Tag Archives: Seniors Card

End of the free ride

June 16, 2014
over 60 always out

The federal government’s decision to slash $1.3 billion over four years from state-based pensioner and seniors concessions has caused an understandable furore. A lot of age and disability pensioners, as well as sole parent and carer pensioners desperately need those concessions on public transport, council rates, energy, water bills, and vehicle registration. But frankly I hope the savage cut spurs state governments into reviewing their concessions policies. A lot of people who get concessions don’t need them. I’m talking about well-off retired and semi-retired seniors who qualify for the Seniors Card upon turning 60. For example, why should I be able to travel all day on public transport in Sydney for $2.50 just because I’ve passed my 60th birthday and work part-time while unemployed people on the Newstart Allowance must pay full fare? And that includes unemployed people in their 50s.

Why should self-funded retirees too young or wealthy to qualify for the Age Pension be subsidised by the taxpayer to get out and about? The aim of the NSW Seniors Card when it was introduced in 1992 was: “to encourage older people to enjoy an active and healthy retirement.” But the 60 to 64 year-old retirees of my acquaintance don’t really need the inducement of the $2.50 all-day transport pass to bus it to the Sydney Writers’ Festival or catch the train to the Opera House – though of course they love their Seniors Card. When they’re not exploring Sydney they’re trekking the 200 km pilgrim’s trail in Spain, climbing to the Everest base camp, or taking a cruise to the Antarctic (a 10 per cent discount for seniors). Hasn’t the government heard that 60 is the new 30? And that quite a few 60-year-olds and indeed 70-year-olds are well off?

In some states, a generous array of concessions on government charges is offered to people once they turn 60 and retire or cut back their work hours to part-time. And no means test or asset test applies. State museums, art galleries,  parks, and zoos offer senior discounts. WA, for example, which prides itself in having a Seniors Card scheme that is “one of the most generous in Australia,” gives seniors, regardless of income or assets, an annual cost of living rebate worth $163 for singles and $245 for couples; as well as free off-peak travel, energy and water bill rebates, and up to 50 per cent off their council rates. They can also get up to $200 for a “personal safety device”. In all, the available state concessions were worth around $1450 a year. Go west, retiree.

Many older people really need these concessions: about 14 per cent of people on the Age Pension are considered to be living in poverty; and much higher proportions of those on the other pensions are also in dire financial straits: disability pensioners (42 per cent in poverty), sole parent pensioners (45 per cent). So there’s no excusing the federal government for ripping away the small amount of help it gives states to run the discount scheme for Pensioner Concession Card holders – the groups most likely to need relief from big bills and transport costs. But the states’ concessions schemes reach beyond these groups.

So far the Queensland state government, reversing its original decision, has decided to make up the $54 million shortfall for the coming financial year though it doesn’t know where the money will come from. And the NSW government has also announced it would make up a $107 million shortfall over the next financial year with a view to further negotiation with the commonwealth. Good luck with that.

It would seem reform and targeting of state concessions is inevitable given the severe constraints on State government budgets. And it would seem sensible to start with eligibility for the Seniors Card. At the least, lifting the eligibility age to 65 to qualify for government concessions is worth considering. This is already the case in Queensland. A separate card in Queensland is issued to eligible 60-64 year-olds to gain seniors discounts from private businesses. What business wants to offer seniors is up to business and doesn’t affect state coffers (though I wish they’d be more generous to the unemployed). State governments could take it a step further and apply a means test for the Seniors Card. Not only might non-pensioners be excluded but even some people on a part Age Pension given generous pension eligibility rules mean couples with super of $1 million can qualify.

It’s hard to know whether these restrictions on the Seniors Card would produce meaningful savings for governments. In NSW transport concessions alone will cost more than $176 million next year but how much goes to subsidising younger or well-off retirees is hard to disentangle. Also, it’s unclear whether governments would be prepared to wear the flak. In NSW, for example, the government regularly uses its Senior Card data base to communicate with 1.2 million over-60s by mail and on-line, a handy PR tool.

The Seniors Card is like a drug – once you try it you’re hooked. But after the high comes the guilt. If the savings to the public purse prove worthwhile, then put an end to our trip.

What’s your view? Do seniors deserve discounts because of their age? Please Comment but this week there may be a delay in your comments going online.

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I hate my Seniors Card

February 25, 2013
pink helmet

I applied for a Seniors Card the other day. I felt I was crossing a threshold but with none of the thrill of other thresholds crossed in life: getting my first period, losing my virginity, becoming a mother. Instead of pride, I had a sinking feeling. At 62 am I really a “senior”? 

The name is all wrong. What boomer can relate to being a “senior”? It reminds me of senior centres where very old people play bingo. I recently cycled 280 km beside the Danube River. I lift weights in the gym. Just a few months ago I was called a worker. But once I cut paid work-hours to less than 20 a week, suddenly I am a senior. My 84-year-old mother and I can both present our Seniors Cards on public transport, at the art gallery, the museum, the zoo, the council, and to hundreds of businesses listed in the Seniors Directory and get a discount.

It is ridiculous to lump my mother and me in the same seniors’ basket – a product of the Depression and a product of the Age of Aquarius twinned in our cut-price entitlements. She is what demographers call the “old-old”. I’m what they call the “young-old”. But “young-old” won’t do either. There must be a better term. Old, older, oldish……baby boomers don’t like going there. Everyone wants to live longer; no-one wants to be old. We know some things get better with age, some things worse. It’s the ratio that is uncertain.

On the cycling holiday I avoided restaurants filled with grey-haired bus tourists and opted for cafes filled with university students. “You’re in denial,” said my grey-haired husband. I have two children in their twenties living at home. Our food bill has never been bigger. I don’t belong with the ranks of “elders” and “pensioners”. But I can hardly call myself middle-aged any more.

Can the English language that supplies us with appropriate descriptors for other stages – baby, child, teenager, adult – fail us here? Being “a woman of a certain age” sounds coy and clichéd; being “mature” makes me sound like a cheese. I quite like the idea of being an “ageing hipster”. But I’m not sure I was “hip” even when I was young. I am part of the “sandwich generation” with kids at home and an ageing parent. But in my case, I don’t (yet) feel too sandwiched.

Many revel in the title of “self-funded retiree”. But I know how much the taxpayer has contributed to my superannuation through tax concessions so I shall decline that mantle. I recoil even from simple “retiree” when as far as I’m concerned my status is in flux. “Retiree” sounds scar-y.

Is the term senior the problem or am I the problem? In wanting to run a mile from being thought of as a senior, am I being ageist? Just a tiny bit, I have to admit. I am thinking of seniors as either bingo players or silver-haired cruise ship junkies with a passion for André Rieu. I’m thinking seniors are old people with whom I have little in common.

When it comes to the generation above me, it’s easy to fall into the worst of ageist stereotyping. I know from the relationship with my mother who hates André Rieu, loves Lady Gaga, that shared values and interests between the generations count for more than chronological age.

Even so the term senior comes with unwanted baggage. It’s not dignified, it’s a cutesy euphemism. It certainly doesn’t capture the zeitgeist for those of us negotiating the tricky path from middle-age to old-age. “Older woman” might have to do. But it won’t fit neatly on the discount card.

Which brings me to question: in these straitened times should state governments extend Seniors Cards to the growing numbers of people in their early 60s who don’t remotely see themselves as seniors? Should seniors who don’t think of themselves as seniors, even though the government regards them as such, take a moral stance and pay full price when they don’t have to?

Will I leave my Seniors Card in the drawer? Probably not. I’ll hate the name. I’ll love the discounts.

How do you feel?

Coming of Age is updated every Monday.