Pensioner poverty

by Don Franks

Quite rightly, there’s growing anger at the level of child poverty and the failure of successive governments to fix it. Statistics New Zealand reveals 254,000 children living in poverty – an increase of 0.4% in the last year.

The other end of life is not all roses either.  

My latest bank statement shows my old age pension’s just gone up.  I’ll be getting an extra $10 a week after tax. Thankfully I can still teach the three-chord trick and play the odd paid gig. 

Not everyone’s so lucky. According to the 2017 Material Wellbeing of New Zealand Households report, 40 per cent of my fellow pensioners have virtually no other income source. That means they’re struggling for their food and shelter.

Government figures show that in the last five years there’s been a roughly 80 percent increase in the number of hardship grants given out to over-65s.

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Hardship grants for food jumped from 9000 in 2013 to almost 16,000 last year.

A larger increase in the number of grants fall into the ‘other’ category, which has gone from 14,000 to almost 23,000.

Most of those ‘other’ increases were grants for emergency housing.

Dr Kay Saville-Smith, Director of the Centre for Research, Evaluation and Social Assessment tells why:

“The big change is New Zealand is the increasing numbers and proportions of older people who are entering their older life stages either in housing debt – they have mortgages OR (and very importantly) living in rent. New Zealand superannuation assumes that older people will be mortgage-free owner-occupiers. The tenure revolution means that this is increasingly not the case and in twenty years time we could expect around half of those reaching 65 years to be in rent.”

Susan Jenkins, Executive Officer of housing charity Abbeyfield reports that in recent months older people living in their cars and desperate for affordable accommodation have been knocking on Abbeyfield’s door: If National Super is your only income, private rentals are unaffordable.”

What to do?

Many of us over 65 are able and willing to work; to most employers we’re simply ‘too old’ for consideration. Such prejudice is socially acceptable.  Today’s activists seldom rant indignantly against Elderphobia.

It’s estimated that by 2026 twenty percent of New Zealanders will be over 65. Some of those will spend their remaining days in the relative comfort of an expensive retirement village. Others, used up and discarded by capitalism, will be wishing they had never lived so long.