Steep cost-of-living increases have seen an older North Queensland man return to the workforce from retirement mowing lawns on a full-time basis to support his family.
Geoff Campbell, 79, saw a series of financial difficulties hit his family which prompted him to return to work. He used credit cards to buy a Jim’s Mowing franchise in May 2022, filling a gap in the market for lawn-mowing services between Mackay and Townsville.
But Mr Campbell’s story is one of many with more older people returning to work as they find their Superannuation and Age Pension doesn’t cover all basis in today’s financial climate.
The latest National Seniors Social Survey results revealed that 80% of older people have been impacted by increasing living costs, with the number who are “severely” impacted expected to rise over the next 12 months.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Labour Force Survey revealed that the national workforce grew by nearly 491,000 between October 2019 and October 2022 with 38% of those workers being 55 years old or over.
Mr Campbell told SBS News he has made five attempts to retire after a long career in mining and construction but the rising cost of basic expenses such as fuel and food have kept him shackled to the workforce.
“ … Me, trying to be a hero, I decided to buy this franchise and get it going and hopefully they might take it over in the future,” he explained.
“I had many family arguments about having to mow the lawn when I was a child, but now I really enjoy sitting out there on the ride-on mower under my big hat.”
He says he intends to continue working “as long as I can, while I’m still enjoying it.”
The social survey findings reinforce the advocacy group’s calls to index the Age Pension and other income support payments more frequently during times of high inflation.
Currently, the Age Pension is adjusted twice a year in March and September, but advocates want to see adjustments made in June and December as well if inflation is too high.
“The Age Pension is adjusted twice a year in March and September. Rather than have pensioners wait six months, [the] Government should increase payments quarterly when inflation is high,” said Ian Henschke, National Seniors’ Chief Advocate.
“Another key measure would be to exempt work income from the income test for all Government payments, so recipients can work more without penalty.
“Simply let people work, pay tax, and get Centrelink out of the way. Increasing Commonwealth Rent Assistance would also help address rising cost-of-living pressures for those struggling the most.”
Under the Federal Government’s Work Bonus scheme, someone on the Age Pension can earn $11,800, from December 1, 2022 to December 31, 2023, after which the limit will drop to $7,800.
If someone earns over the work bonus limit, their pension is reduced by 50 cents for every dollar earned over that set amount.
Mr Henscke told HelloCare that Australia needs to adopt a new Age Pension system that would allow older people to work even more without it impacting their pension, similar to New Zealand’s system.
“We get punished for working, it’s a punitive system,” he said.
“We could fill these gaps in the workforce if we change the system and allow our older workers to work without fear of losing their pension.”
In December, older people of Age Pension age and eligible veterans became able to earn more income from working without causing a reduction in their pension, announced by the Federal Government at last year’s Jobs and Skills Summit.