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Simons says pension increase is insufficient to help seniors

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Cole Simons, the Leader of the Opposition (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Leader of the Opposition challenged the Premier’s assertion that pension increases being introduced by the Government for seniors fully covered inflation.

Cole Simons said he believed that inflation in Bermuda was 8 to 10 per cent and that the 2.75 per cent boost in pensions with a backdate of close to a year was inadequate.

Mr Simons said: “We are facing challenges that are unprecedented around the world. Most countries face the same challenges, including an ageing population.

“The 2.75 per cent will do very little to help the pensioner in 2022. If you compare current inflation in Bermuda between 8 and 10 per cent to the 2.75 per cent that Government is giving in contributions, you know it is not going to go very far, especially if we have seniors depending on these payments as their sole source of income.”

The Contributory Pensions (Amendment of Benefits) Order 2022 was debated and approved after a lengthy debate.

It will see payments to seniors boosted by 2.75 per cent, with the increase backdated by almost one year.

David Burt, the Premier (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Mr Burt said the increase would take basic contributory pensions from $1,077.14 a month to $1,106.75, and the maximum contributory pension from $1,564.18 to $1,607.19 per month.

Responding to Mr Simons’ comments, the Premier insisted that the increase covered inflation.

Jache Adams, government backbencher, backed him, saying: “Increasing pensions that would provide relief and lessen the burden for our seniors was not a difficult decision at all. I am proud to stand by a government that has not lost sight of that.

“Seniors in this country will see a 2.75 per cent increase in their pension which, for the record, as our Premier stated, is above the stated rate of inflation.

“We recognise the increasing cost of food prices … I find it interesting that when the opposition leader speaks of inflation the only thing he speaks on, with his finger in the air math, is the fact that we are importing food but we recognise that inflation encompasses far more than the cost of food.”

Mr Simons pointed out that he had also mentioned clothing and fuel prices, adding: “I spoke of all the imports that drive the economy.”

Mr Adams responded: “The reported state of inflation encompasses far more than just importation.”

Mr Burt said the retroactive payout would cost the Contributory Pension Fund $4.4 million “in the short term”, adding: “It will represent a small negative impact to the overall development of the fund.”

Progressive Labour Party MPs welcomed the increase and applauded Mr Burt for introducing it.

They criticised the opposition benches for arguing that the increase was not large enough.

Warwick South Central MP Neville Tyrrell said that the increase was not a handout.

“This is something that this Government has promised and the feedback I’m getting from my constituents is that it is something they are very happy about.

Ianthia Simmons Wade acknowledged that the increase was a small amount but added: “Our seniors are extremely frugal — our seniors will find the money for extra food or services.

Derrick Burgess made a similar point. “This Government is sincerely concerned about seniors,” he said.

“It’s not enough but I understand there’s only so much oil in the well.”

Tinée Furbert, the Minister of Social Development and Seniors, also said that, while the increase was small, it was significant.

She said: “This pension means a great deal to our seniors. I am sure they are grateful for any increase they can get. Our seniors know how to stretch money.

“Every penny counts for people and so any increase is a help. The Government is committed to keeping its promises to seniors. It’s an easy decision to make and we know that it’s impacting and having a benefit.”

Craig Cannonier, the Shadow Minister for Tourism, said he “applauded” the Government for the increase and that it would not be “scoffed at”.

But he warned: “As we give more, if at some point in time we don’t see revenues increasing at the same time we’re giving out, we’re going to be behind the eight ball.

“There has to be balance. We have to find a way to balance things.”

Mr Cannonier also questioned the Government’s inflation figures, saying: “We have got to be real here.”

Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister for Seniors, also welcomed the move.

He said: “Clearly the OBA supports this increase — it’s the right thing to do.

“I understand that the Government is in a difficult position because it is not easy when the economy is struggling.”

But Mr Dunkley also rounded on official inflation rate figures, saying: “I cannot believe that the number the Government has put out about inflation is correct.

“How is this number possible? This number can’t be right. If it is, it’s a miracle from above.”

Mr Burt closed out the debate, saying: “We made a pledge five years ago and we have delivered on that pledge.”