Pensioners better off in NZ: study

By Isaac Davison

New Zealand's older citizens are well looked after by the Government - in fact, better than in the world's richest nations.

Only 2 per cent of New Zealand's retirement-age population were classed as below the poverty line in a 2008 OECD study. Just 13 of the 30 countries had poverty rates of less than 10 per cent among older people.

The study of 30 OECD countries compared the income level of retirement-age New Zealanders to median disposable income levels.

However, several organisations who work with older people said the study does not reflect the financial reality of New Zealand's retirees.

A transtasman comparison found Australia's older population in far worse shape, with 27 per cent of over-65s below the poverty line.

Michael Littlewood, co-director of the University of Auckland Retirement Policy and Research Centre, said: "There are several possible explanations for New Zealand's favourable international position but the most obvious difference between New Zealand and the other 29 OECD countries is the simple, generous New Zealand superannuation pension."

However, social policy researcher Charles Waldegrave said if the study were to use the official New Zealand poverty threshold (60 per cent of disposable income levels), New Zealand would place last in the same study. "Most of our superannuants sit in the band between 50 and 60 per cent of median household income."

Some organisations working with older people said the OECD study findings were misleading. Age Concern chief executive Ann Martin said: "They just don't match what older people are telling us. Common sense tells us you can't live on $12,500 - $16,000 per person [after tax] annually, but that's what most superannuitants have to do.

"International comparisons of living standards and superannuation are notoriously unreliable. For example, in New Zealand there's none of the additional supports, like cold-weather power payments and free medical visits, that UK superannuitants get."

Grey Power president Les Howard said that older people still struggled financially in New Zealand because of flaws in our superannuation system and the effect of the economic downturn.

* Coping with life

Which country's older people are best off?

1= NZ, Netherlands, Czech Rep

4: Luxembourg

5= Iceland, Hungary, Poland

15: United Kingdom

26: United States

27: Australia

Source: OECD, Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries

- NZ Herald

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