Poverty and older people

New Zealand does well compared with other countries in keeping older people out of poverty. There are fewer older people suffering hardship compared to other age groups according to the available evidence. New Zealand Superannuation is a universal income support paid to all older people meeting basic residency requirements and is set at a level tied to the average wage and indexed against inflation. This combines with relatively high levels of mortgage-free home ownership means that rates of poverty and hardship for older people overall (4-7%) are much lower than for children or the wider population.

food trolleysOf course this does not mean that older people in New Zealand are living in luxury at the expense of the state! Living on NZ Super ($366.94 per week or $19,081 per year in 2014 for a single person living alone) without any additional income is a life on the edge of poverty. Around 60% of older people have little or no additional income apart from NZ Super. This is a very large group of people very vulnerable to any changes in policy or economic circumstances, according to the (see Material Wellbeing of older New Zealanders).

Rising housing, food, energy and fuel costs impact older people greatly and it is a challenge moving into the future for NZ to ensure that NZ Superannuation is actually adequate to lift older people out of poverty. Access to free or low-cost services is also part of reducing poverty and the SuperGold Card, free primary care, low-cost public transport, rates rebates, and the prospect of energy costs rebates all contribute.

Looking to the future there are many risks we need to be alert to now, because decisions being taken now will have massively compounded effects into the future. While the Retirement Income Review 2013 report recommended raising the age of entitlemen for NZ Super, the focus should not be simply a debate about the age of entitlement but on the wider context of ensuring wellbeing for all into the future.