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Old Lives Don't Matter

Surving on credit card debt in a cold winter
Letters to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Tracey Martin, Minister for Seniors, and to Carmel Sepuloni, Minister of Social Development, after the the announcement on 4 June 2020 that the legislation around ending the Spousal Provision would be postponed from 1 July to 9 November 2020. The author (* name changed) is a born-and-bred New Zealander who doesn't receive NZ Super due to his wife receiving an overseas pension from the USA.

By James M Hunt * 

Letter to PM Jacinda Ardern and Tracey Martin, Minister for Seniors

Dear Jacinda and Tracey, 

I have written to Carmel Sepuloni a couple of days ago (and CCd you in) but really don’t hold much hope of a positive reply but in the meantime I am having sleepness nights and am at my wits end, not knowing where to turn. My marriage is suffering and our finances are shot to pieces. I don’t want a handout from WINZ because I don’t think I should be put in that position when for so long I have been unfairly deprived of my Superannuation.

Carmel Sepluloni promised me 12 months ago that the spousal deduction would be removed on 1/7/2020 and then at the last moment, reversed the decision and put off the intended action for another 4 months, depending on legislation passing. My wife and I were disappointed that we had to wait yet another 12 months but felt that we could survive financially until 1/7/2020, even if it meant putting a few things on the credit card, and it was so depressing to find out that it wasn’t going to happen as promised.

When my wife came out here from the States 20 years ago, and then married me 18 years ago, we never dreamed that her KiwiSaver-type pension she would receive on retirement would be going to have to 100% support me in my retirement, effectively absolving the New Zealand government of its duty to look after their own. 

My poor wife really did not know what she was in for by marrying me. We bought a house and as it was later in our life, and a second marriage for me, the mortgage was quite large but we weren’t too concerned because she was a highly qualified Registered Nurse. She had worked three jobs in the States before she came out here, in an effort to boost the amount in her country’s version of KiwiSaver. We also had bought a house suitable for my ailing elderly mother to come live with us, and my wife ended up caring for her until she had to go into a home.

We should have been able to live a comfortable retirement

We should have been able to live a comfortable retirement; not lavish or flamboyant, but with few money worries. We had medical insurance to ensure that we wouldn’t be a burden on the health system and our NZ KiwiSaver accounts were building up nicely.

Well, our world started crashing down when my wife became eligible for her US pension. Not only did it disqualify her for any NZ Super, it completely wiped out my entire NZ Super. So much for all these extra jobs she worked to build up her funds. All it did was to enable the NZ government to avoid its responsibilities. 

I started writing to Carmel Sepuloni protesting against the unfairness of the situation. Meanwhile the effects of the Christchurch earthquakes sent our insurance premiums sky-high, power bills and other costs were getting higher. We found that we continually had to draw on our KiwiSaver accounts to meet large bills. We had to reluctantly drop our medical insurance which was a huge regret because my wife now suffers exclusionary pain with arthritis and has to wait absolutely ages for operations under the public health system.

So it was a huge relief to hear that on 1/7/2020 I would be able to get my NZ Super. We knew that it would never put us back to being comfortable because we had virtually emptied our KiwiSaver accounts. But it would enable us to pay our bills, and also getting the Winter Energy Payment would definitely help because my wife suffers terribly when our house is not kept warm. 

Too late for the Winter Energy Payment

So where do we turn now? Do we just keep adding to the credit card debt in the hope that the legislation does pass and we finally get my Super in November? Too late for the Winter Energy Payment, so the wood and power costs will just be added to the credit card as will the $2,500 insurance premium that is due on 1/7/2020. What if the legislation doesn’t pass? What if Labour doesn’t get back in?

You can see why I am getting so damn depressed. My wife would have been better off not to have married me. I am just an extra expense that she has had to support all this time. I just feel like an anchor weighing her down. We haven’t discussed the fact that the NZ Super for me has been put on hold, but despite that I note that we tend to be chipping at each other much more than before. Life is no longer a joy.

Tracey, you mentioned to look out for elder abuse in the SuperSeniors newsletter and you said that one of the forms was financial abuse. Well don’t you think that here is a classic case of us being financially abused by the New Zealand government which in itself is bad enough. But on top of that they are mentally abusing us by promising us resolve by 1/7/2020 and then completely pulling the rug from under our feet? What are you going to do about that?

And Jacinda, you so often say about caring for others, be kind to one another. I cannot believe that you would condone this action (if you are fully aware of these events having the Covid-19 fore and front in recent times) . 

Why only relief to people affected by Covid-19?

It is said that the delay was “to allow us (not really sure if “us” is the Government or WINZ) to continue supporting people affected by COVID-19 and ensure they get the help they need”.  My need, and that of a few others just like me, has existed for years and it is getting more desperate by the day! Why penalise our group? Is it just easy to push us aside because we are oldies who just don’t matter? Because that’s how I feel.

