Is Australia one of the world’s best places to retire?
That was a question raised in a recent article published by The Conversation, in which academics took nine separate indices that rank issues around ageing and retirement to find out where Australia came out overall. And it does pretty well when countries are measured on features such as health care, social welfare and retirement income systems, particularly in indices that look at the qualify of life of a country’s older people.
Even across all indices, and taking into account the big social and economic differences between countries, Australia falls in the top third of most rankings, while a ‘meta index’ (one that’s made up all the indices combined) puts Oz just behind the Nordic countries that always take out the top spots, as well as just ahead of the US and far ahead of the UK and other big European countries including France and Italy.
But is that how Aussie retirees see it? We asked the Starts at 60 community and received answers that bore out some of the studies’ findings – 60-pluses acknowledge that Australians largely enjoy a better standard of health care and social welfare than many people from other countries receive – but also an undercurrent of dissatisfaction among some retired Aussies that the government doesn’t offer more assistance for those on low retirement incomes.
“I love Australia but the growing inequality between the haves and have nots is really putting me off,” one community member told us, listing as particularly big worries the increasing number of medications not covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, specialist fees that aren’t refunded by health insurers, the “pitiful increases” to the Age Pension and the low interest rates available on savings deposits. “Living here has become a luxury.”
Another called living on the pension “a constant battle” that meant having to get used to never having any “extras”, while another retiree noted that some politicians seemed to see pensioners as a drain on national resources that they hoped would just “fade away”. “We are not treated equally and in some cases, looked down upon with disdain as though we deserve to be in this predicament,” she said.
Certainly, the Age Pension, although considerably more generous than that offered by many other countries, is not sufficient to provide luxuries.
The pension and its supplements provide a single person with less than $24,000 a year, or just over $42,000 for a couple, while the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia’s (ASFA) ‘retirement standard’ says retirees need about $27,000 as a single or $39,000 as a couple for what it calls a ‘modest’ retirement. Modest means no overseas holidays or home updates, but the ability to do essential repairs, run a basic vehicle and have occasional outings such as a trip to the cinema.
To have what ASFA calls a ‘comfortable’ retirement – including home updates when needed, new clothes, a reasonably modern care and a holiday or two per year – retirees need $44,000 a year in income if they’re single or $60,000 for a couple.
But to create that level of income in retirement from a combination of superannuation and the Age Pension, ASFA calculates that a worker would need to retire with $545,000 in super savings if they’re single or $640,000 combined as a couple, which is far more than the average of $214,000 that people aged 60-64 have retired with in recent years – an average that indicates that, although of course some people retire with far more and far less than the median – many older Aussies are a pretty fair way off what’s deemed a comfy retirement.
That said, some retirees are satisfied with their lot, regardless of their level of income. “I never will feel sorry for myself if I struggle or life throws a curb ball,” one community member commented. “I certainly will not blame my country or whinge about so called inequality or unfair treatment of retirees.”
Some note that the situation for tomorrow’s retirees, who’ll feel a greater benefit from compulsory super than today’s retirees for whom super saving began in earnest only mid-career, will be better.
And others point out that the lot of Australia’s retirees, however difficult, is less difficult than that of people in countries where there’s no social safety net, no government-sponsored health care and even ownership of a humble home is a distant dream for the vast majority. “Be grateful that we have a pension. Many countries do not. Be grateful that we have a reasonable health system. Many countries do not. Just be grateful that you are alive, free and not under threat from volcanic eruptions or bombs and missiles,” one said.
One Starts at 60 community member summed up their sentiments in a way that no doubt many others share.
“By the time you pay house insurance, petrol, car expenses, electricity and telephone it doesn’t exactly leave us wealthy at the end of the fortnight, as a matter of fact we have no savings,” she wrote. “But would I want to live in any other part of the world? A resounding NO is my answer. We have a roof over our head, food in our tummy and we live in the best country in the world.”