21 Oct 2022

Retirement Commission report suggests policies not working for tangata whenua

6:28 am on 21 October 2022
Paora Stanley

Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley says far too often whānau Māori are not even making it to 65 to collect superannuation. Photo: RNZ / Justine Murray

With a lower life expectancy, health disparities, and fewer savings, new research has highlighted the grim prospect of retirement for many Māori.

The government reviews its retirement policies every three years and the Retirement Commission report, released today, suggest current policies do not work for tangata whenua.

Māori on average die seven years younger than Pākehā, suffer higher rates of disease often at an earlier age. Income disparities lead to lower rates of home ownership, which feed into fewer savings or a lower KiwiSaver balance.

But Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said far too often whānau Māori were not even making it to 65 to collect superannuation.

"It's simply that things haven't changed," Stanley said. "For all the good will that varieties of governments in the past have had, and all the understanding of tikanga Māori and everything else that is out there, nothing's changed."

The four-volume, several-hundred-page body of research released this morning laid bare many of those disparities and how they came to be entrenched.

Retirement Commission kaihautū Erin Thompson said there were some sobering facts.

"When you look at the impact of all those things collectively of the person, when they get to the end of their life, it's really hard to put yourself in a position of wealth when you don't have the stepping stones or the platforms to support you to get there," Thompson said.

But there was also another significant factor in how the current structure did not work: He aha te kupu mō retirement? There just was not a word to explain the concept, Thompson said.

Because in te ao Māori, pakeke get busier as they get older, taking up significant responsibilities as kuia and kaumātua, much of it voluntary.

Ngāi Te Rangi's Stanley said the two world views were completely opposed.

"This is what I see is the inability of the system to recognise Māori when they retire. We see them as winding down and that's a Pākehā system of interpreting retirement," he said.

"In actual fact, they're winding up.

"For example, in Tauranga Moana our pakeke are on boards who control $2 billion a year in the local Māori economy. They may live in a shabby old house in Merivale but they contribute to a major wealth, and they have major pieces of knowledge. The system has an inability to value that and get out of the way."

Thompson said the disparities were too often robbing whānau of those cultural roles, and current policy did not acknowledge that.

With the precarious position too many Māori were in by the time they reached their 60s, many were having to continue working to pay rent, or because of a lack of savings, she said.

"It saddened me quite a bit to see in the voices of the kaumātua that they are having to settle for that, because being able to live, being able to support their whānau had to become their priority," she said.

What was needed was by-Māori, for-Māori solutions and a super and retirement policy that reflected the reality, Thompson said.

Stanely believed there were opportunities, including collectivised whānau savings, or iwi housing to enable pakeke to support their whānau.

But there were deep inequities caused by the state, that it needed to resolve, he said.

"How come I put so much money aside for my retirement through our taxes and yet our people don't get a chance to receive that because they die too early," Stanley asked.

"We are funding Pākehā people, we are funding a Pākehā retirement system."

Thompson said there were some short-term fixes, but they would only go so far unless the deeper issues were addressed.

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