Australia would be better off if workers would die sooner. That seems to be the consensus of the country’s elite. But two reports released in November concluded that, given that older Australians can’t simply be killed off, the solution to the “problem” of increased life expectancy is for most of us to work harder and longer.
The Productivity Commission and Grattan Institute reports each recommended lifting to 70 the age at which people can access the age pension and expanding the GST to include fresh food, health and education. They also propose to force pensioners to mortgage or hand over the equity in their homes to help cover aged care costs.
The Productivity Commission predicts that lifting the eligibility age of the pension will allow the government to pocket $150 billion over 50 years and increase the workforce participation rate of older workers from 3 percent to 10 percent.
In early November, the Coalition axed government contributions to the superannuation funds of workers earning less than $37,000 a year.
At the same time, it announced it was scrapping a proposed tax on the funds of superannuants earning more than $100,000 a year from their funds. The Treasury’s own figures show that, in 2012-13, just under a third of the value of all available tax concessions went to the top 10 percent of superannuation holders.
Both the Productivity Commission and Grattan Institute reports cite increased expenditure on health and the age pension as the main pressure on the budget. The Grattan Institute report claims to have examined all “realistic reforms” that would contribute $2 billion a year or more to the federal budget.
What about abolishing subsidies to the wealthiest 10 percent of superannuants? Ditching these handouts would save $15 billion a year. Removing tax loopholes like negative gearing would save billions more.
What’s more, absent from most commentary is any acknowledgement that rich people live longer than workers. A Sydney University study, “Death, Dollars and Degrees”, in 2011 showed that the richest 20 percent of the population live on average six years longer than the poorest 20 percent.
Criticising a similar proposal in the US, Nobel laureate Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times: “[Y]ou’re going to tell janitors to work until they’re 70 because lawyers are living longer than ever.”