Poverty amongst senior citizens in New Zealand

Superannuitants caught in the trap of poverty.

Poverty amongst senior citizens in New Zealand

It seems that a goodly number of Superannuitants are cashing in their KiwiSaver and retirement savings and cruising off into the wide blue yonder – a well earned reward for hard work. This would be the ideal, but we are far from it. Poverty amongst senior citizens in New Zealand is in-fact a reality. The retired and poor of New Zealand.

Others are not so lucky. Poverty in retirement with no KiwiSaver or safety net, is becoming a reality. A concerned young Emergency Department doctor noted this year in the Herald that one third of the over-65 year old patients he sees are malnourished. He suggested they may need a budgeting service. My friend Remy (not her real name) is one of them.

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Auckland City Mission research  (NZ Herald, October 17) noted that about half a million people are in food poverty – about 10 per of the population. Cold and hungry, this is the same group who are high users of health services – no prizes for working out why.


Hence, with a 40 year work history and a life time being mindful about money, Remy didn’t expect to be nearing 70 and struggling to survive.  Work hard, save hard, and you’ll be fine – isn’t that how it goes?

But you had better pray that none of the following happens to penalize you and soak up your money: a marriage and property breakup. Primary custody of your children as a sole parent, death of your partner, having a disabled or chronically sick child or partner, a chronic illness for yourself, a severe mental illness in the family, a bad accident to you or your partner or child, mortgage meltdown as house prices rise, working for a basic wage or on a zero hours contract, stock market crash, severe economic downturn, redundancies or long-term unemployment, business failure, theft or fraud by an employee or business partner, your savings lost in a badly managed investment company. 

Remy, a former high school teacher, took on primary care of her two children after a divorce. she’s a two time breast cancer survivor – hardly unusual events.

This year, chronic hunger and cold meant she was unable to fight off the flu. Pneumonia complications took four days in ICU. Add to that in-hospital recovery time that cost the health system upwards of $29,000. A fraction of that would have given her a year’s worth of food, warm clothing and winter heat. This would have likely prevented further admissions.


Recent research notes that a single person on a basic ‘no frills’ existence still needs at least another $115 a week just to survive, and that’s if your home is freehold. Note to politicians – remove the tax on Super and you’re half way there. Cars need repairs and maintenance and replacement. Computers die. Electricity costs inexorably rise. Health costs become more frequent as you age.  God forbid you need major dental work. Many older people have the cost of hearing aids and/or spectacles, which all need regular upgrading. Factor in rent and you need way more. Going to movies, concerts, theatre or restaurants, or even buying petrol to visit friends become out-of-reach luxuries.

Poverty in retirement with no KiwiSaver or safety net

Economic pundits periodically raise the alarm over the unsustainable cost of Superannuation. It’s a crisis, they cry. And it is going to be worse. It will be an unfair burden on the current working population. The country can’t afford it. This cohort of over-65s has been predicted for decades, but not planned for. Two universal superannuation schemes have been established then scuppered by changes of government. Despite the success of the Super Fund’s stellar investment team, the government  in 2009 undermined the fund’s ability to provide for future growth by suspending all payments; this wasn’t reinstated until a change of government in 2017.


Besides always having enjoyed her work, Remy, liked the stimulation of being around young minds. She liked using her skills and experience to contribute to New Zealand’s social economy.

She can’t work now and is malnourished because she doesn’t have a super fund or savings in retirement. Five years ago she could manage, just. But Superannuation and WINZ supplements haven’t kept pace with steeply rising costs in rents, petrol, heating and especially food. Hence Poverty amongst senior citizens in New Zealand exists without a shadow of a doubt. It is a shame that there is poverty in retirement.

No, budgeting doesn’t cut it…

Contributed to The Analyst by: Dara McNaught, a freelance writer and former health and social work manager.

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