Figures released from the 2016 Census showed the number of people over 65 years is up 19%, a very significant jump. This month the Citizens Assembly examined how we best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population. People are living longer time in retirement; the OECD found the average Irish man can now expect to live to nearly 79 and women to over 83, and many live longer.

In the workplace, the removal of the retirement age under equality legislation has left employers and HR professionals trying to manage the minefield of implementing retirement policies and practices that are compliant.

Occupational pension coverage in Ireland is unsustainably low, with 47% coverage nationally, and only 35% among private sector workers. We are in an era where there are 5.3 people of working age for every person over 65, moving to one where this is likely to be just over two people in employment for every person over 65 by 2045. At the same time state and occupational pension structures have not kept up-to-date. There has been a significant decline in access to defined benefit schemes and defined contribution schemes are in unwieldy structures and generally underfunded.

As part of the CIPD research programme, the 2017 CIPD/IRN survey gathered the views of the HR profession on pension funding, and found strong support for action to tackle this growing crisis. In the survey, 88% of the HR professionals agreed or strongly agreed that employees should be required to contribute to a pension scheme, 93% agreed or strongly agreed that employers should be required to contribute and 79% agreed or strongly agreed that a programme of pension auto enrolment should be introduced in Ireland. Four in five of those surveyed already had some form of pension scheme in place.

This shows growing acceptance of the need for some form of pension auto-enrolment scheme, to lay the foundations for better pension coverage.

This month, the Citizens’ Assembly came to the same conclusion. Over four in five of the members (87%) recommended that the Government introduce some form of mandatory pension scheme to supplement the State pension. A similarly high percentage recommended benchmarking the State pension by reference to average earnings (88%) and abolishing mandatory retirement based on age (86%). All 100% of the members recommended that the Government should take steps to rationalise private pension schemes to include greater transparency in relation to fees and 96% recommended the removal of the anomaly, which arises when a person who must retire at 65 is not entitled to the State pension until 66.

This call for change and the CIPD research evidence the growing awareness and willingness to make changes, an opportunity which the Government cannot afford to miss in order to build a more sustainable national pensions model in Ireland.

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