Eric Watson: Obstacles in super path only fair

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Link the age of entitlement to NZ Super to expected longevity so everyone receives the benefit for the same proportion of their expected adult life. Photo / Thinkstock
Link the age of entitlement to NZ Super to expected longevity so everyone receives the benefit for the same proportion of their expected adult life. Photo / Thinkstock

A mate had a whinge to me the other day about the hoops he's had to jump through to secure a residential care subsidy for his mother.

After a needs assessment by the DHB, Work and Income was doing a financial means assessment. It was drilling into everything and he had to find the paperwork for his parents' family trust that was set up 21 years ago. But isn't this the way it should be? Long-term care is expensive. Shouldn't people have to demonstrate real need to get a government subsidy?

I had similar thoughts reading an article on Focusing on the Future published by the Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income. It proposes changes to make NZ Superannuation sustainable in light of demographic shifts that will see 25 per cent of New Zealanders aged 65 or older by 2060. Recommendations include:

Link the age of entitlement to NZ Super to expected longevity so everyone receives the benefit for the same proportion of their expected adult life.

Index future adjustments to the growth in wages and consumer prices, rather than wages alone, because wage growth has historically exceeded general inflation.

Instruct the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to work with employers, industry associations and unions to improve job prospects for older workers.

Although I am in favour of raising the age of retirement because people are living longer, we need to cease anchoring on the age of 65 as the base case. In 1898, the life expectancy of a 20-year-old was to live to age 67. Today, the life expectancy of a 20-year-old is another 69 years. The concept of retirement at 65 is outdated.

The recommendation that's missing is means testing. It is set aside because it has "historically not been accepted by New Zealanders", and it "punishes savings behaviour, discourages working longer, incentivises the hiding of wealth" and "would be more complex and expensive to run".

With all due respect to the Commission, doesn't NZ Super already dis-incentivise savings and discourage people working longer?

It is realistic to assume that means testing would incentivise some people to hide their wealth. But procedures for income and asset testing are already in place for lots of other benefits in New Zealand. And Winz is already well organised to search out hidden pockets of wealth.

Besides, the extra cost of applying means tests for NZ Super must be cheaper than simply giving it to everyone, surely?

- Herald on Sunday

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