Each general election year the Grey Power NZ board agree to an election strategy that aims to firstly inform general election candidates whose parties are above the 5 percent threshold of our concerns and to provide our policy on some current issues facing older people.
And secondly to ascertain what each political parties’ election policy is on these issues to enable a memorandum to be sent to associations and a Grey Power Quarterly magazine article to be written for members which allows them to compare relevant Grey Power policies with those of the main political parties.
There are approximately 760,000 older people (65+ years) in New Zealand. However, very little has been said in the election promises published to date about older people specifically although many of the political party’s policies will affect this group.
This paper will provide a précis of the most pertinent policies on issues which Grey Power consider of real importance in 2023.
According to each party’s website and Grey Power’s discussions with politicians these policies have been announced to date. However, several parties have not released a specific policy manifesto or if they have, they are adding more policies. Nevertheless, this information was relevant at the time the article was sent to the magazine publisher.
What has Grey Power done to assist vulnerable older people at this election time?
We have visited decision makers in Wellington twice this year to influence their policy and to discover what the political parties’ 2023 election policies include that will advance, support, and protect the welfare of older people in New Zealand.
Who did Grey Power visit to discuss 2023 election promises which may help seniors?
Greens, Labour and National’s senior’s spokespeople, Act leader and deputy leader, Labour Health Minister, National’s Health spokesperson, National’s Housing spokesperson, Labour Minister of Commerce & Consumer affairs, the leader of the National Opposition.
NB: Conversations, to ensure Grey Power policies were still up-to-date, were also held with the presidents of the Retirement Villages Residents Association and Alzheimer’s NZ, the former CEO of the Aged Care Association, and the Reserve Bank.
We have called for action from those politicians we visited to acknowledge and fix:
a) the high cost of living for low-income households including those older people whose only income is from New Zealand superannuation or who have very little extra income,
b) the many health system problems resulting in health inequity,
c) access issues to affordable accommodation.
d) financial security now and in the future for older people.
What the main political parties’ policies are and how they differ or correspond with Grey Power policies
The high cost of living for low-income households including those of older people whose only income is from New Zealand superannuation and who have very little extra income. What will your party do to assist those on low incomes?
Grey Power policy is to advance, support and protect the rights…, welfare and well-being of older persons … in New Zealand; to enable seniors to live in dignity.
Grey Power asked that all political parties take our concerns regarding older people managing on low incomes seriously. And that consideration be given to reducing the tax burden on those who are struggling most with the rising cost-of-living by removing GST on food, a lower, or zero rate of tax on the first $10,000 etc.
Recent media reports, as well as internal Grey Power surveys and feedback have identified a significant proportion of retirees struggling to survive on New Zealand Super (NZS) and their limited savings during a period of high inflation.
The cost of living in New Zealand has been increasing in recent years. According to Stats NZ, the cost of living for the average household (as measured by the household living-costs price indexes) increased by 5.2 percent in the December 2021 quarter compared to the December 2020 quarter.
In the 12 months to December 2022, the cost of living increased by 8.2 percent.𝟣
Originally NZS was based on the premise that retirees would have a mortgage-free home at retirement age. This is no longer the case for a significant and growing proportion of retirees, many of whom are either still servicing a mortgage or living in rental accommodation and struggling to survive on the current NZS and supplementary benefit settings.
The United Nations Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Older Persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte reported after her visit to NZ that:𝟣
“Old-age poverty is below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average. Nevertheless, as the basic pension remains very close to the poverty threshold and house prices rise, there are still concerns about poverty among older persons. A large group of older persons, around 60 per cent of singles and 40 per cent of couples, have little or no additional income apart from the New Zealand Superannuation, which makes them very vulnerable to any changes in policy or economic circumstances.” 𝟤
Those most affected, particularly during periods of high inflation are women with a history of intermittent employment and low savings; those without a mortgage free home; those in rental accommodation; those with disability or poor health; those who have encountered a relationship breakup, those made redundant prior to retirement when re-employment is challenging, as well as many Māori and Pacifica people.
