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Independent tribunal called to change pension rates

Calls for an independent tribunal to change the amount of age pension for senior Australians have been made, as it is revealed many live below the poverty line and struggle to make ends meet.  

Many seniors in Australia live below the poverty line and struggle to make ends meet (Source: Shutterstock)
Many seniors in Australia live below the poverty line and struggle to make ends meet (Source: Shutterstock)

Peak advocacy group National Seniors Australia have teamed up with The Benevolent Society, Australia’s oldest charity, to create the Fix Pension Poverty campaign in a bid to create a fairer income system for senior citizens.

National Seniors Australia Chief Advocate Ian Henschke says 1.5 million older Australians rely on the age pension but it fails to provide a satisfactory standard of living. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has revealed one in four Australians aged 65 and over are living below the poverty line. This figure takes into account income of all Australians aged 65 and over, not just recipients of the age pension.

The poverty line (50 percent of median income) for a single adult in Australia is $852.60, and $1,790.44 for a couple with two children, per fortnight.

The current Age Pension rates sit at $828.20 maximum for a single person and $1,245.60 maximum for a couple combined, per fortnight. Many pensioners will receive a lower rate due to a variety of factors including assets and lack of rent assistance and supplements, therefore sitting below the line of poverty.

“If you are a single person receiving the age pension and you aren’t entitled to rent assistance, your income is $56 a week below the poverty line. It reflects poorly on Government when older Australians live in poverty,” Mr Henschke says.

“Older renters are particularly hard hit. More than 250,000 pensioners don’t own their own home and on average, a pensioner receives only a third of what’s required to pay rent these days.”

The Age Pension was introduced 110 years ago to deliver financial support for older Australians, but due to rising costs of living and social developments, many still face financial hardships.

Advocacy Campaigner for The Benevolent Society, Joel Pringle, says that, as it’s been over a century since the pension was introduced, “maybe it’s time for the Government to have another go at modernising it”.

The charity recently put forth a report to the Federal Government, The Adequacy of the Age Pension in Australia, which outlined eight recommendations to improve the Age Pension and the lives of older Australians, however Mr Pringle says the Government didn’t label it a “priority”.

“They know that there’s an issue there, but have avoided taking the hard measures to actually help the people who need it most,” he says.

The recommendations supplied to the Government include broadband rebates, free dental care and the introduction of the tribunal to set pension rates.

Mr Henschke says the proposed tribunal would calculate fair pension rates based on needs and circumstances, as the recent public debate surrounding the issue had become “toxic”.

“Politics must be taken out of the process. An independent age pension tribunal is the first step to a fairer retirement income system that meets the needs of older Australians,” he says.

Mr Pringle says the campaign was garnering the attention of Australians thanks to their partnership with National Seniors.

“A Government that cares about older people is one that does not accept the dire circumstances faced by too many who are relying on an inadequate Age Pension. We haven’t seen a lot of that lately, but the Fix Pension Poverty campaign aims to change that,” he says.

For more on Fix Pension Poverty, visit their website.

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