Budget boost for pensioners

Pensioners looking for a 20 September Age Pension increase, although forewarned, may have been disappointed yesterday. But news of a budget boost for pensioners should lift their spirits. 

The Minister for Social Services, Anne Ruston, said on the weekend that age pensioners can expect a cash boost in the October budget.

“Further support around our pensions is something that is contained in the budget,” Ms Ruston told The Sydney Morning Herald.

However, the minister declined to say what form the increase would take, but it will reportedly land in bank accounts within weeks.

There is speculation that it could come as a one-off payment or ongoing increase, although neither has been confirmed at this stage.

Those relying on unemployment benefits won’t be so lucky and will likely have to wait months to find out if the government will apply the coronavirus supplement to next year.

The base $550 fortnightly supplement applied in conjunction with the $560 per fortnight payment is due to end on 24 September, after which time a reduced supplement of $250 per fortnight will be paid until December.

Those awaiting the October Budget for news of a permanent increase to the base rate of the unemployment benefits look like they’ll have to wait until next year, if it happens at all.

Ms Ruston has indicated it was “highly likely” the supplement would be extended, but a decision would not be made until closer to Christmas.

While the Prime Minster and federal treasurer have assured pensioners of further support during the COVID-19 crisis, the Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia has urged them to provide an extra $750 stimulus payment to prop up pensioners prior to the next indexation.

Pensioners have received two $750 stimulus payments this year.

“We urge the government to provide an additional $750 stimulus payment as part of your economic stimulus measures, for the benefit of both pensioners and the economy,” said COTA chief Ian Yates.

He said that despite inflation going backwards, pensioners were still facing a changed spending and pricing environment and, as a result, reduced purchasing power.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic period prices affecting pensioners have fluctuated for a variety of reasons,” Mr Yates wrote in a letter to Ms Ruston in August.

“The impact of increased costs has been compounded by a reduced number of ‘specials’ or ‘discounts’ to the ticket price for many food items, and reduced access to ‘specials’ by cost-conscious pensioners when they are following government advice to stay at home and shop from home.

“In doing so, they have also incurred the additional costs of home delivery. While the CPI has gone down because of the impact of items like childcare this does not help age pensioners.”

Mr Yates said the advice against using public transport was also pushing up the cost of living.

“There are range of other pressures on low income people in this pandemic, such as transport costs when it’s not safe to travel on public transport. Pensioners live very close to the poverty line, and in private rental, below it,” he added.

“While the two previous $750 payments have been very welcome, pensioners have ended up with less income in this period than people on the increased level of Jobseeker.”

Anglicare has also joined the chorus calling for more support for pensioners, quoting its own research on housing affordability as a case for permanent increases to pensions and unemployment payments, according to a Yahoo Finance report.

It found that of nearly 77,000 rental listings across the country, only a small portion were affordable for pensioners.

“Older people and people with disability are at greater risk during this pandemic. But instead of getting more support, they’ve been left behind,” said Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers.

“Our Rental Affordability Update shows that an age pensioner can afford 0.8 per cent of rental listings across Australia. That’s even fewer than our last snapshot in March. Disability Support Pensioners face an even tougher situation. They can afford just 0.3 per cent.”

What form would you prefer the pension boost to take? In which areas would you like to see the government invest as part of a COVID recovery plan? Healthcare? Aged care? Public housing? Why not share your thoughts in the comments?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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