Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Australian Government helps ease pressure on pensioners

Australia’s age pensioners have received a total of $2.5 billion through Economic Security Strategy payments as part of the Australian Government’s response to the global financial crisis.

In December last year, the Government made lump sum payments of $1400 to singles and $2100 to couples to provide a helping hand during economic hard times, as part of the $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy.

Two million age pensioners received the payments. More than 270,000 holders of Commonwealth Seniors Health Card also benefited with payments totalling $322.5 million.

The Australian Government understands that the global financial crisis is placing increasing pressure on household budgets already stretched by the rising cost of living.

The Australian Government has taken decisive action to help pensioners struggling to make ends meet in the face of the global economic crisis.

The Economic Security Strategy payments are one of a range of measures the Government has taken to support pensioners.

During December, age pensioners received their fourth instalment payment of the increased Utilities Allowance, now $128.50 each quarter, or $514 a year.

The Australian Government increased the Utilities Allowance in March last year, delivering on an election commitment to help pensioners make ends meet.

In October, the Government instructed Centrelink to update the value of pensioners’ listed securities and managed investments, following significant changes on financial markets.

As a result around 370,000 people received an average increase of $4 a fortnight and, in some cases, the increase was more than $100 per fortnight.

In November we lowered the social security deeming rates by 1 per cent. Deeming rates are under ongoing review.

Self-funded retirees and pensioners have seen their assets and income diminished by the losses on the share market and in superannuation accounts.

As a result the numbers of people successfully applying for the Age Pension rose by 50 per cent at the end of last year-from about 2000 a week in October to 3000 a week in December.

Centrelink has acted quickly to provide people with changed income and asset valuations with access to a pension payment.

The reduction in the assets and income of pensioners has been reflected in an increase in the number of older Australians going on to the maximum rate pension.

The Economic Security Strategy delivered $4.8 billion in payments to pensioners, carers and people with disability, building on the $7.5 billion in support provided in the Government’s first budget, bringing new spending on pensioners to $12.3 billion since the last election.

The Economic Security Strategy payments to pensioners are a down payment on our pension reforms for the future. Long term pension reform will be delivered in the 2009-10 Budget.