The adequacy of the age pension in Australia: an assessment of pensioner living standards

Pensions Cost and standard of living Ageing Welfare recipients Age pension Relative income poverty Australia

This report examines the adequacy of the Age Pension both qualitatively, through focus groups and town meetings, and quantitatively, through analysis of social survey data. Methodology included quantitative analysis provided by the HILDA (Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia) survey which included 9,000 households and 25,000 individuals. This was complemented by qualitative research using focus groups in five cities across four states and several town hall meetings in regional centres.

Pensioners from around the country shared their stories of their lives on the Age Pension. We heard many accounts of financial hardship and deprivation and how some pensioners made ends meet going, for example, to church meetings just for the free food.

This report also looks at the history of the pension and how Australia’s approach to the pension has evolved from a ‘poverty alleviation’ approach to one which more broadly reflects the ideals we want to see in Australia- a ‘social contract’ approach to the pension which seeks to ensure pensioners are not merely scraping by on the poverty line.

The report acknowledges that defining an adequate pension is extremely complex. While we argue that the base rate of the pension is insufficient, we recognise that nominating a monetary amount by which to increase the pension is beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, we propose that an independent tribunal – similar to the Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal or the Fair Work Australia Expert Panel – be established to determine the base rate in order to provide a fair and decent standard of living in line with community standards and with consideration of the broader fiscal context.

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