Age Pension: ‘Set base rates the same way we set pollies’ wages’

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Advocacy campaigners want to see an Independent Pension Tribunal established. Source: Getty.

Pension poverty is becoming an increasing issue in Australia, with more than a quarter of those over the age of 66 currently living below the poverty line and more than 1.5 million Aussies relying on the Age Pension as their sole source of income.

Last month marked the 110th anniversary of the introduction of the Age Pension, but campaigners argue not enough has been done to keep the payment relevant and ensure it is adequate for modern day pensioners to survive on.

Now advocates are calling on the government to modernise the pension system and have recommended a series of changes which they believe would help the huge number of older Aussies who are struggling to make ends meet on the payments.

Advocacy Campaigner Joel Pringle, from The Benevolent Society, wants to see the creation of an independent tribunal, who could be called upon to assess and set the base rates of the pension.

He says the system, which would mirror that of the Remuneration Tribunal, which currently sets the wages received by the country’s politicians, would ensure the payments kept up with economic factors such as changes in the housing market and increased living costs.

“There’s a system used to set politician incomes by an independent tribunal, they track costs of living and so on, and make an independent decision on that,” Joel says, “One of four recommendations is that for people who receive the age pensions they should have the base rate of the age pension assessed in the same way, making it a political system.

“An independent tribunal – similar to the Parliamentary Remuneraton Tribunal or the Fair Work Australia Expert Panel – would provide a fair and decent standard of living in line with community standards and with consideration of the broader fiscal context.”

Pringle also says that Australia is massively underperforming when it comes to “looking after older people”, despite being one of the world’s richest, ranked fourth worst in the world in the OECD for people experiencing poverty over the age of 66.

He said: “The best way is looking at how Australia performs compared to other countries in the OECD, for the whole of the population 13 per cent are experiencing poverty. We rank 13th, but we perform poorly, much more poorly, when it comes to people aged 66-plus.

“The rate of poverty doubles for those over 66, compared to the rest of the population. We are one of the richest countries in the world, yet here we are fourth worst in the OECD for looking after older people.”

The eight recommendations set by Fix Pension Poverty are:

  • Establish an Independent Age Pension Tribunal to set the base pension rate.
  • Increase the maximum rate of rent assistance.
  • Index rent assistance to housing costs instead of Consumer Price Index (CPI).
  • Expand the provision of free dentistry for pensioners.
  • Run an awareness campaign highlighting medical supplies subsidised for healthcare card holders.
  • Coordinate or replacing state-based utilities rebates.
  • Provide a broadband supplement or rebate.
  • Establish a roundtable to review services provided to age pensioners.

Joel added: “Fix Pension Poverty is the campaign that will address age pension poverty in Australia, we need communities to get involved in the campaign. We need people who have experience of living on the age pension to be involved, and we’re hoping to get as many of their members of parliament to become supporters of the campaign as well.”

You can find out more about the campaign here.

Do you think an Independent Pension Tribunal is a good idea? Would it be fairer to set base pension rates this way?

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