Pensioners in poverty need help, says seniors advocate

Pensioners in poverty – that’s neither a phrase nor a concept any of us would be comfortable with. Yet it is a stark truth for many Australians, and could soon be for more unless action is taken immediately.

That’s the view of National Seniors Australia (NSA), which has proposed a new assistance card for Australia’s most vulnerable pensioners.

A new card, labelled by NSA as the ‘Pensioner Concession Card Plus’ (PCC+), is needed to support low-income pensioners, the advocacy group says.

This card would deliver additional benefits to those already available to pensioner concession card holders.

Pensioners in poverty – a serious issue?

According to NSA, a staggering 23.7 per cent – nearly a quarter – of Australian pensioners live in poverty.

And the figure is even higher for Australian women. NSA’s chief advocate, Ian Henschke, said: “It’s particularly dire if you’re a woman, single and rent.”

While 21 per cent of male Australian pensioners live below the poverty line, “for women it’s 26.2 per cent, a startling difference”, Mr Henschke said.

He also pointed out that most women will have a lower superannuation balance than their male counterparts. And many, he said, are much more likely to have no super at all.

Now add in the latest cost-of-living figures

While interest rates have settled, other aspects of life – more likely to affect pensioners – continue to increase in cost. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released its quarterly CPI figures last week, highlighting cost increases relating to several essential items.

While the overall CPI increase of 1.2 per cent does not sound particularly daunting, the devil is in the detail.

Car fuel jumped by 7.2 per cent, electricity by 4.2 per cent and rent by 2.2 per cent. These are big numbers for a single quarter.

The increases in electricity and rent are likely to specifically affect pensioners in poverty, many of whom are renters.

How will NSA’s proposed new card help?

Under the NSA’s proposal, PCC+ holders would receive all the same benefits available through a standard Pensioner Concession Card. However, pensioners in poverty would receive additional concessions.

PCC+ cardholders could “access extra benefits such as higher energy concessions and more affordable healthcare, including dental”, Mr Henschke said.

He added that identifying those who qualify for additional benefits would be relatively straightforward.

“An assets and income test is already used to determine pension payments. This information could be used to determine eligibility for PCC+,” he said.

The cost of providing the extra assistance would not break the government bank, Mr Henschke stressed. “Not every pensioner would receive these benefits, only those living in poverty,” he said.

Personalising pensioners in poverty

In launching its campaign for the new PCC+ card this month, NSA highlighted the plight of one particular pensioner, ‘Sandra’.

“Sandra shared with us her inability to afford dental treatment. It didn’t just cost her money – it cost Sandra her teeth!”

In this case, Sandra relies solely on the Age Pension and has no savings. Faced with the reality that the treatment to fix her dental problems was too expensive, Sandra had her teeth removed.

“It was a traumatic experience for her with impacts beyond cosmetic,” according to the NSA case study.

Providing government support of $500 per year for dental care to PCC+ cardholders could avoid such outcomes, NSA said.

And the PCC+ card’s introduction could go some way towards reducing the number of – or helping – Aussie pensioners in poverty.

Do you know of any pensioners in poverty? Do you support the introduction of a PCC+ card? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

Also read: Age pensioners to benefit from changes outlined in government white paper

Disclaimer: All content on YourLifeChoices website is of a general nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It has been prepared with due care but no guarantees are provided for the ongoing accuracy or relevance. Before making a decision based on this information, you should consider its appropriateness in regard to your own circumstances. You should seek professional advice from a financial planner, lawyer or tax agent in relation to any aspects that affect your financial and legal circumstances.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. I’m one such pensioner. I ‘live’ only just on the Age Pension.
    Everything’s bitten so much – rent, food, fuel. I don’t drink alcohol, smoke or gamble, and am just making do.

    As well as giving PCC+ cards out, there ‘should be’ a ‘real’ increase in payments.

    Currently the Couple rate of pension is 41.7% of the Male Total Average Weekly Earnings, and the Single rate is 66.67% of this – which means as a single, I receive approx 27% of the MTAWE, which is pitifully low. No wonder we’re flagged as ‘in poverty’.

    To get the rates up, why not advocate to the Federal Law makers, to increase the Couple rate of pension to at least 50%, and leave the Single rate as is. Thus giving us a ‘real’ payment rate.