Reflect on the fact that because we are nearing life’s end, every week matters to us and is precious. When either my wife or I die, the other should have been comfortable financially; the remaining one able to keep the house and carry on. Every week that we have to struggle without that makes this an impossible dream.

So, Jacinda, you managed to fast track payment to people affected by the Covid crisis to a few days. I am pleading with you to please do the same with our problem. Get Carmel Sepuloni to return to the original plan and reactivate the promise to remove this spousal deduction on 1/7/2020. I can’t stress just how important this is to us.

I know that over the ages politicians have resisted making changes to (former) Section 70 (now 187 - 191) because of the increased cost of National Superannuation this would cause. But to continue to means-test just one section of the elderly to keep the cost down is simply not fair, as you know. 

If you have to means-test NZ Super to keep the cost down, then it must be across the board. Not just targeting funds to which people and their employers have contributed to solely because they are administered by or on behalf of an overseas government. That would be like making our KiwiSaver subject to a means-test for NZ Super. I struggle to see a difference.

So please, please show some of your compassion for our cause. I really need action. Not words. I am begging you.

Regards

James M Hunt
(not his real name)



Letter to Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Social Development

Hello Minister,

You will have received copies of recent emails between my local MP, Jo Luxton’s office and me. One of the last emails was advising me that they had requested you communicate with me directly but warning that there may be a delay of about two weeks for this communication. 

Well, I have not slept a wink last night and I am not sure that I want to look forward for another two weeks of sleepness nights. 

I just cannot believe how you raised the hopes of me and many others who are in a similar position, and then virtually put us on hold, as if us particular section of old people just don’t matter. It was bad enough to have to wait almost 12 months to have the unfairness in the National Superannuation corrected, but to find out now that it has been shelved until November, dependant on legislation passing, is nothing short of cruel.

What is also hurtful is that I had to find out about that through enquiring about the procedure of restarting my Super. There was no public advice to my knowledge, so it has been kept very quiet. Now we are referred to a WINZ release dated 29 May 2020 which was after I began to make enquiries. 

Help for people affected by COVID-19 at the cost of people like me

In that release it is stated that the reason for the delay in implementing the changes was “This will allow us to continue supporting people affected by COVID-19 and ensure they get the help they need.” But it also says that the changes were part of the 2019 budget which would have been before Covid-19 hit us. Does that mean the changes were made and then reversed? 

Now it is very admirable that you have leapt in to help the people affected by COVID-19, but to do that at the expense of people like me who have been unfairly treated for years: you think that is reasonable? 

During my working life, I was made redundant around four times, and each time had to experience a “stand down” period of, I think in most cases, around 8 weeks. The Government of the day did not leap in and provide $540 a week or whatever to keep my family going. No, I ended up using savings, that should have been towards my retirement, to keep paying my mortgage and feed my family. 

I understand that there are so many affected by COVID-19 and it is important to the economy that measures had to be taken in the employment area, but to deprive a section of the elderly population to supplement this is simply not fair or morally right.

It was bad enough that we had to wait for nearly 12 months

By planning this change in the legislation you have already agreed on the unfairness in the situation of aged people affected by section 70, and it was bad enough that we had to wait for nearly 12 months for this to take effect, but forgive me if the thinking has been, “oh well, the old people have managed to survive this long; what’s a few more months!” 

The point is, every month that this unfairness in the National Super is allowed to continue, is a very large proportion of our remaining lives on this planet. As I said, waiting 12 months was bad enough but now we have to wait even more of our remaining lives. I am 75 year old, I might only live another 5 or 10 years. It’s going to be the shorter with the financial worry that I live with each day. 

My wife and I have been counting down the weeks until I could get my Super again on 1 July 2020. To make ends meet we have been drawing down on our KiwiSaver accounts; so much so that there is only a meagre amount left; enough to keep the accounts in existence, no more. 

To add to our present problems the effects of COVID-19 have meant that one of the US pensions, delivered only by cheque, has been delayed; we are 3 months behind now. With the state of things in the US at the moment, goodness knows how long this will take to sort out. And on the other hand, the insurance premiums for our house and contents which total $2,500 are due on 1 July. 

Surviving on credit card debt

We are surviving at present on credit card debt which is building and costing us interest, but we were prepared to accept in the knowledge that some relief was due from my promised Super.

But again, we come back to the same old point. As a born and bred New Zealander who has worked and paid taxes all my life in New Zealand, I shouldn’t have to depend on my survival for an overseas country’s pension which was only intended to be for my wife who has paid for it, and every week that this is allowed to continue is a travesty. And to penalise a small section of society that I belong to, to subsidise the whole country’s economy problems is completely unjust. 

