Don’t waste sympathy on self-funded retirees … like me
You probably haven’t noticed, but I never write about self-funded retirees without adding a pejorative adjective – “so-called” or, better, “self-proclaimed”. As worthy causes go, they’re at the top of their own list, but not high on mine.
One day, a reader took me to task: “Why are you so down on self-funded retirees, Ross, when from what I can see, you’ll be one yourself when you retire?”
Ahem, ah, yes, well… Some explaining to do. If self-funded means you’re so well-off you couldn’t possibly meet the means test to be eligible for the age pension then, yes, I’ll be self-funded. One thing I don’t have to look forward to is waiting on the phone for hours for help from those lovely souls at Centrelink.
In my experience, no one ever tells you they’re self-funded without expecting you to give them a medal. While other people have led spendthrift lives and now expect the taxpayer to support them in old age, I worked hard and saved my pennies, and now I’m getting nothing from the government.
What a good citizen I am. If only other people could be as self-sacrificing as I am. And, by the way, while we’re talking money, since it’s a bit of a struggle without the pension, I was wondering if the government could manage to give me a little something by way of appreciation. Say, a special tax offset for seniors, or easier access to a healthcare card?
What gets me about all this is that it’s just the wrong way round. It’s not the supposedly self-funded who are doing the taxpayer a favour, it’s the pensioners who retire without much in the way of super.
Why’s that? Because so much of any superannuation balance comes not from what you saved, but from the accumulated tax breaks you were given. I guess what many people don’t realise is that you get compound interest not just on what you contributed, but also on the concessions you received, year after year.
Many people retire with quite modest superannuation payouts, which do little to reduce their eligibility for the age pension. According to the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, the median balance for people aged 60 to 64 is less than $360,000 for men and less than $290,000 for women.
But people who retire with a super balance big enough to extinguish all or most of their pension eligibility will be getting far more help from the government than someone on the full pension. So, for such people to think of themselves as “self-funded” is delusional.
Consider these figures from Brendan Coates of the Grattan Institute. In 2019-20, the average tax break on earnings received by people with at least $1.6 million in super totalled about $60,000 a year. This was nearly three times the value of the single pension.
It’s not well understood that, whereas the age pension costs the government about $55 billion a year, the annual cost of superannuation tax concessions is almost as large – $52 billion. At the rate we’re going, it won’t be many more years before the super concessions exceed the cost of the pension.
Now perhaps, you understand why, at a time when so many demands are being made on the budget, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Treasurer Jim Chalmers have decided to make the super tax breaks less generous for the 0.5 per cent of people with a super balance exceeding $3 million.
According to Coates’ calculations, this will free up about $1 billion a year for use in more deserving causes – decent aged care, for instance. Think about it. Balances of more than $3 million – I couldn’t spend that much money before I died if I tried. Especially because, the older you get, the less inclined you are to do things that cost a lot of money. You could be living it up at the George V Hotel in Paris, but you don’t feel like it.
According to Coates, nearly 90 per cent of the tax breaks go to the wealthiest 20 per cent of retirees. So, the critics are right to describe super as it presently stands as a taxpayer-funded inheritance scheme for wealthy Australians.
It’s only natural for people to aspire to leave their offspring well provided for. What’s not natural is for you to expect other, less fortunate taxpayers to contribute to your kids’ greater comfort.
The trouble with super is that it’s arse-about. The people who have the highest incomes, and thus the greatest ability to save, are given the greatest assistance, while the people with the least ability to save are given little or no help.
Oh, perhaps I should have mentioned it. If these appalling Labor people go ahead with lopping the tall poppies of superannuation, they’ll be aiming their scythe directly at me. Please write to the treasurer and say how terribly unfair this would be.
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Source: Thanks smh.com