Nurse Val would work if it didn't mean losing all her pension

Senior Australian of the Year Val Dempsey joins the Let Pensioners Work campaign

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Senior Australian of the Year 2022, Val Dempsey would go back to nursing if she didn't lose her pension.

Senior Australian of the Year 2022, Val Dempsey would go back to nursing if she didn't lose her pension.

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Ms Dempsey's story is a powerful illustration of pensioners' frustrations with barriers to paid work in this country.

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Retired nurse and 2022 Senior Australian of the Year, Val Dempsey, would like to be able to supplement the family income by going back to work, if it didn't mean losing her age pension and jumping through hoops with Centrelink.

"My hourly rate instantly puts me over any amount of money that I'm allowed to earn while being on the age pension. I wouldn't even be able to get three hours in a fortnight without it affecting my pension," said the life-long St John Ambulance volunteer.

Val has backed National Seniors Australia's campaign to let pensioners work without losing the age pension.

Ms Dempsey recounts caravanning with her husband in earlier years and wanting to work in local communities they visited but being unable to do so.

"I'm sure there's a lot of people in the same position as myself who would enjoy contributing to the community," Ms Dempsey said.

"Certainly, we don't mind paying the amount of tax that one would be taxed. What I'd like to see changed is the ability for people to earn extra income without it affecting the pension."

Powerful illustration

National Seniors chief executive John McCallum, described Ms Dempsey's story is a powerful illustration of pensioners' frustrations with barriers to paid work in this country.

"If the Senior Australian of the Year can't engage in paid community service because of outdated pension rules, something must change," said Professor McCallum.

"National Seniors is calling on the Federal Government to let age pension recipients work without application of the income test, on a three-year trial.

"Our surveys of thousands of older Australians have demonstrated the urgent need for this change, and Val Dempsey's story puts a human face on the statistics."

National Seniors believes the amount a pensioner is allowed to earn before it affects their pension is too low, and Ms Dempsey agrees.

"Perhaps there might be some consideration to raising the threshold where one can earn a certain amount of money without it affecting the pension," she said.

"It doesn't have to be thousands and thousands of dollars.

If the Senior Australian of the Year can't engage in paid community service because of outdated pension rules, something must change. - John McCallum

An additional barrier Ms Dempsey identified is the age pension rule that if a person's earned income reduces their pension payments to zero dollars over a 6-fortnight period, they lose their pension entitlement completely.

"If you earn over an amount of money that stops your pension entirely, you then have to reapply for the whole thing," Ms Dempsey said.

"And that's an enormous issue for people. It means more doctor visits, it means more going to Centrelink, it means more form filling out, it means declaring all of your assets, it means to gather and collect bank statements. It is a very big job to apply for a pension."

Passionate

As a community-minded person, an enthusiastic volunteer and a highly active senior, Ms Dempsey is willing and able to serve the community as both a volunteer and a worker. But she is passionate about the economic and social benefits of older Australians contributing to the workforce.

"Older people, our wonderful seniors across Australia, could benefit greatly from being out there and still contributing to the community in the workforce," she said.

"It doesn't necessarily mean that we're taking jobs from juniors. It means that we're actually being involved in the community. Seniors have so much to offer. And for them to have a monetary reward for being able to contribute to the community is very high on my agenda."

The high cost of living and relatively low rate of increase to the pension in recent times are also motivations Ms Dempsey recognises.

"We know right across Australia that the pension does not keep up with the annual inflation rate, and lately it's been unfair.

"I would really like personally to be able to bring extra income into the house. But I am completely put off by the fact that, first of all, it will affect my pension and secondly, if I do it for too long and I do too much over too many weeks, I am in a position where my pension is completely taken away. And that really concerns me."

According to National Seniors, Centrelink red tape is the main complaints of older workers along with inequalities older people face with workers' compensation - which varies from state to state - and the inability of workers to contribute to their superannuation after age 75.

National Seniors has a petition calling on the Federal Government to exempt employment income from the Age Pension income test, so pensioners with limited wealth can work without losing their pension and help meet critical labour force shortages.

You can sign the Let Pensioners Work petition here

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