National Superannuation is a great scheme. It allows people to live with dignity whether they are in paid work or not. It has been around in non-means-tested form ever since 1938. National party stalwart Rob Muldoon insisted on a national superannuation rate of 80% of the average wage for couples.
Universal national superannuation survived the era of Rogernomics and Ruthanasia. Almost. The age of eligibility was raised from 60yrs to 65yrs, and the rate dropped to 66% of the net average wage. And politicians, neoliberal economists, and the independently wealthy have been trying to work out ways to get rid of it ever since.
Kiwisaver is an attempt to get workers to save for their own retirement. The unspoken, but obvious, rationale being that some time down the track the rate of national superannuation will be able to be lowered or age of entitlement raised, or both.
With John “I will resign rather than raise the age of eligibility of national superannuation” Key out of the picture, those who are happy to have people living in poverty in our country are again putting pressure on politicians to “do something” about national superannuation. They say the country can’t afford it – meaning they would rather taxpayers’ money be spent on something else.
The country can afford universal national superannuation – if we choose to. We don’t need to debate that. Instead of talking about raising the age of eligibility for national superannuation, we should be talking about widening it and making it available to everyone in the form of a universal basic income. What has worked so well for the over 65 yr olds should work equally well for people of all ages. And it needs to.
Technological advances mean we face a future where there will not be paid employment for everyone. And much of the work that will be available will be sporadic and part time. This may not be a bad thing. Robots can perform many tasks that humans are unable to perform, are dangerous and hazardous to human health, or at the very least are monotonous and soul destroying. What needs to be discussed is how to make sure everyone gets to share in the benefits of new technology.
A universal basic income is a means of distributing the wealth generated by technology so that everyone can live comfortably and our economy can continue to function. Without it, in the not too distant future, only the shareholders, management, and a small group of elite workers will benefit. Many of us will be left without sufficient income to live on and no means of generating a better income. And the very valuable unpaid work everyone does in our community will still go unrewarded.
Let’s stop fussing about trying to reduce spending on national superannuation and consider it a pilot study for how a UBI might work for everyone in the future.