17 Feb 2022

Experts split on raising age of superannuation

7:45 am on 17 February 2022

A recommendation from the OECD to raise the age New Zealanders can get the pension has been ruled out by the government, but the National Party's not so sure, saying they will raise the age to 67 in 2037.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson during his press conference after it was announced the country will move to red traffic light settings at the Beehive on 23 January 2022.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson says Labour is standing by its commitment to not raise the superannuation age. Photo: Pool / NZME / Mark Mitchell

Experts are split over the idea, with some saying it's time to re-think the eligibility age, while others warn it will only worsen entrenched inequalities.

Earlier this month, the OECD warned the government it needed to do more to cool down the overheating economy and bring down its debt levels.

Among its recommendations, which included removing obstacles to home affortability and building, the OECD suggested increasing the eligibility age for superannuation from 65, linking it to life expectancy.

Brad Olsen

Brad Olsen Photo: Infometrics

Principal economist at Infometrics Brad Olsen said it was worth considering, as New Zealanders were now living longer and spending more time on their super.

"When the current New Zealand super ages were set, people were spending around about 13 percent to 18 percent of their life on New Zealand super.

"Now, they're spending about 19 percent to 22 percent of their life.

"So, not only are people living longer, but there are more people now who are living on their super for an extended period of time."

Olsen said the move could save billions of dollars that could be re-directed elsewhere.

But Age Concern's chief executive Stephanie Clare said there was no reason to change it.

"We know today that some people who reach 65, they actually don't stop working," she said.

"They keep working, they love working, they want to work, for any reason. But there are some that can't work any longer and have been holding out until they get a pension.

"We don't want this to disadvantage anybody. We want people to have the choice."

Clare said any changes should be announced a decade in advance, at least, to give people time to save.

Financial Advice New Zealand's chief executive Katrina Shanks said any changes had to be flexible.

"The big things we need to think about are for those who are in physical jobs, and they can't work past 65 or currently are struggling to work to 65, what does that look like for them?

"And, what do we have in place to make it more equal for those that have to leave the workplace earlier, because they're in more physical roles?"

Focus should be on level playing field - academic

Dr Claire Dale, a research fellow in the Retirement Policy and Research Centre at the University of Auckland's business school, said the government should level the playing field before it even thinks about raising the age.

"Area deprivation and ethnicity impact on life expectancy," she said.

"Life expectancy at birth is lowest in the most deprived areas. So, your wealth and your ethnicity make a huge difference to your longevity."

She said lifting the eligible superannuation age without boosting benefit payments would only make it worse for older people who were financially insecure.

"It's very hard for an older person, if they lose their job, to get another job.

"You just can't even get an interview, let alone have a hope of changing an employment. That's going to exacerbate hardship also."

But Olsen warned without re-considering the eligibility age, the government was sleepwalking into an incredibly difficult situation for younger New Zealanders.

"At the moment, we've got around about four workers supporting every elderly person, funding their superannuation," he said.

"In the future, we're going to have only two workers supporting every superannuation and paying for that New Zealand super.

"So, it does start to restrict New Zealand's economic opportunities and where we might put our money. There is a huge opportunity cost involved with the current status of New Zealand superannuation."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson rejected the OECD's recommendation, saying the Labour Party will never increase the superannuation age.

"There's a commitment that we've made, a social contract if you will, with New Zealanders to make sure they have dignity in their retirement and support in their retirement.

"I recognise there is a cost associated with that, but that is the priority decision that we make. As an economy I believe we can afford that."

But the National Party's finance spokesperson Simon Bridges said the government needed to rein in its spending.

"I hope he doesn't say I know everything, my borrow and spend model is just fine," Bridges said.

After the report was released, the National leader Christopher Luxon said the party's policy to increase the age progressively to 67 from July 2037 remained.

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