Age Pensions (AP) and wage suppression – what’s going on?

The following wing by Don Sutherland, who is prominent in In the Living Incomes for Everyone (LIFE) campaign is the result of an investigation into what has happened to Australia’s age pension since 2012. It shows with clarity that it has been suppressed throwing a great many below the rate of poverty. The findings are to lead to a new campaign to increase the age pension to a level that provides a decent standard of living. This was first published in website of Fair Go For Pensioners (26 September 2022). This organisation has been collaborating with Don in this work.


Coming up, September 20, age pensioners will receive an increase in their AP equal to the CPI, that is 6.1 percent. About
2.6 million people receive the AP, 62 percent of 65’s and over. About 39% of 65s and over receive the full AP and 24 percent are on the part AP. Government pretends that this is their decision and more than any before, but it still means that
many pensioners are living in extreme financial hardship, and here is why.

This is the first in a series that explains how the age pension increases are calculated, why many live in financial
hardship, and why more, especially single pensioners, are at the poverty line.

Here is one snapshot of what is happening to the pension relative to the poverty line. The Maximum basic rate (orange line) is the most relevant measure.
How the new pension rate is worked out each 6 months

The AP is adjusted on March 20 and September 20 each year. The 2 relevant measures are:

• The CPI (the well-known cost of living index,) and
• The PBCLI (Pension Beneficiary Cost of Living Index), benchmarked against Male Total Average Weekly
Earnings (MTAWE).
Services Australia (SA), a Commonwealth Government department manages the process as required by law.
• First, the ABS provide the data: the CPI, the PBLCI, and the MTAWE.
• Second, whichever is the highest – the CPI or the PBLCI – will be used in the first instance to set any

However, if the wage increase is higher than the cost-of-living indexes, the pension must be brought up as follows:

• For combined couples – 41.76 percent of MTAWE, and
• For Singles – 27.7 percent of MTAWE.

In September 2020, at the height of the pandemic, falls in the CPI and the PBLCI of about 1.9 percent meant there was
no increase in the pension for September 2020. As required, the rate was not reduced, but remained the same.
MTAWE increased by 2 percent, but this increase was not provided to pensioners.
Instead, pensioners were given two one off $750 Economic Support Payments during 2020 as part of the
Government’s COVID 19 response packages – less than $3 per week.

The Age Pension – Wages Connection

As the pension benchmark, MTWAE shows wages for all workers, including part time and casualized workers
(willing and forced), and junior rates. The more workers who are on lower and more fragile rates, the more the
downward trend will be, and that means the pension benchmark will be lower. Since 2009 (the start of the current
Age Pension system) MTAWE has been falling relative to Male Full Time Adult Ordinary Time Earnings. For
pensioners the unions’ struggles to lift wages is entirely relevant to their living standards.

The current state of play
The last increase was in March this year. The current normal rates are:
Per fortnightSingleCouple eachCouple combinedCouple apart due to ill health
Maximum basic rate$900.80$679.00$1358$900.80
Maximum Pension Supplement$72.70$54.80$109.60$72.70
Energy Supplement$14.10$10.60$21.20$14.10

In March 2021

• The single pension (plus Pension and Energy Supplements) is $10pw below the poverty line.
• For couples it is $2 below.
• Pensioners who rent are more likely to be in poverty.

MTAWE benchmark is to ensure “pensioners maintain a certain standard of living, relative to the rest of the

We suggest the system is not working or, that a general fall in the standard of living for waged
workers is now impacting on age pensioners.

Our next steps

• An on-line seminar with pensioners and their organisations who wish to discuss these issues.
• To clarify our demands for a better deal for pensioners in time for the May 2023 federal budget.
• To meet with senior ACTU and/or key union officials to discuss the impact of wages suppression and
insecure work on the age pension.
• To build support for our general aim: restore and maintain the value of the age pension
comfortably above the poverty line.


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