Securing adequate support for these more vulnerable retirees is not always easy because many older people are reluctant to ask, or to persevere with WINZ, to secure the help they are entitled to receive. In addition, a recent report has revealed that MSD is failing to pay 43% of beneficiaries the correct amount. The majority are likely to have been underpaid. 𝟥
Of note the Immigration Department’s Cost of Living in NZ Calculator, indicates that for a single person on a living alone NZS payment, living in a rural city, and not paying KiwiSaver, would have a net income of $488.21 per week, the average weekly expenses are $1078.40 – a weekly deficit of $590.19. Little wonder that we see many of our seniors struggling to survive with growing cost-of-living pressures.𝟦
The political parties promises:
- Labour will: Remove GST from fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables. They will not impose a wealth or capital gains tax and earlier they promised to keep the winter energy payment permanently in place.
- National will: Cut tax/adjust income brackets to inflation. They will reverse the Auckland regional fuel tax, the Clean Car Discount (or ‘Ute tax’), the Reserve Bank’s employment mandate, the Income Insurance Scheme (now put on hold by Labour) and fair pay agreements. There does not appear to be any mention of the winter energy payment amongst their policies.
- Act will: Change to a two-tier income tax bracket system; reduce company, trust and top income taxes to 28%, a tax credit for low and middle incomes will be provided, cut public servant numbers and departments and abolish the bright line test entirely. They will also restore interest deductibility on rentals and remove all remaining import tariffs. The winter energy payment will target those most in need. Beneficiaries and over-65s with a community services card would be eligible.
- Green Party will: Replace Jobseeker, Student Allowance and Sole Parent Support with a $385 per week “income guarantee” for anyone out of work plus $135 for sole parents, a $10k tax-free bracket and they will bring in a 2.5% tax on net wealth above $2m. The minimum wage will be in line with inflation. 𝟧 The wealth tax take is intended to pay for the increased social expenditure.
If you become the Government or part thereof what is your party’s policy to ensure that all New Zealanders receive equitable healthcare when they need it?
Grey Power policy is to lobby to improve equitable access to public health services New Zealand-wide.
Research information obtained from older people who have approached Grey Power discloses that this cohort appears to be the forgotten group when healthcare equity and government policy is discussed.
The issues that are mentioned most frequently are that sick and injured New Zealanders are waiting hours in emergency departments, sit for months on surgical wait lists, wait weeks to obtain a GP appointment and may receive inadequate home support even though the WHO and other agencies, including NZ government policy is to assist older people to live in their own homes as long as possible.
Grey Power asked that all political parties take our concerns regarding older people’s access to healthcare as outlined above very seriously and if they become part of the next
government to set in place policies which will ensure that no older person suffers unnecessarily because of inadequate healthcare, which is sometimes underpinned by ageist attitudes.
Although equity can be understood in different ways the Grey Power Federation subscribes to the previous Ministry of Health’s definition that ‘‘In Aotearoa New Zealand, people have differences in health that are not only avoidable but unfair and unjust. Equity recognises different people with different levels of advantage require different approaches and resources to get equitable health outcomes.” 𝟨
Grey Power also believes that “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.” 𝟩
And we look forward to the achievement of the 2019 Ministry of Health’s ‘Vision for the Future’ that: “We will be successful when we have a system that delivers the same high-quality health outcomes and wellness for all people to reach their full potential no matter where they live, what they have or who they are.” 𝟪
The political parties promises:
- Labour will: Labour’s health policy has not been announced in time for inclusion in this publication.
- National will: Fund $4500 a year for first five years of nurse and midwife student loans if they remain in NZ. They will offer an automatic six-month temporary visa for qualified overseas nurses and midwives and their family without needing a job, and provide $10,000 grants to up to 1000 overseas nurses and midwives a year. Also, they will set up a third medical school at Waikato University, ringfence $70m a year for Pharmac cancer treatments, which will be funded by reimposing $5 prescriptions for all but superannuitants and those on low incomes. Breast cancer screening funding will be extended to 74 years of age.
