Allan Takes Aim Blog

Problems of Canberra’s age pensioners

Posted on: 24 February 2011


First posted The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 22 February, 2011 

Over Christmas and New Year some state age pensioners in Canberra told me they were finding it impossible to live on their pension. I know also that state age pensioners elsewhere and people in low paying jobs face the same problem. Indeed, that some state age pensioners in Canberra survive is due only to the help given them by charity organisations.

This is a sorry state of affairs in the Capital of a country that takes pride in calling itself a caring society yet has pensioners whose social life is nil because they cannot afford a trip to the theatre or cinema, new clothes or even a small gift for a grandchild’s birthday. It is no less a sorry state of affairs that people in low paying jobs must also rely on charity.

It is also easier said than done for pensioners to follow the urging of Government to get a job, because, according to some pensioners, finding an employer willing to give them one is the hardest job of all.

Some people might disagree with me that Canberra’s state age pensioners are badly off, but they are, and for the following reasons. Many cannot afford the prices being asked for the range of staple foods they are told are essential for a good diet. Although too proud to admit it, sadly in some cases, they exist on starvation rations.  

But why are Canberra’s prices so high as to make them unaffordable to pensioners? This is due to the fact that because Canberrans enjoy the highest average wage levels in Australia, suppliers of food and services charge higher prices, a situation that also applies to housing.

Additionally, because pre-retirement, the wages of people in receipt of state pensions were low, they found amassing a retirement nest egg impossible. Nonetheless, low as their wages were, the drop in income after retirement put them into the same category as the person who tumbles off a cliff top and ends hanging by their fingertips to a ledge on the cliff face. 

Unfortunately for pensioners, the price of goods and utilities such as gas, electricity and petrol remains at cliff top level. Some people might argue that buses are an alternative form of transport for those without a car, but in a city where the car is almost an essential, buses are a poor alternative for Canberra pensioners who once had a car.

And buses too, have limitations. Service frequency is poor, except for people going to and from work, not to mention that some areas have no weekend services. And while pensioners who have attained seventy-five years can apply for a free bus pass, useful as that might be, the period in which most pensioners are likely to be active comes long before they reach the age of seventy-five. 

Taxis, of course, are also an alternative. Unfortunately they are also expensive except in the case of pensioners who qualify for the government issued taxi vouchers that gives a fare discount of fifty per cent. Although this reduces the cost of taking a taxi because the number of vouchers issued to a person is limited in many cases their use is limited to reducing the cost of their weekly shopping trip.

And thankful though they may be for the vouchers there’s more to life than a weekly shopping trip. Taxis are needed to take and bring them back from the hairdresser them and many will need a taxi to go and get medicine.

As for ‘free’ events effectively such events are used by governments of all persuasions as a means of showing them in a favourable light. Many of these celebrations also are staged in places that pensioners can’t get to because of cost, not something that affects those on high average wages who attend even if they don’t change their voting intentions. But who can blame them for not looking a gift horse in the mouth

Perhaps a radical scheme is the only way to redress the inequity faced by age pensioners in Canberra. Why not give Canberra’s age pensioners a National Capital cost of living grant, adjusted quarterly, to help them enjoy a healthier, better and stress free life?

The Chronicle for Canberra’s best community news. Published every Tuesday

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