Going through my paper mountain recently, in the interests of decluttering, I found a free newsletter called “Women Today”, dated April 1977. Apart from the presentation – clearly back in the Gestetner age, when copies were churned by hand and ink was unevenly spread – the content gave a picture of retirement and retirement income support at the time. In 1977 National Superannuation (NS) started up, a taxable universal pension at age 60. A couple received 80% of the average wage and a single person 60% of the married pension. Within a year NS had become the most expensive item in the government budget and the cause of a large overseas borrowing programme.
“Women Today” recorded that this meant a couple would receive $76 a week gross and a single person $49. This meant an increase of $7.26 and $3.59, respectively, compared to the earlier Age Benefit. However, all was not rosy. The telephone and television concessions for older people were cut when weekly incomes reached $88 for couples and $63 for single people. One example suggested that a married couple who had $8 a week interest on their savings were being penalised as this meant they would lose their concessions. NAC (remember the domestic airline?) 30% “Golden Age” concessions, which were means tested (not sure how) were put back to age 65. Another drawback was that pensioners now had to file income tax returns because NS was taxable whereas the Age Benefit was not. The newsletter contains complaints that pensioners without extra income, especially single women, would not benefit from the new scheme. “These are people who have worked all their lives for very low wages, or widows who have brought up families only to be thrown on the financial scrap heap when their services to society are ended.” For sure, we now have very low rates of pensioner poverty in New Zealand, but there is still a minority who find government income support inadequate.
The history of retirement income policy since 1979 has been cutting back on the original terms of NS. Pension levels have varied in relation to wages; there have been attempts at targeting, through income tests; and the age of eligibility was raised from 60 to 65 in the years leading up to 2001, taking it back to where it was set in 1898. Suggestions of raising the “pension age” have been raised regularly ever since – we await developments given recent political change.
Another sign of the times was the assumption that women were married and probably did not have full-time jobs or careers. “Mrs Cameron” who had had six children, one of whom was still at Polytechnic, and an elderly mother who was demanding attention, now also had a husband, compulsorily retired at age 60. Leaving work had been a traumatic event for him but also caused some conflict and resentment at home. Mrs C “is making a conscious effort to involve her husband in the household’s decision-making process and yet at the same time being concerned that these matters are too trivial for his interest.”
In another example, both partners had left paid work. Again there was need for role adjustment. “When he started chiding me about things domestic, I told him I had managed the house for 40 years and I didn’t think it was necessary for him to take over now.”
A cartoon in the newsletter shows an unshaven older man stretched out on a reclining chair watching television, with a good supply of beer by his side. He is saying “Remember when I used to think I would age with dignity.”
These examples are put forward to show the need for retirement planning. This is still not yet as widespread as it ought to be, and certainly needs to take into account the needs of both partners.
An initiative which was well ahead of its time in “Women Today” was a call for retired people to become involved in early childhood education. Several Playcentres in Wellington were recorded as encouraging senior citizens’ clubs to visit, to contribute their time with the children and to help repair equipment. “Perhaps a short time reading books, or sitting talking to a small group of children, or just sitting, could be a worthwhile experience for a retired person with free time?”
“In Paekakariki, for example, they have just appointed their first Honorary Grandmother”.
It sounds like a win-win situation to me, and one which still needs some encouragement.