Editorial: Power plan too costly for country

By Scott Inglis

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Should senior citizens get cheaper power?

This is the interesting question posed in a New Zealand First proposal this week.

The party, which made a stunning comeback at the election last November with 6.59 per cent of the vote, entitling it to eight list seats in Parliament, wants SuperGold Card holders entitled to a 10 per cent power discount.

The card provides discounts and concessions on a range of services, and from a number of businesses and organisations, for seniors and veterans.

It rightly recognises their contribution to New Zealand society.

New Zealand First's charismatic leader, Winston Peters, says this power discount is the responsible thing to do as pensioners battle tough financial times.

In doing this, Mr Peters has smartly played to one of the party's strengths.

It is no secret New Zealand First has strong support from retirees.

Prime Minister John Key has shot down the idea, and is backed by Tauranga MP Simon Bridges, who says the country will have to borrow from overseas to pay for it.

Mr Bridges also points out National has increased the pension by $194 per couple per fortnight.

Countless people, from the young to the old, are struggling in these challenging times.

Living costs have risen and incomes have struggled to keep pace. I was surprised by the Prime Minister's figures that power prices had increased a whopping 72 per cent from 1999 to 2008.

While some people have retired in comfort, thousands in the Western Bay have not.

Under current pension rates, a single person living alone earns $348.92 a week net while a couple receive $536.80 between them.

It is easy to feel sorry for those who are finding the going tough. Imagine working hard all your life and then having to scrape to pay your way once you've retired.

But can this country afford New Zealand First's proposed scheme?

Government figures reveal that between 2005 and 2050 the number of Kiwis eligible to retire at the age of 65 or more is expected to double to nearly 1.4 million, and the associated cost of providing their retirement income is also expected to double.

The number of pensioners is also expected to increase as a proportion of the population through this period and beyond, putting a huge amount of pressure on taxpayers.

This country cannot afford a power discount scheme for all pensioners.

But the Government, rather than dismissing the New Zealand First proposal from the start, should seriously consider a modified version, where pensioners are means-tested so those who are genuinely struggling get some relief.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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