Age Pension 'long overdue' for an overhaul

The Age Pension system requires a “long overdue” overhaul and whoever wins the May election should make pension reform a priority, a leading seniors’ advocacy group says.

The Council of the Ageing (COTA) will release its 12-point election manifesto in the coming days and says it will call on whoever forms the next government to make Age Pension reform a top priority.

COTA will also seek more flexible pension rules that would allow older Australians to work and receive an Age Pension without penalty.

Around 16 per cent of the population, or more than four million Australians, are aged 65 or over, which makes the votes of older Australians crucial in the vote chase.

Read: Wealthy qualify for Age Pension under new rules

“We need to make the Age Pension flexible enough to allow both employed and self-employed pensioners to benefit from their efforts, while keeping the pension sustainable,” COTA chief executive Ian Yates told The Australian.

“Pension work bonus and income-testing arrangements discourage some pensioners from working more, or at all, as they cut in too low and too strongly. It’s time for a serious review.

“As more Australians retire with greater superannuation savings, it is important that those with only the Age Pension to rely on are not left behind.”

A YourLifeChoices poll of 500 older Australians found most were critical of the Federal Budget and indicated there may be a shock in store for the Coalition on election day.

Read: Has upcoming election forced PM’s hand on pension boost?

The Budget contained a one-off $250 cost-of-living bonus for some older Australians but little else .

“We were disappointed to see there was nothing done to address the disincentives for older Australians to remain in, or rejoin, the workforce,” said Jeremy Duffield, chair of Retirement Essentials.

“These disincentives hurt us all. They deny older Australians much-needed income as well as the social connectedness of work and deny the rest of the nation the benefits of their skills and experience.”

Read: Strong policies go missing in lacklustre election battle

Labor’s response to the Budget contained an aged care package that promises a qualified nurse onsite 24/7 and 215 minutes of care per day for each resident.

Crucially, Labor is willing to back aged care workers’ claim to Fair Work Australia for a 25 per cent pay increase, which the government won’t support. Low wages in the aged care sector have been cited as one reason aged care is sometimes not up to standard.

In an even bigger push for the vote of older Australians, the Greens have proposed lowering the Age Pension eligibility age to 65 and raising the pension rate to $88 per day.

“There are hundreds of thousands of older Australians living in poverty, counting the days until their next birthday so they can finally reach pension age,” says Greens spokesperson for family, ageing and community services Senator Janet Rice.

“Thousands of older working people are living pay cheque to pay cheque and can’t afford to retire. Many are working for starvation wages, in back-breaking jobs, people who have worked hard all their lives and are being forced to wait an extra two years to retire.”

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Written by Brad Lockyer

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