12 Nov 2014

Retirement age debate rolls on

9:38 am on 12 November 2014

A leading economist wants to see the age of eligibility for government superannuation increased.

At a debate in Wellington Brian Easton and former National MP and now law commissioner, Wayne Mapp, discussed the fiscal challenges facing New Zealand's superannuation fund and those who will need to access it.

Dr Mapp believes changes should be made by future governments, as the larger part of the baby-boomer population leaves the workforce.

Dr Easton believes an age increase for those eligible for the fund should have happened already and the age of eligibility should be based on the point at which people's remaining life expectancy is about 17 years.

The 2013 review of retirement income policy by the Retirement Commissioner supported by the Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income said policy decisions about superannuation should be made in the next three years followed by a long implementation period.

The report said that time frame will allow New Zealanders to confidently plan for their retirement.

United Future leader Peter Dunne has proposed a flexi-super scheme. Under the scheme people would have the choice of taking government superannuation at a reduced rate, if they start it earlier than the age of 65.

He said people who are likely to take super early might be those who feel they have no other choice, or who expect they will only have a short life.

But Law Commissioner Wayne Mapp said people should be wary of the flexi-super scheme he said Mr Dunne made flexi-super sound appealing, but it had risks.

He said people who had worked in manual jobs throughout their life were likely to want to take super earlier; but doing so could lock them in poverty.

Superannuation has long been a political hot potato and raising the age of eligibility has not been a vote winner in the past two elections.

Victoria University's professor of comparative politics, Jack Vowles said Prime Minister John Key's stance of no change in any government he leads would be a deterrent for other politicians.

And University of Otago politics lecturer Bryce Edwards said he believed other politicians would now be hesitant at introducing an increase based on the political losses the Labour Party had suffered by backing such a raise.

Mr Edwards did not think the debate would go away though and eventually a right-wing government will introduce the increase to reduce expenditure.