Seniors will receive boost to pensions
Bermuda's seniors are due a pensions boost after Parliament approved a rate increase.
The rise, which will come into force next month, was welcomed last night by Charles Jeffers, deputy chairman of Age Concern.
Mr Jeffers said: “I'm sure every senior will be grateful for these increases. It's good news with the way insurance costs and medication keep going up.
“We have to be happy but, on the other hand, we must ask if this is going to be sustainable?”
Mr Jeffers said the island needed to grapple with insurance premiums, copays and medication costs, which result in “horror stories” for Bermuda's elderly.
Both sides of the House supported the Contributory Pension (Amendment of Benefits and Contributions) Order 2017 brought by junior finance minister Wayne Furbert, who told MPs the legislation fulfilled a Progressive Labour Party platform pledge to institute annual cost-of-living increases for seniors.
A 1.7 per cent increase for August 2017 will be retroactive, with a windfall in next month's pensions.
A 4.2 per cent rise for pension contributions is set for August 2018.
Shadow finance minister Jeanne Atherden gave her backing to the move but said the island might consider raising the retirement age from 65 given the increase in life expectancy.
That suggestion was supported by PLP MP Derrick Burgess, who said: “We must raise the retirement age for seniors. You will find in Bermuda today many seniors who are walking the streets with nothing for them to do and nobody to hire them, because they are over 65.”
Grant Gibbons, the Shadow Minister of Economic Development, agreed that it would be “useful to look at” raising the retirement age to 67.
However, he added that some might take a “dim view” if they had to wait longer to claim their benefits.
Mr Gibbons also questioned whether raising the age would add to the viability of the pension fund.
PLP backbencher Neville Tyrrell appealed to employers to ensure that they made payments when they deduct from their employees.
He said he had heard of cases where this had not happened, adding: “It's certainly not right that you deduct but don't pay.”
Trevor Moniz, the Shadow Attorney-General said the previous One Bermuda Alliance government had faced a serious problem with employers failing to pay contributions, which amounted to illegal and criminal behaviour.
Mr Moniz added it had become acceptable to use the money that should be paid into the pension fund as a “piggy bank for employers who are in some sort of difficulty”.
But he said there should also be a plan in place to ensure that enough is being paid into the fund to support the payments.
Ms Gordon-Pamplin said the move was “not benevolence on the part of the Government”.
She added: “This is money that is coming out of a fund into which was being paid by the working people in terms of their monthly, weekly contributory pension.
“And at the end of their working life, when they hit the age of 65, they are being given money out of that fund.”
She also reminded those who are 65 that they were entitled to receive benefits and told MPs that, although she should have known better, she did not realise she could claim her benefits because she was still working, and had received no notification that she could.
Ms Gordon-Pamplin said she then missed out on ten months of pension payments that she could not claim back.
She added: “Where the challenge is for me, is to ensure that any other senior listening to my voice does not get left out of the loop. I take my losses.
“Don't wait for the department to contact you — go and contact them.”
David Burt, the Premier, said seniors had not been given fair treatment under the OBA Government.
“The longest period of time between increases in pensions for seniors happened under the One Bermuda Alliance Government. They took five years to increase pensions,” Mr Burt said.
PLP backbencher Renee Ming described the move as a “step in the right direction” and a “promise made, a promise kept”.
Ms Ming said that although it would not be a “cure all”, it would provide some relief for seniors.