- Act will: Set up an independent review of Pharmac, provide subsidies for common elective surgeries to be carried out in private hospitals, introduce a more efficient qualification evaluation of migrants and permit the Health Minister to override regulatory decisions and introduce a physician assistant system to work with general practitioners.
- Green Party will: Provide free dental care for all, review ACC including extending cover to non-accidental and mental injuries, change funding to pay-as-you-go with levies on employers and employees and add risk-based levies and ban ACC investment into harmful products/services They will double the disability allowance and co-design accessibility legislation. Phasing out alcohol advertising and sport sponsorship, regulating vaping products to reduce the number of new users and increasing Pharmac funding are promised as is healthy air ventilation standards and funding for retrofits to meet them. Universal free mental health services and improvement to ADHD, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia, and eating disorder services will also occur. 𝟫 Green’s Seniors’ policy notes that they will increase pay for people working in aged care and address staffing shortages and provide integrated community health services to support the wellbeing of kaumātua. They will also create & resource a long-term strategy to improve dementia treatment and care services.
If you become the Government or part thereof, how would you address the major issue of the lack of affordable suitable accommodation for older people?
Grey Power policy is to promote the availability of a range of quality, affordable homes and housing units that are suitable for older people to rent or purchase.
Grey Power asked that all political parties take our concerns regarding older people’s access to affordable, suitable accommodation as outlined above very seriously and if they become part of the next government to set in place policies which will ensure that no older person suffers unnecessarily because of inadequate accommodation which is sometimes underpinned by ageist attitudes, and that they will consider:
– Providing small, high quality, low maintenance housing units suitable for older residents outside retirement villages and the limited number of community housing providers.
– Including the views, needs and concerns of older New Zealanders when formulating government housing policies;
– Encouraging councils to build and retain their pensioner housing;
– Encouraging local communities to provide emergency housing available for seniors who are being abused, neglected, or suffering mental or physical health problems. (Seniors do not qualify for Women’s Refuge nor can they gain priority at HNZ and will generally be behind the queue of families waiting for housing);
– Encouraging accommodation providers to supply suitable options for downsizing.
– Requesting central and local governments to set up voluntary low-cost insulation schemes to ensure rented properties provide warm dry home for our older people and that the maintenance of the standard of insulation and its impact on health outcomes should monitored carefully.
– Urgently review and increase the accommodation supplement maximum rates to better reflect the increases in median rental rates over the past 5 years and provide an annual review and adjustment, urgently increase the cash asset level for the accommodation supplement eligibility to match the level allowed for those in social housing and index the annual winter energy payment by the cost of living increase each year.
NB: It is useful to understand quality, affordable housing as “…reasonably adequate in standard and location … and does not cost so much that a household is unlikely to be able to meet other basic needs on a sustainable basis.” (The Australian National Affordable Housing Summit Group) 10
The political parties promises:
- Labour will: Policy has not been announced in time for inclusion in this publication but during our discussions with the Minister of Seniors she said renting with the asset limit of $8100 and the winter energy rate have not increased even though inflation had and this should be addressed.
- National will: Permit councils to opt out of the medium-density law. They will fund $1b to encourage councils to deliver housing. Chris Bishop, National’s Housing spokesperson told Grey Power that his party’s ultimate aim was to make housing affordable to all with lower rents and provide more social housing. He also outlined the difficulties in getting bridging finance when building to downsize whilst the present home was being sold.
They would fund more private and government building and community services like the Salvation Army would receive more funding as well. They would make it easier to be a landlord and restore rental rebates to the property owner.
