Plan to restrict pension for elderly migrants in Australia labelled 'harsh' and 'deeply unfair'

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Elderly people dancing
Elderly people dance during Saint Valentine's Day celebrations at the Canevaro old people's home in Lima February 14, 2012. Reuters/Mariana Bazo

Newcomers to Australia will be required to wait 15 years before they can claim an aged or disability pension, since they have not worked in the country for at least five years. This can be compared to the existing policy that requires new migrants to wait until they have lived in the country for 10 years before they can claim a pension. Now, the government plans to restrict pension access for elderly migrants as it hopes to save $119 million over the forward estimates, a move slammed by critics.

For ethnic and welfare groups, the plan is “deeply unfair” and “harsh.” It was labelled as an “unprecedented” step of punishing individuals for receiving welfare earlier in life.

Matthew Butt, executive officer of National Social Security Rights Network, said the plan is an “unprecedented” in the history of the social security system in Australia. He argued that punishing people for previously claiming welfare represents a “really concerning departure” from a core principle of the nation’s safety net.

“The particular reason it’s unfair is because some of the people affected by it will be in severe hardship through no fault of their own, and/or have their access to the pension delayed through no fault of their own,” The Guardian quotes him as saying. The changes will “disproportionately hurt a highly vulnerable and low-income section of society,” the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia warned.

Emma Campbell, the council’s director, reportedly wrote to social services minister Christian Porter to express concern over the changes. She noted that people get welfare because they are vulnerable. Campbell added it would be “unfair” to penalise people because they struggled to find work, stressing it is specifically unfair for migrants determined to work but had to face additional barriers. The plan would punish those who have earlier claimed forms of activity tested welfare.

But a spokeswoman for Porter said that only a small group of people will be affected, adding 98 percent of pension recipients would not be affected. She explained that migrants who are ineligible for the pension are going to get a payment called “special benefit.” That payment, the spokeswoman said, is a level payment intended for short-term relief.

The spokesman added that the community expects migrants to remain self-sufficient or depend on family members for support. People going to Australia should not expect to be supported by Australian taxpayers, she said.

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