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Pensioners’ payments reduced amid anger over politicians’ entitlements

Judith Daley is one of the unlucky ones. Ms Daley, 72, will lose her part pension and health benefits under changes to the aged pension introduced on January 1.

“I have lost the health benefits that come with the age pension card,” Ms Daley said. “I don’t quite know at this stage what that means. I have serious ongoing health issues and they will be degenerative as I age.”

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Welfare sector welcomes pension changes

ACOSS welcomes the government’s expected budget back down on the aged pension, but has concerns over childcare.

The Sydney retiree was on a small part pension and received $230 a fortnight but has lost this as part of the federal government’s change to the assets threshold.

“I seem to have approximately $34,000 more than the cut-off for an aged person, so I have lost 100 per cent of the part-pension fund.”

She is angry about the loss of health benefits and the lack of detail about the federal government’s Low Income Health Care Card.

“As an aged pensioner I got significant discounts on prescribed medications and most GPs are bulk billed,” Ms Daley said. “I don’t know what the new Low Income Health Care Card is going to involve, because I haven’t received any information.”

Amid simmering anger over politicians’ entitlements scandals and the government’s Centrelink debt clawback, about 327,000 pensioners have had their pension reduced, or cut altogether, this week and last.

The federal government insists its pension reforms, which it passed last year with the support of the Greens, are necessary to secure the long-term viability of the pension.

Treasurer Scott Morrison told 2GB radio in Sydney last month the cuts would bring in “around $1 billion a year” in savings, and the changes were necessary to keep the pension sustainable.

“When you are faced with an ageing population, let’s not forget the pensions that are paid out today are paid for by today’s taxpayers – the people who are paying taxes today,” he said.

But pensioners losing payments face a double whammy; once they lose their pension card they will also be stripped of a range of state-based pensioner discounts, including reduced council rates.

In a statement, Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the changes “only affect those with significant levels of assets other than the family home and who receive a part-pension”.

“The family home remains exempted from the assets test and the changes have been designed so that they only impact pensioners with significant assets outside the family home.”

Under changes introduced in the last budget, which came into effect on January 1, pensioners who own assets above increased thresholds – not including the family home – may receive a reduced fortnightly pension rate.

Single homeowners can have $250,000 in assets, not including their home, before their pension rate is reduced, while homeowner couples can own up to $575,000 in assets before their pension rate is cut.

After that threshold is reached, pensioners will lose $3 for every $1000 they own over the limit, up from $1.50.

The changes will leave about 171,000 pensioners better off; on average $30 a fortnight.

But Labor and the unions have come out swinging against the changes, which will see about 236,000 pensioners lose part of their payments, and another 91,000 lose their pension entirely.

They come into effect amid protracted complaints about the government’s handling of the “clawback” of $4.5 billion in supposed debts, with almost 170,000 people served with notices that they owe Centrelink money. It has been estimated that at least one in five of those contacted did not owe a debt.

ACTU assistant secretary Scott Connelly said the government could look elsewhere for cuts, pointing to its proposed corporate tax cuts, which Treasury has estimated will cost the budget at least $48.2 billion over 10 years.

“The politicians that have made this choice are so far disconnected, as we’ve seen in recent days,” Mr Connelly said. “We don’t accept that this is the right decision for the times.”

Council On The Ageing chief executive Ian Yates said there were mixed views on the reduction among members.

“We’ve never advocated a reduction in the pension, but at the time we said this is the least worst of the options around,” Mr Yates said.

Opposition families spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said pensioners were now aware of the “real” impact of the pension cuts. “Mr Turnbull just doesn’t get fairness. He’s taking money off pensioners and at the same time he’s trying to give big businesses and the banks a $50 billion handout.”

Ms Daley said that it was “no wonder people are disillusioned and fed up”, citing the furore surrounding Health Minister Sussan Ley’s travel expenses.

“The double dealing is astonishing,” she said. “The only sure thing that comes out of it is that the general public is disadvantaged. We can’t point to anywhere that the general public have been advantaged in one of these things.”

Article source: http://watoday.com.au/nsw/aged-pension-changes-cut-deep-for-some-20170112-gtq6em.html