- Act will: Share half of GST revenue with councils that build new housing and replace existing building regulations with a compulsory 30-year building insurance. The ACT leader and deputy leader both spoke of the necessity to revise the current building and development restrictions to allow more houses to be built to reduce mortgages and rents. The accommodation supplement ceiling of $8100 has not been increased even though rents had continued to increase and the ACT leader agreed that $8100 was probably too low and felt people should have an operating allowance recognising the need for people to build or own their own property.
- Green Party will: Limit annual rent increases to three percent, implement a rental WOFs system, scale up Kāinga Ora and Māori-led housing, expand on shared equity, progressive home ownership and low-interest government loan schemes. They will underwrite community housing, and government mortgage refinancing for new homeowners at risk of hardship. Bonuses for tall, energy-efficient and accessible buildings will be implemented and a value-uplift levy on land near public transport hubs, protections for urban trees and greenbelts, and a requirement that new housing be accessible under building code are all part of the Green’s election policy. Will review Retirement Villages Act, and require retirement villages to keep 25 percent of housing available for affordable rental units for seniors. Green’s Senior’s policy statement is to ensure public and community housing provides for the needs of senior citizens, and increase funding for papakāinga housing for kaumātua.
If your party becomes the Government or part thereof, how would you give certainty to current and future retirees that NZ Super and supplementary benefits will ensure that they can live in dignity during retirement?
Grey Power’s policy/position is to maintain eligibility to a universal New Zealand (NZS) income in retirement, for eligibility for entitlement to NZS to remain at age 65, to continue to calculate annual NZS Adjustments as is done currently, for NZS not to be means tested, to increase support for those dependent on NZS alone struggling to meet living costs, and unable to enjoy a dignified retirement, to increase national long-term financial resilience with KiwiSaver improvements and to maintain the NZ Super Fund as buffer for future increases in NZS costs as a percentage of GDP. And we ask all political parties to take Grey Power’s concerns seriously and include them in their policies.
Grey Power also believes NZS in its current settings is fiscally sustainable. Research discloses that the non-sustainability of New Zealand superannuation is open to challenge. As an example, Treasury expects that by 2060 NZS would cost a net 7.1% of GDP. However, this is lower than the average cost of public pensions in the OECD in 2011 which was a net 7.3%. There is no fiscal imperative to change NZS.
Grey Power asked along with questions about our policy stance that they also consider that NZS adjustments be applied at 6 monthly periods and that a multiparty agreement occur on superannuation instead of its current status as a political football but the main focus of the four political parties appears to be the age that people can receive superannuation payments, i.e., the sustainability debate, although all seemed to support it as a universal payment.
The political parties promises:
- Labour will: Not change the current superannuation age. Will continue govt contributions to the NZ Super fund.
- National will: Gradually increase the age for receipt of superannuation from 65-67 years old with adjustments not starting until 2044.
- ACT will: Gradually increase the NZ Super age to 67, at a rate of two months per year from fiscal year 2023/24. Once the age reached 67, it would be indexed to life expectancy, ensuring that each generation was entitled to same period on the pension as previous generations. It will keep Super as a universal payment and index superannuation to inflation. This will be funded by cutting back on the number of bureaucrats. De-link the KiwiSaver withdrawal age from the Super age.
- Green Party will: Keep NZ Super at 65+ with $16 a week more and maintain it as universal payment
Grey Power New Zealand Federation Inc. is a completely non-party political independent voluntary organisation. We do not support particular candidates or parties, and we do not tell you who to vote for.
However, we do believe in providing information about where the parties stand on the election issues, in comparison to the four Grey Power policies discussed. And within most of the four main political party policies preceding the 2023 election there are aspects of Grey Power policy which makes things far from clear-cut as far as comparisons go. Nevertheless, we hope the information is of interest.
We would also point out that since we started writing this paper several other political parties have almost or actually reached the 5 percent threshold to have representation in parliament, but time precluded any contact with them.
1. (https://www.stats.govt.nz/news/increase-in-cost-of-living-reaches-new-high), (https://www.stats.govt.nz/news/rising-cost-of-housing-and-food-prices-leads-to-higher-inflation)