Some 33%, or €6.5 billion, of all expenditure incurred by the Department relates to pensions. The number on pensions is increasing by approximately 17,000 annually. In other words and as a result of demographic changes in society, an additional 17,000 individuals seek payment of retirement pensions each year. In 2013, for example, the Department was obliged to make provision for an additional €190 million as a result of the increase to which I refer.
In the context of women and social insurance payments, it is worth noting that the actuarial review of the Social Insurance Fund carried out in 2012 confirmed that the fund - owing to its distributive nature - provided better value for female rather than male contributors. The review also examined the changes to the contribution rules and the associated rates of payment which were to be introduced in September 2012. It found that those with lower earnings and shorter contribution histories would still continue to obtain the best value from their contributions.
The contributory State pension is a very valuable benefit. Therefore, it is important to ensure those qualifying have made a sustained contribution to the Social Insurance Fund during their working lives. The reform measures introduced to date are consistent with this goal. The contributory State pension is based on contributions paid and credited during the course of the pensioner's working life and, accordingly, those who had less attachment to the workforce qualify for lower pensions under the scheme. As the Deputy noted, new rate bands were introduced from September 2012. These additional payment rate bands more accurately reflect the social insurance history of a person and ensure those who contribute more during a working life benefit more from the scheme in retirement than those with fewer contributions. The social protection system provides alternative methods of supporting such pensioners who have been less attached to the workforce.