asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he is aware of the case being stated by the Association of Deprived Old Age Pensioners, which highlights the anomalous plight of those who had insufficient service to qualify for a full occupational pension, or those who qualified for occupational pension, the rate of which was lower than the contributory old age pension; and if he will act on these cases, possibly in line with the recommendations of the Commission on Social Welfare.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Occupational Pensions.
The issue raised by the Deputy concerns certain persons who move to employment in the public sector which is not insurable at the full rate and, as a result, do not qualify for a contributory pension under the social insurance system. At the same time they may have insufficient service in that employment to qualify for a full occupational pension.
The Commission on Social Welfare examined this matter and recommended that special arrangements be made for people in this situation. I am reviewing this recommendation in the context of my overall examination of the commission's report.
May I ask a few brief questions and appeal to the Minister for brief answers? Precisely how many people are involved? Does the Minister accept there is a fundamental injustice involved in a scheme where people entering the scheme for the first time in 1974 can qualify for a full pension within ten years while most of the group represented in this question have worked, in some cases, for upwards of 50 years? Would the Minister not feel it necesary to take refuge in a plethora of reviews every time he is asked a direct question?
I will answer the Deputy's last question first. I have been in office three weeks and I concentrated on a budget which affected my Department and the social welfare recipients very substantially. These questions are ongoing and I will deal with them. The number involved is not known and consequently it is not possible to quantify the situation. There have been various proposals as to how this anomaly can be overcome. One was that the pensions might be considered on a pro rata basis——
Perhaps I was a little precipitate with the Minister bearing in mind that you are new to that office, but on the basis of the evidence before you, do you accept that there is an injustice here which needs attention?
The Deputy should put his questions through the Chair.
Would the Minister accept that the numbers are known? My reason for drawing attention to the Minister's lack of knowledge about these numbers is that inadequate attention has been paid to these issues so far. The numbers are known, the commission's report refers to them, as does the report of the Ombudsman. Does the Minister believe that there is an injustice in the situation outlined in the question?
The cost of the scheme is very difficult to estimate.
I did not ask about that.
It is £7 million.
In relation to the anomaly, I appreciate the difficulties which are created by such changes in the scheme over the years. Finding a suitable solution is another problem but I will examine it in the context of the recommendations of the commission.
In the event of deciding to give full eligibility to those directly concerned, about 2,000 people, would the Minister be prepared to refund the contributions paid by voluntary contributors during those intermittent periods, including myself?
Since I too would be a beneficiary I will not make that promise at this stage.