    • I agree with you about the rates for couples being way too low compared to the singles rate. This difference is based on the false assumption that two can live as cheaply as one. In fact many elderly couples live independent lives due to having varied interests and are just based in the same house. Pensions should be paid at the same rate for everyone, couples should not be discriminated against by being paid less. Also any income one partner has should not affect the payment rate of the other partner. The current system is highly discriminatory and grossly unfair.

    • I disagree with Sue, when she says leave the single pension rate as it is.-ALL pension rates need to be immediately increased enough to cover current cost`s , and regular
      increases likewise.
      alternatively force prices of groceries, fuel etc, DOWN.–preferrably both.

  2. I can understand how many pensioners are in poverty. Life can deliver unforeseen events. I am one of those.

    I am living now on a Disability Pension since leaving employment five years ago.

    I had done everything expected to secure a comfortable retirement. From a young age, I contributed extra to superannuation. I paid premiums for TPD insurance and income insurance. I believed that I was covered.

    In 2006, I was a pedestrian struck by a car whilst crossing legally with the green man at a legal crossing.

    I had an eight year battle to get to court with the accident insurer fighting me all the way. Many reading this assume you are covered. It’s only after an incident, you realise they fight. I won.

    However, I lost about a third in legal costs.

    I tried hard to return to work. As I aged of course my spine degenerated further. I underwent a return to work process several times. In so doing this, I did minimal hours. Despite a number of attempts, I had to leave. I thought I was covered by income insurance.

    I then found I was paid a third of my covered amount. Buried in the fine print, was an averaging clause. Due to lower hours, my income was less.

    I had a TPD assessment through my super. I was granted access. However, as some readers are aware there is a preservation age. As I was born in 1964, my preservation age is 59. I met it this year. I had to access my super to pay home loan. I was hit with 22% tax, a substantial burden. The reason, I lost my job in 2018. I was under preservation age.

    All of us, are one illness, accident or event away from disaster.

    The disability pension is the same amount as the age pension. So I am struggling off that. I own my home, fortunately, meaning I am better off than many, who may rent. However, as we all know our properties cost money. In the last year, I had to replace hot water service, cistern on toilet, repaint. My owners Corporation increased from $389 per quarter to $650.

    I have had dental work done. I did not go to the extreme of having my teeth removed as the lady mentioned in the article.

    Poverty can impact any one of us.

  3. Regrettably there’s only so much money in the Government Coffers to go around. Taxpayers’ Money That Is, not Government Money, There’s No Such Thing As Government Money. It’s long overdue that the Government Of The Day look after the Australian People and Not Commit Billions Of Dollars Each Year To Events Occurring Around The World, while the conditions and lifestyles of the Australian people head in the direction of a THIRD WORLD COUNTRY. I believe in the old adage charity begins at home and if the general public wish to donate money to events that occur overseas it’s their choice, not the Government’s choice. Australian Taxpayers’ Money’s should be spent on Australian Taxpayers’ in Australia. Health, Education, Welfare (For Old Aged Pensioners and the Genuine Disability Pensioners) and Housing for the same. The Australian Federal Government, whoever they may be, need to get back to basics and look after the Australian People, FIRST AND FOREMOST. JACKA.

    • Agree absolutely with your view.

      All a new card does is help entrench a further stratification of levels of haves to have nots. We should all enjoy a reasonable level of lifestyle, and those who are well off enough to have more will be able to enjoy a higher level of lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with having more but there certainly is condemnation for allowing those who do not have as much to fall into poverty and desperation.

  4. If there is anything the government should be helping pensioners with is the cost of eyeglasses I am sure there are pensioners out there who haven’t had their glasses renewed for years and with the cost of eyeglasses being around $1000 won’t have them done.

    • Qld will supply free 2 pair of glasses at participating Optometrists for only an administration free. Was $25 last time I used the scheme. You just need to be a concession card holder.
      Also, Specsavers and others can supply 2 pair of designer glasses for far less than the $1,000 a pair you quote.
      Shop around and inquire with your state government for glasses concessions.

      • Standard glasses yes. If your scrip needs anything special, be prepared to pay big money. Last time I tried Specsavers couldn’t do my scrips and to travel to Queensland would cost more than the glasses. Easier to do without.

    • Just another item we can’t afford. Add to this insurance, medicines, food, utilities and many more. What happened to our government caring about Australia. Maybe the are just earning their future place in the utopian world.

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