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Changes urged to make Super equitable for Māori, Pasifika

An iwi leader who has also been on the Super Fund Board wants to see a more coordinated approach to tackling the inequalities faced by Māori and Pasifika communities in retirement.

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On the Super Fund Board, Tama Potaka says Māori and Pasifika superannuants are few and far between. Source: Q+A

Tama Potaka, the head of Ngāi Tai Ki Tāmaki, told Q+A’s Our Future/Tō tātou anamata special on superannuation that the system is equal, in the sense that “if you make it to 65 you get the pension” but that as it stands, “its producing inequitable outcomes”.

Māori make up more than 15 per cent of New Zealand’s population, but just 5.6 per cent of superannuants are Māori. Even fewer Pasifika receive the pension, at just 2.6 per cent. 

Potaka believes that a holistic approach to the problem is needed, arguing that work needs to be done in health, housing, education and other policy areas as part of an overall plan.

“I think you do get into whack-a-mole territory though saying ‘there’s a housing problem, let’s fix it’, ‘oh, there’s a health problem, let’s fix it” and all these things are dials on a turntable and you’ve got to get the right settings across health, education, housing, superannuation and a few other things.“

He wants to see more attention paid to Māori and Pasifika under the age of 24, saying they are the generation who will have to earn the money which funds benefits for future retirees.

“Unless we invest in health, education, business and enterprise for young Māori and Pasifika those problems are going to amplify significantly.”

While many countries are raising the age of eligibility to account for the surge of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, David Marshall from Grey Power says that will only increase the inequality.

He says those disadvantaged are “women on their own, Māori, Pasifika and those who are in occupations particularly outside – construction workers, builders et cetera".

"They’re had it by the time they’re 65, even before that.”

Retirement commissioner Jane Wrightson says women are reaching 65 without sufficient resources to live with dignity. She says that problem is only going to grow.

“Within the next 10 or 20 years people are going to arrive at pension age without a mortgage paid off and certainly without ... a nice little comfortable council flat. So they’re going to have to provide for themselves for longer.”

Brad Olsen, an economist, says if the problem is that Super isn’t enough money to cover rents, the solution is not to raise the benefit.

“Get housing right and leave Super alone ... treating the cause not the symptom is going to be important. If the issue is people can’t afford housing, fix housing.”

He says increasing student allowances by $50 just saw rents for students go up a similar amount, leaving students no better off.

Wrightson argued supplementing Super with other schemes won’t necessarily correct the imbalance, and points out the KiwiSaver has its own inequities.

“Women do not fare as well in KiwiSaver because of the time out of the workforce and because of the gender pay gap.”

Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni says KiwiSaver relies on people being employed, which rules out a lot of the disabled community.

“The ability to save through KiwiSaver, given the much higher unemployment rate for disabled people, you know, there are equity issues there. Reaching the age of 65, you know there are equity issues there.”

Brad Olsen says the discrepancy in benefit levels between superannuants and disabled New Zealanders starts long before they turn 65.

“We don’t treat disabled people equally already and that persists into retirement age … the Super is not the issue that is going to solve that, its things before it that we need to get right.”

You can watch Q+A’s Our Future/Tō tātou anamata special on superannuation from Sunday at 9am on TVNZ 1, on TVNZ OnDemand and 1NEWS.co.nz.