Australia’s peak advocacy group for seniors has called for an independent tribunal to set the amount of the age pension in a bid to take politics out of the process.
National Seniors Australia Chief Advocate Ian Henschke said today achieving a fair go for age pensioners was one of the key issues being pursued by the organisation, in partnership with Australia’s oldest charity, the Benevolent Society, as part of their Fix Pension Poverty campaign.
The age pension had become a prime target for federal budget savings, with an ageing population and the overall cost used to justify cutting the number of people receiving the pension.
Mr Henschke said of the 1.5 million older Australians receiving a full age pension, 40 per cent relied on it as their sole source of income and almost one in three were living below the poverty line.
“If you are a single person receiving the Age Pension and you aren’t entitled to rent assistance (because you are a home owner), your income is $56 a week below the poverty line,” Mr Henschke said. “It reflects poorly on government when older Australians live in poverty.
“Older renters are particularly hard hit. More than 250,000 pensioners don’t own their home and on average, a pensioner receives only a third of what’s required to pay rent these days.
“Single older women are more likely to be living in poverty. They have less savings and superannuation because they take time out of the workforce to raise children and care for aged parents.”
Mr Henschke said recent public debate about the age pension had become “toxic”, with younger taxpayers being told by government they were bearing an increasing burden to fund the age pension.
“Politics must be taken out of the process,” he said. “An independent age pension tribunal is the first step to a fairer retirement income system that meets the needs of older Australians.”
Mr Henschke said the proposed tribunal would calculate a fair and adequate pension rate, along with supplements, based on need and circumstances. Its decisions would be accepted by government without debate in the same way monetary policy was set by the Reserve Bank, with determinations made every November to provide enough time to be accounted for in the May budget.
National Seniors and the Benevolent Society were building a grassroots campaign for change in the way the age pension was set, Mr Henschke said.
“We’ve been visiting our branches and speaking with members and will be lobbying federal parliamentarians from all parties to support establishment of an independent age pension tribunal.”
The Benevolent Society’s Joel Pringle said working closely with National Seniors meant the campaign was reaching people around Australia.
“A government that cares about older people is one that does not accept the dire circumstances faced by too many who are relying on an inadequate age pension,” Mr Pringle said. “We haven’t seen a lot of that lately, but the Fix Pension Poverty campaign aims to change that.”
Media contact: Lynda Schekoske (07) 3233 9106 or 0488 047 380.