Benevolent Society advocacy campaigner Joel Pringle

Government action needed now to fix pension poverty

FIXING the problem of over 500,000 older Australians living in poverty is proving difficult for the Benevolent Society team driving the Fix Pension Poverty campaign.

They know an adequate Aged Pension is needed. They also know the Federal Government needs to support free dentistry for people on the Aged Pension, a significant increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance and introducing a new broadband supplement.

Joel Pringle is the advocacy voice of this vital campaign. The passionate changemaker says the Society's drive to focus on the aged pension has been fuelled by its 2016 Adequacy of the Aged Pension in Australia report. "What we heard directly from people was some tough stories," Joel says.

"People were mashing their food to avoid seeing a dentist because they have an ache and dental costs are the highest out-of-pocket costs in the Australian health system. We heard from people who are turning off hot water systems in summer because 'we don't need hot water in summer; it's warm enough and we can shave a few bucks off to help me pay a few other bills'.

"We know for some people, they can have a comfortable life living on the Aged Pension, if you own your own home and you have health costs, if you are a couple. There is a disproportionate number of these things which weigh upon old women."

The Society took the report outcomes to a conversation with the then Federal Government's minister of social services Christian Porter. "We were told 'yes, we can see what you are saying, but this isn't a priority for us," Joel says. It was then the Society realised a campaign was necessary if the Aged Pension was to become a political priority.

The Fix Pension Poverty campaign was then born, in partnership with other groups, in early 2017. Since then Joel and his team have been working in particular communities - Queensland's Hervey Bay, Maryborough, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Coffs Harbour and eastern Adelaide.

The campaign team have been building their local networks, meeting with service groups to inform them of the campaign and to seek their support within their own community to join the campaign and push for change through the local federal member.

"So far, we have been below the line," Joel laments.

To turn this around Joel wants to meet with the local MPs, alongside members of the local support network, in the targeted areas. He has written to all of them - Capricornia's Michelle Landry, Flynn's Ken O'Dowd, Wide Bay's Llew O'Brien, Hinkler's Keith Pitt, Richmond's Justine Elliot, Page's Kevin Hogan, Cowper's Luke Hartsuyker, Boothby's Nicolle Flint, Hindmarsh's Steve Georganas, and Mayo's Rebekha Sharkie. None have answered his letter, yet.

"There is a lot the government can do; there is a lot people in the community can't do," Joel says. Turning to work to generate enough dollars to live a better life isn't always an option; the jobs aren't necessarily there, skills may be missing or they aren't physically capable of working.

While the May Budget introduced a large number of funding measures for older Australians, Joel says it was disappointing when it came to support for people struggling to live on the Aged Pension. "There was nothing in the budget for them" Joel says. "The biggest indicator of poverty for older Australians is that they are on the pension and don't own their own home. There was no assistance whatsoever for housing, in any shape or form really in the Budget, and no assistance for those people doing it tough."

Joel is now looking to meet with both the sitting and shadow Social Service ministers prior to the forthcoming federal election to ensure they are across the issues under the Fix Pension Poverty campaign, encouraging them to put pension poverty on their agenda.

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