Social Protection Minister Éamon O Cuív said yesterday that, in the current climate, the Government should at least examine the situation whereby people with “very significant private income” were also receiving a contributory state pension.
It came as Taoiseach Brian Cowen insisted that the most vulnerable people in society would be protected in the budget – but failed to rule out a means test for pensioners.
“Many contributory and non-contributory pensioners have nothing but their pension,” Mr O Cuív said.
“However, it is possible to have a very significant private income and also be getting a contributory pension. Once you’re 66, you’re entitled to be in full-time work and get a contribution pension.
“Someone on €50,000 to €100,000 a year should not be considered ahead of unemployed families that have a big mortgage,” he told the Sunday Business Post.
“I don’t think I could rule out this group of people (pensioners on €50,000-plus a year) without a backward glance.
“All people are aware of the vulnerability of pensioners. The criteria will be to protect those on the lowest income who are the most vulnerable, irrespective of age.”
The Taoiseach said no area of spending could be immune from consideration for cuts, but added that it was important “not be scaring or upsetting people either”.
“Obviously, at this stage, when you’re in the first quarter of the financial year heading into the second quarter, you don’t start lobbing off areas of expenditure saying that won’t be considered,” Mr Cowen said.
“It doesn’t mean that you’re going to go in and do something that would put at risk protecting the most vulnerable in our community. We would never do that. But what you have to do is look at all areas of policy.”
Asked about the possibility of means-testing the pension, he said there were “various aspects” to such issues. “Obviously people who’ve paid into a superannuation scheme who have made their payments and have an entitlement to their pension – that’s a principle that has to be considered in all of this as well.”
Mr Cowen also flagged the possibility of a property tax, as outlined in the Programme for Government.
“I’ve always said we do need to broaden the base of the tax system,” he said, when asked about the possibility of such a tax.
The Government has already introduced a tax on second homes, such as investment properties, and Mr Cowen said this had proven “very successful”.
“It was a simple tax, it was understood, it was complied with and the monies came in. We have got to look at other areas such as that.”