The conventional wisdom that Australians don’t save enough for retirement is wrong. The vast majority of retirees today and in future are likely to be financially comfortable.
Retirees are less likely than working-age Australians to suffer financial stress such as not being able to pay a bill on time, and more likely to be able to afford optional extras such as annual holidays.
Grattan Institute modelling shows that, even after allowing for inflation, most workers today can expect a retirement income of at least 91 per cent of their pre-retirement income – well above the 70 per cent benchmark endorsed by the OECD, and more than enough to maintain pre-retirement living standards.
And many low-income Australians will get a pay rise when they retire, through a combination of the Age Pension and their compulsory superannuation savings.
Australians tend to spend less after they retire, and even less into old age. Their medical costs increase, but are largely covered by the taxpayer. Many retirees are net savers, and current retirees often leave a legacy almost as large as their nest egg on the day they retired.
But the retirement incomes system is not working for some low-income Australians who rent, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. And this problem will get worse because on current trends home ownership for over-65s will decline from 76 per today to 57 per cent by 2056.
To boost retirement incomes for the poorest Australians, the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance should be increased by 40 per cent – worth more than $1,400 a year for a single retiree.
Loosening the Age Pension assets test could boost retirement incomes for around 20 per cent of retirees today, rising to more than 70 per cent of retirees in future. It would also deal with anomalies in the system: some people who save $100 while working increase their total retirement income by less than $100 in real terms.
But because most Australians will be comfortable in retirement, there is no need to boost retirement incomes across the board. The legislated plan to increase compulsory superannuation contributions from 9.5 per cent to 12 per cent should be scrapped, saving the Budget about $2 billion a year.
And superannuation tax breaks and age-based tax breaks should be reduced, to ensure the retirement incomes system does not become an excessive burden on future budgets, and endanger funding for aged care and health.