I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Social Welfare Bill 2017. Women, in particular, are being discriminated against and being treated unfairly and unequally by our social welfare system, specifically in the rules and regulations governing the State pension entitlement. The averaging of bands and minimum contribution changes made by the former Minister, Deputy Burton, in 2012 mean that women are being seriously disadvantaged and discriminated against. Of course, the Government is continuing that discrimination and inequity in this Social Welfare Bill. Everybody is aware of this situation, which has been raised by Members across the House.
The Minister recently gave the impression that she would deal with the problem or at least make a start at treating women fairly in State pension entitlement. We understood that a memorandum was to go to Cabinet on 14 November to make a start on the various changes. However, that has not happened. The changes were not made and are not included in the Bill. I raised this issue in the budget debate on 10 October. I particularly raised the changes made by Deputy Burton in 2012. These changes affected approximately 25,000 women. Many of their pensions were reduced and some pensions were wiped out altogether. Some women were made dependent on their spouses or partners.
It has been suggested that it would cost about €70 million to reverse the 2012 changes with somewhat higher figures for retrospective backdating of the changes made. There is no doubt that that money is readily available. This is a very wealthy country and choices were made by this Government and the previous Government that could have been different and could have tackled this issue. The Government could still tackle the issue. In recent budgets approximately €100 million a year was given back to the top 5% of earners, people whose average income would have been €180,000 per annum. We could have used the tax forgone in the next 21 years as a result of not taxing the banks. Of course, we could use the moneys available that we will discuss tomorrow when we debate the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017, where the Government proposes to give a €15,000 pension increase to former taoisigh, such as Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen. There are choices the Government could have made and should make to give proper treatment to women who have been disadvantaged and discriminated against in regard to the State pension.