Age pensioners are well-off

One in ten Australians living on the dole cannot afford a substantial meal each day, one in eight cannot afford prescription medicines and one in 20 cannot afford to heat their homes. This research has come from a review of the pensions, commissioned by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs in 2008. Although these figures were listed as a reference in the final report, the research itself was never published.

The research compares ‘deprivation rates’ among seven groups of Australians. These groups are:

  • Low-wage workers
  • Newstart (dole) recipients
  • Aged pensioners
  • Veterans’ pensioners
  • Disability pensioners
  • Parenting payment recipients
  • Self-funded retirees

It shows that self-funded retirees are the least deprived. After self-funded retirees, the next best-off group is those receiving the Age Pension. Where 1.4 per cent of aged pensioners are unable to afford medical treatment if necessary, the proportion of those on the dole in the same position is 22 per cent.  Where 0.7 per cent of Age Pension recipients cannot afford a substantial meal each day, the proportion of Australians on the dole in the same position is 10.3 per cent.

The report was careful to state that these results do not imply that the Age Pension is adequate—they simply show how inadequate the dole and other government pensions are.

To find out more read The Age article Revealed: dole recipients too poor to buy food, medication or heating

Comment – Let’s be honest, it’s a handout

At least one in four pensioners is living below the poverty line. It is important to keep that fact in mind when discussing the inadequacies of the dole for two reasons. The first is that it shows how critical the situation with the dole is as, of those receiving a government payment, aged pensioners are better off than every other group, except those who are completely self-funded.

The second is that those on the Age Pension may be better off than those on the dole, but they are not well-off. Having a quarter of a demographic below the poverty line is nothing to cheer about, even when you show people how much worse the situation could be.

I feel conflicted about the dole. On one hand the idea that a group of Australians is living in such extreme poverty is sickening. Australia is a wealthy, economically stable country. It is unnecessary (in theory) for any Australian citizen to suffer in this way. Our government has chosen to spend its money on projects other than welfare, as can be seen in the Age Pension rates. Other economically equivalent countries provide an Age Pension (or similar program) which is worth 25 per cent more than we offer our pension-age Australians. So ours is not a system which helps those who need it most, and that is a very sad realisation.

On the other hand the dole, unlike the Age Pension, is a handout. It is given to people who need money not because they are in some way prevented from working, but because they do not work. While I understand that some people are incapable of holding down work, whether because of an emotional issue, a mental problem or an addiction, not everyone fits into this category. There are also those who very simply do not want to work. Those who will not work.

Newstart allowance, or the dole, was never meant to support people in a long-term fashion. It is designed to tide people over until they can once again work for a wage and stand on their own two feet. If we increase the handout aren’t we removing the incentive for these people to support themselves?

Is this point of view too harsh? Should we be providing welfare for all Australian citizens who need it, or should we redefine ‘need’ from ‘wants a handout’?