Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi has suggested lowering the New Zealand Superannuation age for Māori to 57 — eight years lower than the current requirement.
The Waiariki MP says the move would be justified because, on average, Māori have shorter lifespans than Pākehā.
A Bay of Plenty iwi chief executive supports the move, saying Māori are "working themselves to the bone to help the rest of the country" but don't get to reap the rewards themselves.
Act leader David Seymour said the suggestion was "absurd", while a senior economist believes there is a better solution than lowering the age.
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said the Government has "ruled out" changes to NZ Super while Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson said lifting life expectancy for Māori should be the focus.
People aged 65 and older may qualify for NZ Super, which is paid fortnightly, and how much someone gets depends on their living situation and tax rate.
Single people living alone or with a dependent child can earn, before tax, $1076.48 fortnightly. If they live with someone aged 18 or older, or are visiting and staying for more than 13 weeks it's $990.20 fortnightly. Couples, where both meet the criteria, would be paid $817.32 fortnightly each. Couples with only one person who meets the criteria are paid $817.32.
Waititi said because Māori, on average, died seven to 10 years earlier than Pākehā, any change to the NZ Super eligibility age must factor in "the very real Māori mortality rates".
According to Stats NZ data, Māori males and females can expect to live for 73.4 and 77.1 years respectively compared to 80.9 years and 84.4 years for Pākehā.
"On that basis, Te Pati Māori (the Māori Party) would have superannuation criteria that addresses this disparity for Māori, where we would lower the superannuation age for Māori to 57 years old," he said.
"Many of our whānau are struggling to afford to live day-to-day, let alone looking towards having time to live off their superannuation.
"Many Māori work in the trades and heavy lifting workforce, and as people get older those jobs are harder to maintain...we need to make sure our pakeke [adults] are taken care of and that their health inequities are factored into any policies regarding superannuation."
Waititi's comments come after population expert Paul Spoonley last month suggested NZ Super eligibility restrictions needed serious thought given the rising population age.
Spoonley said, in the near future, between 20 and 30 per cent of the population could be older than 65.
"Over the next decade, because of the demography and ageing of New Zealand, the cost to superannuation will continue to rise significantly."
In 2021, superannuation cost New Zealand $15.5 billion or 18 per cent of the total tax collected.
New Zealand's estimated Māori ethnic population was 875,300, or 17.1 per cent of the national population. The median age for Māori males and females were 25.3 and 27.3 years respectively, compared to the national median of 36.7 and 38.8 years, according to Stats NZ.
Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley "absolutely" thought Waititi's suggestion would have positive impacts on Māori.
"I would argue that Māori are working themselves to the bone to help the rest of the country and never themselves because they'll never pick up the benefits and relax and retire," he said.
"Essentially, Māori put a whole lot of money into the system and never get it ... [Reaching retirement age] is a great accomplishment for many of us."
Infometrics senior economist Brad Olsen said paying Māori from an earlier age doesn't mean they will live longer lives, they will just live more of their life with NZ Super payments.
"The policy response should be how we are investing in our healthcare and education systems and similar to avoid those discrepancies to ensure Māori do live as long as average.
"If the policy problem is that Māori live shorter lives, the policy solution is not to pay them earlier because they die sooner. The base of the issue is that we have health and education inequalities and that is what we need to address.
"NZ Super is a substantial amount of cash but of itself it doesn't solve a lot of problems that we think about it wanting to solve."
Age Concern Rotorua manager Rory O'Rourke said logistics could create a problem.
"The research is there to back it up. I think it would be a good idea to lower it...but it's going to be difficult," he said.
"You're going to have the issue of who is going to prove that they're Māori. If you've got that burden of proof, that will be an issue.
"[For example], what percentage of Māori do you need to be to get the lowered rate?"
Seymour vehemently opposed the suggestion.
He said taking the idea to its "logical conclusion" would mean raising the pension age for Asians, who live longer, lowering it for Māori and keeping Europeans the same.
"I think there's a serious debate about the long-term future of NZ Super [to be had], whether future generations will keep paying for it as it currently is. I've always said the debate is worth having earlier rather than later."
Taupō MP and National Party spokeswoman for social development and employment Louise Upston said the party did not support different retirement ages for different groups of New Zealanders.
"Not only would that be divisive, it would also create unnecessary complexity and bureaucracy."
Sepuloni said any change to the eligibility for NZ Super was not something to Government would look into.
Jackson said the Government was focused on raising Māori life expectancy.
"We are investing in health, education, business and enterprise for young Māori.
"The stats show Māori live seven to 10 years less than non-Māori. So there needs to be a focus on raising the life expectancy of Māori and investing in young Māori to bridge this gap."