Representatives of the corporation responsible for state pensions say the move will ensure the sustainability of the national insurance programme.
Saint Lucians will now be able to get a full pension from the age of 65 after the government raised the eligibility age by five years effective from January 1.
The National Insurance Corporation (NIC), the agency in charge of pensions, said the move will ensure all Saint Lucians can receive a pension until they die.
“If we had to continue along the path that we were going, paying a pension at 60 years and with a minimum pension of less than 40 percent of a person’s average insurable earnings, NIC would have fallen into difficulties. It would mean that by the year 2030, NIC would have to be selling its assets to meet its pension expenditure,” said Augustin Louis, the NIC’s communications spokesperson.
However, not everyone is happy with the changes. Some NIC contributors are concerned that they will have to work additional years in order to obtain retirement benefits.
Cynthia James is near retirement age and worries that citizens her age may not get to enjoy a pension while they are still active.
“It’s concerning to me because most people die very young. 50 years or 40 years. They never reach 60 and to raise it to 65 now is like the government wants to keep all the money for themselves,” said James. “I understand that the NIC needs to make more money to pay pensions, but I do not think this is the answer to this problem. We work hard all our lives and we want to be able to enjoy a comfortable, lengthy retirement.”
Alpheus George agrees. He too thinks that a retirement age of 65 is too old.
“How many people can live up to 65? Not many, just a few. So it is just people paying money (to NIC) for nothing. Take me for example. I am not a healthy person. I spend a lot of time in the hospital and paying medical bills,” said George.
“Telling me that I now have to wait longer for a pension is not really fair. I am not saying the NIC does not need the window period to make more money, I just think they need to find another way to make this money.”
The average life expectancy is 74 for a Saint Lucian man and 80 for a woman. The NIC’s Louis said he understands the concerns of those near retirement, but contends that every pensioner will benefit from this insurance programme.
“What people sometimes forget is that once you reach the age of 65 and qualify for the pension, you will receive a monthly subsistence for the rest of your life, regardless of how much you contributed. For example, there are people whose lifetime contributions to the NIC would probably be enough to take care of them for three years, but we would not stop assisting them after three years. We would ensure they receive assistance for the rest of their lives,” said Louis.
An actuarial review of the NIC conducted in 1996 by the International Labor Organization noted that the retirement age in Saint Lucia was among the lowest in the world and recommended an increase.
NIC officials said the new retirement age will ensure a more efficient national insurance programme.
by teleSUR correspondent for Saint Lucia, Alison Kentish