As I mentioned in those emails to Jo Luxton’s office, we were looking forward to that Winter Energy Payment; especially so in our case because my wife suffers badly with arthritis and we have to keep our house warm constantly. Now, even if the changes to the legislation take effect in November, that will mean that it is too late for the Winter Energy Payment, so we will miss out again completely. 

Even you have recognised how important this Winter Energy Payment is to the elderly that one of the COVID-19 measures you took was to DOUBLE it! Well, I am glad that the likes of financially secure Winston Peters have the increased benefit to warm their homes, but as far as the section of society that I belong to that really need this benefit, we just have to suck it up.

As I mentioned in my emails to Jo Luxton, I have been making monthly repayments to WINZ for my Super that was clawed back because the US backdated my wife’s pension, but I am stopping them now because I have no income. My wife has been providing me with the money to make these repayments in the past and was going to continue to do so up to the expected 1 July date, but I am not prepared to ask her to extend that to a date which it appears is not even set in stone. 

Perhaps you might like to write to my wife

I am hesitant to even discuss with my wife the fact that my Super is not going to start on 1 July 2020 as promised. Perhaps you might like to write to her; her email address is [xxxxxx@xxxxxxxxx]. Perhaps you can explain to her better that the New Zealand government would greatly appreciate if she would continue to support me, a New Zealander, for a further undetermined period out of her pension (which I think you realise was contributed to by her and intended to be for HER retirement) because even though the New Zealand pension system is unfair to certain people, you need to delay the correction of this unfairness to contribute towards saving New Zealand’s economy even though this might mean depriving a section of New Zealand’s elderly. 

I don’t think you need to go into the fact that although she worked as a Registered Nurse for 18 years in New Zealand, she gets nothing from New Zealand’s pension scheme because she saved money in a pension scheme overseas, as we have discussed this at length. But if she could keep paying the mortgage, food and all the other bills in the meantime, because New Zealand can’t afford to look after its own, then you would be grateful. 

In the meantime, as mentioned in an email to Jo Luxton, I would like you to authorise WINZ to write off the debt of the Super they expect me to repay as it was not incurred deliberately and it is another worryingly financial pressure I can do without. 

But most of all, I am pleading you reconsider your decision to delay the changes to the National Super, as it is most unfair that a section of the elderly society be expected to bear an un-proportional amount of the economy recovery. 

I have sent copies of this email to the Prime Minister, and to the Elderly Affairs Minister. To Jacinda because with her sense of fairness, I don’t believe that she has taken in the effects of the delay, being that even if she had been informed, I realise she has had enough other things on her mind of late. And to Tracy, because in her newsletter, she has emphasised about preventing elder abuse, and here is another example of a section of the elderly being abused financially. 

Regards

James M Hunt
(not his real name)

A desperate pensioner's letters to Jacinda Ardern, Tracey Martin and Carmel Sepuloni








"I am having sleepness nights and am at my wits end, not knowing where to turn. My marriage is suffering and our finances are shot to pieces."











"When my wife came out here from the States 20 years ago, and then married me 18 years ago, we never dreamed that her KiwiSaver-type pension she would receive on retirement would be going to have to 100% support me in my retirement."













"Our world started crashing down when my wife became eligible for her US pension. Not only did it disqualify her for any NZ Super, it completely wiped out my entire NZ Super."














"Where do we turn now?  What if the legislation doesn’t pass? What if Labour doesn’t get back in?" 










"Tracey, don’t you think that here is a classic case of us being financially abused by the New Zealand government which in itself is bad enough. But on top of that they are mentally abusing us by promising us resolve by 1/7/2020 and then completely pulling the rug from under our feet?"













"Jacinda, you managed to fast track payment to people affected by the Covid crisis to a few days. I am pleading with you to please do the same with our problem."








"Please, please show some of your compassion for our cause. I really need action. Not words."



















"I just cannot believe how you raised the hopes of me and many others who are in a similar position, and then virtually put us on hold, as if us particular section of old people just don’t 
matter."


























"By planning this change in the legislation you have already agreed on the unfairness in the situation of aged people affected by section 70, and it was bad enough that we had to wait for nearly 12 months for this to take effect."


















"The effects of COVID-19 have meant that one of the US pensions, delivered only by cheque, has been delayed; we are 3 months behind now."















"Even you have recognised how important this Winter Energy Payment is to the elderly that one of the COVID-19 measures you took was to DOUBLE it! Well, I am glad that the likes of financially secure Winston Peters have the increased benefit to warm their homes."
















"Although my wife worked as a Registered Nurse for 18 years in New Zealand, she gets nothing from New Zealand’s pension scheme because she saved money in a pension scheme overseas [before moving to New Zealand]."
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