Elderly advocates say pension failing to keep up with housing costs

Ninety-year-old Phyllis Reid is renting and on a strict budget. Even with subsidised rent, she lives on the bare basics.

"I just can't go anywhere. How the heck could I afford to go anywhere?" the pensioner says.

Living off processed meals, tinned meat and packet mashed potato, Reid says nothing has changed since her childhood in the 1930s Great Depression.

"I'm back to what I was living off as a child. When am I going to get the good stuff?"

Around 24 percent of people aged 65 or over are either renting or paying a mortgage.

Age Concern Auckland's CEO Kevin Lamb says people are working well past the age of 65 to be able to pay for housing.

"Often people are working in their 70s, even into their 80s, because they've got no choice," he says.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates in the world of people aged 65+ still working with 24 percent of Kiwis 65+ in the workforce.

He says retirement savings scheme KiwiSaver wasn't around when current pensioners were in their prime working age and they're now forced to play catch-up.

"What we're seeing is a society that's geared up for one group but actually a lot of older people are still here living their lives today where they don't have those options and benefits," says Lamb.

He's disappointed there wasn't more money allocated to support senior citizens in this year's Government Budget.

Minister for Senior Citizens Dr Ayesha Verrall says this budget allocated $8.1 million over four years to establish an Aged Care Commissioner.

And almost $2m over four years was given to the 'Better Later Life - He Oranga Kaumatua Strategy'.

"This is still being developed and will focus on helping older New Zealanders with housing, employment and digital inclusion - to break down barriers to using technology," says Minister Verrall.

But Lamb believes that money won't go to the frontline and says there needs to be a lot more given to directly support older people.

"When you're looking at Budgets which are mentioned in the billions of dollars and you see that $334m is being spent on Scott Base and that's wonderful, that's a fantastic scientific achievement for New Zealand. But a few hundred million put towards supporting older people would enable agencies/organisations to literally have people on the ground supporting older people for years to come," he says.

Jeannette Kemp regularly visits pensioners through her job under-taking surveys and sees what she describes as "heart-breaking" sights.

"They've just got a big pot that they're putting noodles and chicken stock into, there's no meat and veggies and potatoes. It's all the wrong food but it's what they can afford," she says.

Kemp is also disappointed the 2021 Government Budget didn't offer more for the elderly.

"They've been completely forgotten. The Budget talks about being kind to people and giving them dignity, then I think they need to up their game if they're going to restore that back to our pensioners," says Kemp.

Kemp herself is 70-years-old and still working.

"If you don't work you can't make ends meet properly. You can't follow your hobbies or interests, you can't follow grandchildren and their sports or anything because you just haven't got the funds left over for the extra gas and things like that," she says.

The Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC) says superannuation currently pays $437 for a single person and $672 for a couple. It says super wasn't designed to cover rent and assumes you have housing sorted.

The Government says Superannuation and Veteran's Pension payments increase every year, so they remain at 66 percent of the average wage. They have increased 12 percent since 2017 and will continue to rise.

But Kemp believes it doesn't keep up with the rise in living costs.

"I absolutely believe that you can exist on the pension but you can't live on the pension," she says.

Age Concern Auckland says the best way to offer help to Phyllis or other pensioners in need is to contact them directly.

Here are their details:


Physical Address:

57 Rosebank Road, Avondale

Auckland 1026

Postal Address:

PO Box 19542, Avondale

Auckland 1746

Phone: 09-820-0184

Email: ageconcern@ageconak.org.nz