Calls to fix pension poverty

Australia is far from the ‘lucky country’ for those age pensioners who are living in poverty. They make up one-third of 1.5 million older Australians whose main source of income is the Age Pension, according to OECD data that compares pensions expenditure and ‘liveability’ across 33 nations in its annual Pensions at a Glance reports.

The information corroborates the widening gap between retiree ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ revealed in the quarterly YourLifeChoices Retirement Affordability Index™ (RAI) which measures household expenditure by retirement ‘tribe’ – Affluent Singles and Couples, Constrained Singles and Couples, and Cash-Strapped Singles and Couples.

Measured since March 2017, the RAI reveals a widening gap between ‘affluents’ who own their home and are self-funded in retirement, ‘constrained households’ who also own their home, but live on a full or part Age Pension, and the ‘cash strapped’, those who live on an Age Pension but are renting.

How bad is Australia’s OECD pension poverty ranking? With 36 per cent of Australians living on less than half of the nation’s median household income, Australian pensioners are the second worst off in the world, beaten to this dubious distinction by South Korea, where 50 per cent of older people live in poverty. The OECD average is 12.6 per cent, so there is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to the base rate of the Age Pension and rental supplements in this country.

Which is why The Benevolent Society’s ‘Fix Pension Poverty’ campaign is worthy of support. A not-for-profit and non-religious organisation formed in 1813, The Benevolent Society maintains that the Age Pension is not keeping up with the real costs of living. And that the 1.5 million older Australians who rely on it as their main income source are being denied a decent standard of living.

The Benevolent Society maintains that the substantial deprivation pensioners suffer includes going without food and heating, ignoring the need to see medical specialists and skipping medications to make ends meet, with some even mashing food to avoid the cost of visiting the dentist.
When YourLifeChoices references the RAI costs of living in retirement by retirement tribe, we can support the Benevolent Society’s contentions.

On 26 March, the campaign received strong support from independent MP Rebekha Sharkie (now subject to a by-election due to dual citizenship concerns).

In introducing the bill, Ms Sharkie stated, “I believe that the base rate of the Age Pension should be subject to the judgement of an independent tribunal and review, to consider in depth whether at its current level it is adequate enough to keep age pensioners secure and in a position to prosper.”

Ms Sharkie introduced a motion that called on the Government to:

  • establish an independent tribunal to assess the base rate of the pension and determine the best mechanism for annual review
  • increase the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance to reduce the gap between age pensioners who are home owners and those who are renters
  • establish a round table to review services provided to age pensioners.


In addition to Ms Sharkie’s initiative, two Labor MPs – Graham Perrett and Chris Hayes – also supported the motion. Ms Sharkie said she was looking forward to the Government’s response and called on the Minister of Social Services The Hon Dan Tehan to take action.
YourLifeChoices website supports The Benevolent Society’s call for the establishment of an expert Age Pension tribunal to review pension rates and provide a fair and decent standard of living for older Australians.

Age Pension facts

  • The Age Pension is a universal means-tested payment. It is universal in that eligibility does not depend upon prior contributions.
  • As of September 2017 (latest available data): In Australia, there are 1,552,340 full rate Age Pension recipients and an additional 931,669 part-Age Pension recipients
  • More than 70 per cent of the older Australian population receive the Age Pension, with 60 per cent of this number on the full Age Pension.
  • The qualifying age is increasing from 65 to 67 by 2023


On 1 July 2017, the qualifying age increased from 65 years to 65 years and six months. After that, it will increase by six months every two years, reaching age 67 by 1 July 2023.

The Coalition policy is to increase the qualifying age further to age 70, but since the ‘zombie measures’ of 2014, this policy has not been passed by Parliament.

Current amount of the Age Pension

Per fortnight


Couple each

Couple together

Maximum basic rate




Maximum pension supplement




Energy supplement








Per week




Per annum




Household expenditures, as measured by the YourLifeChoices Retirement Affordability Index, December 2018 quarter:








Cash-strapped – full or part Age Pension, renting








Constrained – full or part Age Pension, in own home








Affluent – self-funded, in own home




Possible rental supplement (for people without dependent children)

If you’re …

Fortnightly rent is at least:

To receive the maximum payment, your fortnightly rent is at least:

The maximum fortnightly payment is:







Single, sharer





Couple, combined





One of a couple separated due to illness





One of a couple temporarily separated





Can you relate to the notion that more than one third of Australians on a full Age Pension are living in poverty? If you can, how would you like to see this changed? Or do you believe that the current rate of the Age Pension is adequate? 

Related articles:
Age Pension meaning changes
Age Pension inadequate
Age Pension too complicated

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