As the Minister of State will hopefully be aware, a massive crisis has been brewing within the pension industry in Ireland. A large part of that crisis has arisen because of the recession and the actions of some employers in regard to providing for pensions. However, those actions have been exacerbated by the Government in two ways, the pension levy and regulations.
The introduction of the pension levy by the Fine Gael and Labour parties and the changes to the minimum funding standard has meant a loss of benefits to pensioners and also the closure and potential closure of schemes. It is the workers who are reliant on those pensions, those who are in their old age, who are paying the cost. Shockingly, the figure involved is approximately 250,000 people. It should be remembered that these people are not individuals in receipt of massive salaries or exorbitant pensions. Some 70% of older citizens who are living alone survive on pensions at the bottom 20% of the income distribution. In many regards, these individuals are the forgotten poor of society.
The Government introduced a 0.6% pension levy which has had a massive effect on pensions. I and my colleague on the other benches, Deputy English, will be aware of the Tara Mines workers. These workers suffered a 10% reduction in the level of their pensions as a result of a 0.6% pension levy. When they asked the Government Deputies why they had voted for the levy, some of them said they did not know that would be an outcome of it.
That is a shocking indictment of any Member who is responsible for their constituents.
The average pension of a Tara Mines worker is €10,000 and the levy means a low income has been reduced by €1,000. Many of the pensioners have demonstrated throughout County Meath and outside the gates of Leinster House. They have been led to believe on a number of occasions by Government Members that the decision would be reversed but that has not happened. Last year, they were on their own in many ways but I have spoken to people working in the insurance, banking and construction industries. The cost of the levy was absorbed by the trustees of their pension schemes but this is no longer the case and, therefore, what happened to Tara Mines pensioners last year is now happening to pensioners across every industry. Many of these individuals say that the Government regulations regarding the reserves that must be maintained by pension schemes is having the effect of reducing the pots available to pensioners even though the Government may be seeking to strengthen those pension pots and make sure they exist into the future. Some of the schemes will close in the future. Will the Minister of State address these issues and give the Tara Mines pensioners and all the other pensioners affected some hope that the Government will reverse the pension levy and reform the pension reserve regulations in order that they do not destroy people's pensions in the future?