social Insurance Fund in the future. While things are positive at the moment, based on an ageing population, that may not always be the case over the next couple of decades.