15 SEPTEMBER 2017
ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock today said that the recent ESRI statement that retirement age for the purposes of state pensions should be raised to seventy demonstrates the need for a comprehensive debate about developing a strategic plan for an ageing farming population.
“I believe that older farmers have made heroic contributions to their rural communities and to the national economy through good times and bad. This reality needs to be central to any policy decisions.”
We must frame the discussion around real challenges and base it on recognition of basic realities. We see these as including the following:
- That farmers have worked hard all their lives and continued to deliver for this country even during the darkest days of the financial crash when other sectors imploded.
- That farming is tough physically and that many years farming takes a toll on health.
- That older farmers have a higher risk of on-farm accidents especially when working with livestock.
- That the marketplace is increasingly greedy with the result that farmers are being asked to run faster just to stand still and that incomes from farming are continuously being eroded which is why so few young people want to take over.
“While there is no doubt that the age structure of Irish farming is very unbalanced, we have to question why this is so. A key reason is the simple fact that there is not enough income for most farms and unless this is resolved, young farmers will not put up with it. However, it is clear that delaying pension payments until seventy further reduces the potential total income available to a family.”
“Any debate about the aging profile of farmers cannot avoid a debate about how the Fair Deal Scheme has also impacted decision making. We need to recognise that the scheme is striking fear into farm families and threatening the future of the family farm where care is needed. We see Fair Deal as a raw deal. A more balanced approach to elder care is essential and ICSA is demanding that the Fair Deal Scheme be revised to remove the threat.”
“Further thought is also required around the implications of keeping more farmers working until they reach the age of seventy. Farming gets very hard for people as they become less mobile and the reality of this can be seen in farm accident fatality statistics which, year after year, feature a high proportion of victims aged in their sixties, seventies or eighties. Of course, we can’t force people to retire nor would we want to. However, what we need are options and an alternative source of income such as a pension is crucial to support farm transfer.”
“It is perhaps timely to begin a debate about how to help farmers step back from working too hard too long. The loss of the early retirement scheme has been a very retrograde step in terms of getting the next generation farming while supporting a good income for those who wish to step back. Taxation policy should be tweaked to be even more favourable to supporting pension provision but this must be targeted at low and middle income workers including farmers rather than helping the wealthiest to shelter income.”
“We would also question the morality of the state forcing people to work later because of worries about the financial time-bomb on pensions yet the state continues to pay six figure lump sums to the wealthiest of public sector workers on retirement, along with a generous lifelong pension after that. Moreover, we note that many public sector workers can retire early on full pensions and now we are talking about making the majority work up to seventy.”
Mr Sherlock added there is no comparison between the challenges of a farmer, fisherman or builder over a long working life maybe up to fifty years working in all weathers by comparison with an office worker.
“Is it fair to force our ageing population into a further four years of work, in tough outdoor conditions, when in fact we should be providing them with options? This in turn will assist where the desire is to transfer to a successor,” concluded Mr Sherlock.