Stress to increase for superannuitants

By Carly Gibbs

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Stress among Tauranga pensioners living off superannuation is at an all-time high, and experts warn it's only going to get worse as a silver tsunami hits.

As the population over 65 increases, and those earning wages and paying taxes decrease, the chunk of gross domestic product (GDP) being ploughed into Kiwi super payments is forecast to double in less than a generation.

Finance Minister Bill English is adamant raising the age of pension eligibility in New Zealand is not on the cards. But the money will have to come from somewhere.

Tauranga pensioners, who failed to save when they were working, warn that life on super is a daily battle.

Mount Maunganui pensioner Will Benson has no savings, assets, or family financial help. He has lived in a government Elder Housing Unit for 14 months and it has taken him that long to set up a small veggie and flower patch - unable to afford more than a punnet or two every few weeks.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

He said five or six dollars was a lot of money to a pensioner.

Mr Benson urged Tauranga's working force to start saving now. Having a nest egg would make life "tremendously easier".

Retirement Commissioner Diana Crossan said a survey done in 2009 showed 40 per cent of people in New Zealand were living on superannuation alone - that's $348.92 (net) a week.

Ms Crossan said New Zealand's super amount was not generous and was "very hard" for some.

Tauranga Hospital's Dr Fiona Miller, a consultant psychiatrist in mental health services for the elderly, said about a third of patients said they suffered financial stress. She thought the figure was likely to be higher, but few made complaints.

"The elderly now very quietly suffer rather than stand up - they just don't complain much. Future generations are generally better off throughout their lives so will struggle to adjust to lower living standards, whereas many current elderly are used to getting by."

Dr Miller said those with the least money suffered most in retirement. They faced social isolation with not being able to afford to get out of the house.

Health costs were deemed prohibitive, poor diet impacted on physical and mental health, and options were limited for residential care because they had no money for "top-ups".

She said any future rise in the pension age would require flexibility as physical and mental stamina meant a lot of people "are just trying to get to 65".

Budgeting expert Lyn Webster said it was her personal belief that the next generation would be poorer than this one, and Max Mason, CEO of Tauranga's Chamber of Commerce, said people must make an effort to save.

"To have no financial assets and only get government super, that in itself is not a lot of money to be frank. And it's probably going to be less as time goes on. So people should be doing the hard yards now," he said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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