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NZ Super Is A Taonga, Not A Burden: Retirement Commissioner Seeks Political Accord

The Retirement Commissioner has (today) released a paper outlining various policy options and considerations for NZ Super – but maintains keeping the age of eligibility at 65 is the best one for now.

The simplicity of NZ Super’s design is internationally envied and New Zealand’s expenditure on its pension is relatively low compared to other OECD countries. Current and future recipients say that they want to see its broad eligibility maintained without means-testing.

Retirement Commissioner Jane Wrightson says NZ Super is a taonga that protects New Zealanders from poverty in old age.

“Claims that NZ Super is unaffordable are not supported by independent, publicly accessible analysis,” she says.

“NZ Super is a vital part of the retirement income system and needs to be fair, stable, and affordable for current and future generations. Tomorrow’s pensioners will not be in the same position as today’s. We need a way for politicians to take a longer-term, and purposeful approach, so the right decisions are made.

“There needs to be evidence-based discussion about the policy options and the impacts of any change. This paper, along with the Super Summit being held on 21 March, in Wellington, aims to contribute to that discussion and to inform the public and policymakers.”

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The Retirement Commissioner says a long-term political accord on the retirement income system is essential to focus on providing certainty for future generations of retirees and to encourage sound decision-making.

“A political accord, and the process to reach it, would help politicians balance their decision-making and prevent piecemeal policy change.

“At the very least, the number of parties who have made a political commitment under the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income Act 2001 could be expanded. This would signal their ongoing commitment to current policy settings and impose special obligations on the Government to disclose whether consultation has taken place with other listed parties and the results of the consultation.”

The paper provides a comprehensive overview of NZ Super and outlines, only if fiscal savings become essential, some options and considerations. Some of these include:

  • income-testing is a fairer way to reduce expenditure on NZ Super compared to raising the age of eligibility, so NZ Super would not be paid to those who continue to earn significant income (perhaps twice the median income for a period after 65, or while significant income is being earned).
  • enhancements to KiwiSaver should also be simultaneously considered with any NZ Super change, to assist future retirees to maximise their private savings.
  • securing a long-term cross-party political accord on the retirement income system would best serve citizens. This should include regular and independent scheduled reviews, say every nine years, so successive governments have robust, transparent data available to them.

This would provide stability and certainty for future generations of retirees. For now, the Retirement Commissioner says the simplest position is for the age of eligibility for NZ Super to remain unchanged.

“Current and projected expenditure does not represent an internationally high proportion of GDP and age 65 is not relatively low compared to our peers.

“Any change to the age of eligibility would disproportionately disadvantage manual workers, carers and those they care for, and those with poor health, due to differences in savings, wealth and ability to remain in paid work after the age of 65. Women, Māori, and Pacific Peoples are overrepresented in those groups.

“The extra support needed to support some people through to a later age of eligibility would reduce fiscal savings from raising the age. Political support for a stable long-term system is crucial.”

The full paper is available on the Te Ara Ahunga Ora Retirement Commission website at TAAO-RRIP-NZ-Super-issues-paper.pdf (

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