Here’s What The Major Parties Are Promising To Improve Women’s Health In Australia

Updated May 17, 2019 09:18:56

Pensioners Maree and Garry Morgan for 2019 Federal Election You Ask, We Answer>> Photo: Pensioners Maree and Garry Morgan have had their rent go up. (ABC News: Carrington Clarke)

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In the small town of New Norfolk north of Hobart, Maree and Garry Morgan are struggling to make ends meet.

Key points

  • The 1.6m recipients of full age pensions live on up to $600 a week and struggle with living costs
  • Council on the Ageing gives Labor a tick for dental promises, and Liberals are offering $34m for work research
  • Advocates want more announcements on aged care, housing and retirement incomes.

The Morgans are part of a growing cohort of older Australians who do not own their own home, but instead make weekly rental payments to a private landlord.

Similar circumstances have prompted a number of older voters to ask the ABC to explore what the federal election will mean for pensioners as part of the You Ask, We Answer project.

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The Morgans survive on Maree's age pension and Garry's disability support pension between them, but at $640 a fortnight, their rent now soaks up almost half of their $1,448 income.

The couple have lived in their New Norfolk rental property for four years, but last month their landlord increased the rent by $90 a fortnight.

Maree said the change had made life "very tough," with most of their income used to cover rent, power bills, phone bills, insurance and medications.

"It was hard enough before, but it's worse now," she said.

Maree said even expenses such as the cost of petrol to visit her daughter — who lives south of Hobart — had to be carefully considered.

"You don't sort of have a life because you're too scared to go anywhere in case you need that petrol later on," she said.

"Maybe hubby might need to go to hospital or something like that, so you don't just do things you'd normally do. You think about it first.

"By the time you do your groceries, you fill your car up with petrol to do you the fortnight, there's not much left to do anything else."

Pensioner Maree Morgan in a supermarket for 2019 Federal Election You Ask, We Answer>> Photo: After Maree does her shopping, she doesn't have much left. (ABC News: Carrington Clarke)

What's it like to live on the pension?

According to University of Tasmania professor Richard Eccleston, many of the almost 1.6 million Australians over the age of 65 who qualify for the full age pension live on between $400 and $600 a week, have minimal savings, and are struggling with cost of living pressures.

An additional 946,000 Australians receive a part of the age pension.

Professor Eccleston said nearly 80 percent of older Australians owned their own home outright, but that figure was changing rapidly, with some people paying off mortgages into retirement or living in rental properties.

"Australia's pensioner retirement savings system has really been based on the assumption that they've got very low housing costs, and generally speaking that's true," he said.

"I think the real pressure points are around older Australians who are in the private rental market.

"That number has increased to around 160,000 at the moment, and it's projected to increase to around 450,000 in 10 years."

What do advocates want?

Professor Eccleston said the assets test for the age pension needed to be reviewed, and he said there was an acute need for smaller affordable housing suitable for older Australians.

Professor Richard Eccleston>> Photo: Richard Eccleston says the number of pensioners who own their own homes is decreasing. (ABC News)

"Really we need to recognise that our retirement savings system is changing, most older Australians are going to have a hybrid of part pension with some private superannuation," he said.

"But there's still a really large cohort of Australians that's growing, that have very limited pension income, and very limited savings.

"So they need to be priorities in terms of the policy response."

Council on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates said affordable housing, access to aged care, and the retirement income system were significant issues for older Australians.

He said access to oral and dental healthcare was a challenge for many older Australians due to substantial out-of-pocket costs, but dental care was critical to overall health.

"We do not have a dental scheme that meets anywhere near the needs. Our public dental scheme is estimated to meet about 25 percent of the level of need out there in the community," he said.

What are the major parties promising?

Not a lot has been put on the table for pensioners so far to address cost of living pressures.

Mr Yates said the Council on the Ageing had lobbied both Labor and the Coalition to improve access to dental care, and Labor's $2.4 billion pensioner dental plan was similar to a proposal made by the council.

Ian Yates, CEO of Council on the Ageing Australia>> Photo: Ian Yates from the Council on the Ageing Australia says rental assistance is a big issue that hasn't been addressed. (ABC News: Marco Catalano)

Under the plan, pensioners and Commonwealth Seniors Health Card Holders would be able to access $1,000 worth of dental services every two years.

"We're giving Labor a big tick for this," Mr Yates said.

"The Coalition we have put pressure on, but [they] have not moved on this, recognising that they see it as a state issue, but we think for older Australians it's critical."

Mr Yates said the Council on the Ageing had also put pressure on the major parties to increase rental assistance, after the Grattan Institute last year recommended a 40 percent increase to the potential maximum rental assistance.

Where do you stand?

Where do you stand?>

Find out how your views compare to Australia's major political parties. Simply answer a few questions via Vote Compass.

So far, the United Australia Party and Pauline Hanson's One Nation have suggested increasing the age pension, but the major parties have not promised an increase.

In addition to Labor's dental promise, the Council on the Ageing has welcomed the party's promise to provide small businesses with a tax break if they employ workers younger than 25 or older than 55.

The Coalition has promised a $34 million Aged Care Workforce Research Centre if they win another term in government, as well as $10 million to tackle loneliness amongst senior Australians.

But the Council on the Ageing is still hoping for announcements on aged care, investments in social housing, and a comprehensive review of retirement incomes.

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Topics: government-and-politics, federal-elections, community-and-society, older-people, consumer-finance, hobart-7000, launceston-7250, tas

First posted May 17, 2019 05:23:35

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