In this article we look at:
Why are seniors short on superannuation?
Sarah Saunders, Deputy CEO and public affairs manager of National Seniors, says many of today's seniors missed out on superannuation. Particularly vulnerable groups are single women, renters and the over 75s.
"The employment-linked nature of superannuation means women who've raised families or were paid less are worse off," Saunders tells CHOICE. "For example, in 2012, the average balance for a woman was $105,000; for a man, it was $197,000."
And compared to the rest of the world, Australian pensioners aren't doing too well either. According to the most recent OECD report, 'Pensioners at a Glance':
- Australia is second lowest of the OECD countries for social equity – 36% of Australians over the age of 65 have income below the relative poverty line, which is defined as an income below half the national median household income.
- The Australian government spends 3.5% of GBD on the public pension, less than half the OECD average of 7.9%.
Calls to increase pensioner concessions and rebates
The Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association (CPSA) is calling on the government to increase concessions and rebates for low-income older people so they may afford essential goods and services, such as transport, utilities, health and housing.
"The latest OECD figures gives Australia a silver medal in the poverty stakes with over a third of older people living below the poverty line," says CPSA spokesperson Amelia Christie.
Many rebates are set at flat rates, which haven't increased to reflect increases in essential goods and services.
"For example, in NSW the council rate rebate concession hasn't increased since it was introduced in 1993, while rates have increased substantially over this time, so it has obviously lost its value in real terms," says Christie.
The federal government ceased an agreement with the states as part of the 2014 federal budget, resulting in state budgets for concessions being cut by roughly 10%.
Sarah Saunders says it's essential that concessions stay up to date with rising living costs. "Unlike the age pension itself, concessions aren't indexed to inflation," she says. "In fact, our pension spend has dropped and plateaued since 2000."
The number and value of concessions available to pensioners also varies widely based on someone's location. For example, Sydney Water discounts for pensioners are far more generous than those provided by local water utilities.
How much does it cost to live comfortably?
The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia revealed that a single retiree needs around $817 a week to live comfortably and a couple would need $1119 per week. These figures include paying for a car, clothes, private health insurance, and leisure and activities such as entertainment and holidays. These figures were correct as of December 2014.
In March 2016 the maximum fortnightly pension rate for a single person was $794.80.20 and $1198.20 for a couple combined.
But while there are concessions available for seniors and pensioners to help with the cost of essential goods and services, are these enough and have they risen in line with the cost of living?
Pensioner Concession Card
A nationwide scheme, the Pensioner Concession Card is available to all seniors on the age pension. Some of the benefits include:
- bulk medical billing
- Medicare discounts
- assistance with hearing aids.
The Pensioner Concession Card is dependent on your income.
Discounts for Australian seniors are a great incentive for them to get out and connect with their communities. The Seniors Card may provide concessions on:
- public transport
- vehicle registration
- drivers licence renewal
- museums and national parks
- discounts on small business.
The card is free for eligible people over the age of 60 who are not working more than a set amount of hours in paid employment, although the incentives and rules of eligibility vary slightly depending on which state or territory you live.
Currently more than 80% of eligible Queenslanders hold a Seniors Card. The Queensland scheme consists of:
- the Seniors Card, which is available to persons who are no longer working full-time and are 60 to 64 years of age and hold a Commonwealth or Department of Veteran Affairs concession card or are 65 years and over
- the Seniors Business Discount Card, which is available to persons ages 60 years and over
- the Seniors Card +go, which combines the benefits of the Seniors Card and go Card for public transport in South-East Queensland, offering cardholders a 50% concession fare.
"The Queensland Government is committed to making life easier for older Queenslanders in light of the rising cost of living," a spokesperson for the Department of Communities, Child safety and Disability services told CHOICE.
"Queensland is focused on obtaining discounts that deliver value for seniors and has recently introduced a special offers category. This category encourages businesses to offer discounts of 20% or equivalent value".
New South Wales
There are now more than 1.42 million Seniors Card-holders in NSW. There are more than 4500 active participating business discount offers for members. To be eligible you must:
- be a NSW permanent resident aged 60 or over
- work no more than 20 hours of paid work a week on average across a 12-month period.
"The NSW government values the contributions made by seniors, and we want to encourage older people to be active, healthy, and socially connected," says Kathy Tricolas, senior media officer for Department of Family and Community services."
Australian Capital Territory
To be eligible for the ACT Seniors Card you must:
- be over 60 years of age, a permanent resident of the ACT and working no more than 20 hours per week in paid employment.
Discounts generally range from 5% to 50% with special seniors day offers at times.
"Seniors are very aware of what they are entitled to … we take over 1000 phone calls on the COTA seniors information line each month and many of these calls are to check entitlements," says Jenny Mobbs, executive director of ACT Council of the Ageing.
In WA, the qualifying age for a Seniors Card is 61, which is set to increase to 65 by the year 2023. You must be a permanent resident of the state and not working more than 25 hours per week in paid employment.
More than 370,000 seniors hold a card in this state, representing 93% of seniors who are eligible. The "My WA Seniors Card" online account is a one-stop shop to apply for a card as well as update details, and view concessions and payments made by the state government. In addition, the state government provides seniors with the Cost of Living rebate. In 2015, eligible seniors received a single payment of $83.85 or $125.78 for couples to assist with living costs.
It's estimated that one million Victorians, or 95% of all those eligible, have a Seniors Card. To be eligible Victorians must:
- be a permanent resident, residing in Victoria, 60 years of age or over and working fewer than 35 hours per week.
However, a new Seniors Business Discount Card recognises that older Victorians are working full-time for longer and gives discounts to residents in this situation. It's estimated that an extra 160,000 Victorians will benefit from the new card.
There are currently more than 360,000 Seniors Card members in South Australia. Members have access to Weekend Plus, a fortnightly digital magazine subscription that features discounts for seniors. To be eligible for a Seniors Card in SA you must:
- be 60 years of age or over
- be a permanent resident of the state and
- not be working more than 20 hours per week in paid employment.
The state has more than 99,000 Seniors Card members, who are offered a wide range of discounts and services supported by more than 730 local business. To be eligible you must:
- be 60 years of age or over
- not be working more than 20 hours per week in paid employment
- be a resident of the state.
What Australian seniors say
Neville Hollingworth is 83 years old; he and his wife are self-funded retirees who receive a small pension from the government. He says they must be careful and astute with their spending.
"We get concessions [on] medications, which is really good … we get it for five or six dollars. We [also] get concessions [on] our electricity and rates – it might only be $30 or something, but it's handy."
Penelope Nelson is 73 and a self-funded retiree with no mortgage.
"I use a Seniors Card predominantly for transport and movies. I'm not a pensioner and I'm not on a budget so I'm probably more attracted to a sign that says "sale" than a sign that says "pension cards welcome".
"I belong to National Seniors Australia and Council on the Ageing so I'm reasonably in the loop of information going to older people. I'm not information poor in any way."
Susan Russell is 67 and is on a full aged pension and has both the Pensioner Concession Card and Seniors Card.
Susan says she usually gets 5–10% off her food bill when eating out using the Seniors Card. She says it's also a matter of "if you don't ask, you don't get", and that you must always remember to show your card.
"I've had to seek assistance for food recently, which I've never done in my life. Because the cost of living continually rises we get a pittance on the pension whenever there's a cost of living rise. We literally get two or three dollars a fortnight extra."
We asked Susan if she thought the pension was enough to live on.
"No, absolutely not, it's killing me… trying to live on the pension is getting worse and worse."