The big story of the election campaign this week has been the release of Labour’s savings and retirement policy package. Amongst other things, a Labour Government would gradually increase the retirement age to 67 from its current 65 by 2033. There is little doubt that National Superannuation in its current form is economically unsustainable and programmes such as the Cullen Fund and Kiwisaver have been designed to address this issue. What Labour have done is break an uneasy silence by the two main parties over the age of retirement. Prior to this week, it had been considered an issue that, if openly addressed, would amount to political suicide for we here in Aotearoa/New Zealand believe in our right to retire at a decent age and with decent support from the Government.
What then to make of this policy? From a purely economic standpoint it will prove to be beneficial to New Zealand over the long run. New Zealanders are living longer, with the current life expectancy a shade under 80 years. However, from a Māori perspective, Labour’s proposal is disgraceful, discriminatory, and totally negligent of the circumstances of Māori, most especially of Māori men.
Why? Because while it may be true that the current life expectancy of people living in New Zealand is about 80 years, the life expectancy of Māori is much less. The average life expectancy of a Māori wahine is 75 years, compared to 83 for a Pākehā wahine. Thus, a Pākehā wahine is rewarded with, on average, 16 years of superannuation benefits under Labour’s proposal, whereas a Māori wahine receives, on average, 8 years. The biggest discrepancy, however, lies with Māori Tāne. A Tāne Pākehā, with a life expectancy of 79 years, will be rewarded with an average 12 years of retirement. A Tāne Māori, with a life expectancy of 70 years will only have, on average, 3 years of retirement.
Let that sink in. Three Years.
With most Māori men entering the workforce immediately on completion of high school, their “reward” for 50 years of work, paying taxes and supporting their whānau, is 3 years of retirement. That is what a retirement age of 67 means for Māori men. The sad reality is that a large percentage of Māori men will never even reach the age of 67 whereby they can retire with all the honour and dignity that should be afforded to them. Labour’s policy, while being completely blind to race, serves to discriminate against and denigrate Māori men. Our lives are simply not as valuable as that of a Pākeha.
We need a new approach to superannuation and retirement which takes into account the wide disparity of life expectancy between male and female, Māori and Pākeha. One approach is to set the retirement age at 85% of the life expectancy for your gender and race, with a maximum retirement age of 70 years. Under this approach, a Māori man would be entitled to retire at the age of 60, providing an average of 10 years of retirement to enjoy. A Pākeha man would be entitled to retire at 67, providing an average of 12 years of retirement. A Māori female would be entitled to retire at 64 and a Pākehā female at 67.
Another possible approach designed to ensure fairness between Māori and Pākeha, would be to implement a two-phased retirement system. Any person could elect to retire from the age of 60 with partial superannuation being paid by the Government, supplemented by the person’s Kiwisaver funds. At 70, full Government superannuation would kick in.
Ultimately, however, the problem is not solely the retirement age. It is clear that there are major shortcomings in the health of Māori men. To have Māori men die at such a young age in comparison to other New Zealanders should be a cause of national shame. Yet, to date, not one political party has come out and set forward policy to improve the health of Māori men. The situation is not that great for our Wahine either, dying on average 8 years earlier than Pākeha wahine.
These ideas should not be seen as fully costed and argued retirement proposals, they are merely designed to highlight the need for fresh thinking in this area. Fresh thinking is needed in order to ensure that the work and contribution of Māori men is recognised with a decent and honourable retirement period. As it stands, Labour has this week told Māori men that they do not value our contribution to society and do not believe that we are entitled to the dignity of retirement.