Pensions and Pensioners in Northern Ireland

Author(s): Eileen Evason
Document Type: Chapter
Year: 2002
Title of Publication: Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland: The Eighth Report
Editor(s): Ann Marie Gray, Katrina Lloyd, Paula Devine, Gillian Robinson and Deirdre Heenan
Publisher: Pluto Press
Place of Publication: London
ISBN: 0 7453 1911 4
Pages: 158-177
Subject Area(s): Economic Issues
Client Group(s): Elderly

Abbreviations: NILT - Northern Ireland Life and Times, NI - Northern Ireland, SERPS - State Earnings-Related Pension Scheme

Background to the Research

  • The 1999 NILT survey contained a substantial module relating to pension provision and the circumstances of pensioners in NI.
  • The chapter presents the survey data and places it within a fuller discussion of the policy context and allied matters.

Research Approach

  • The NILT survey began in 1998 and is carried out annually.
  • Each year, interviews are carried out with a random selection of adults (aged 18 years and over) who live in private households in NI.
  • The sample size for the 1999 NILT survey was 2,200.
  • The analysis and discussion in the chapter focuses on two groups of respondents:
    • People below pensionable age (60 years for women and 65 years for men).
    • People of pensionable age (60 years for women and 65 years for men).

Main Findings

People below pensionable age

  • Only a minority (13%) of respondents under retirement age have given a lot of thought to how they would manage financially on retirement and 33% have given no thought to this matter at all.
  • However, despite having given little thought to how they would manage, few respondents under retirement age (7%) expect to be 'quite badly off' or 'very badly off'.
  • Only 33% of respondents are actually aware of the existence of SERPS, and the majority (58%) are unable to select the correct amount of the basic state pension at the time of the interview (66.75).
  • 77% of respondents think that the basic state pension is a universal pension paid to everyone on retirement'.
  • 38% of employees are members of occupational pension schemes, and the majority of these (85%) are in final salary arrangements.
  • The vast majority (81%) of respondents in occupational pensions endorse the statement that 'the advantage of a works pension is that you don't have to think about it'.
  • 16% of respondents are currently contributing to a personal pension.
  • Of those respondents under retirement age, 61% are not members of an occupational or personal pensions scheme.

People of pensionable age

  • A substantial proportion of pensioner households in NI can be described as financially hard pressed.
  • 13% of pensioners appear to be entitled to, but not claiming, Income Support. In 89% of cases, the amount apparently unclaimed is 5 or more.
  • 45% of pensioners interviewed report a longstanding illness or disability.
  • Only 31% of respondents required no help at all with personal care, whilst 27% need substantial assistance.
  • Half of the pensioners interviewed say they are worried that they might require nursing or residential home accommodation at some point.
  • The aspects of going into such care which are of most concern are 'loss of independence' (37%) and 'leaving one's own home and things' (28%).


  • The NILT data cast some doubt over many aspects of current pensions policy.
  • With regard to those under retirement age, the core issues to emerge are lack of engagement with post-retirement provision, confusion, private pensions of questionable quality and a cohort of older workers whose main form of provision consists of reliance on a structure that will deliver less and less over the coming decade.
  • With regard to those over retirement age, it is clear that a central plank of current policy - the Minimum Income Guarantee for pensioners - will be as difficult to implement fully and effectively in NI as elsewhere.


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