THE Keneally government will take more than a quarter of the $30 increase given to single aged pensioners who live in public housing, despite a federal rebuke and pleas from seniors groups.From September, public housing tenants in NSW will be forced to dip into the welfare boost granted by the federal government last year to help pensioners cope with the increased cost of food, medicines and electricity.The clawback was revealed indirectly in last week’s state budget which failed to protect the full pension increase.The Queensland, Northern Territory, South Australia and Tasmanian governments have agreed that the $30 increase will never be included in public housing rent calculations, which are usually pegged at 25 per cent of the pension base rate.But NSW has refused to follow suit and permanently quarantine the pension increase. This means single aged pensioners will pay an extra $7.50 a week in rent after a one-year moratorium on rent rises ends in 3½⁄ months. Couple aged pensioners will not be affected because their extra $10.14 is paid as a supplement, rather than an increase to the base rate.Last year the federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, warned the states against eroding the pensioners’ hard-won increase by increasing levies and charges.”There is simply no way the Commonwealth will tolerate a clawback of that one-off pension increase by the states for pensioners in public housing,” he said.Yesterday the federal government confirmed its position had not changed. ”Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have all committed not to increase their public housing rents and we would expect other states, including NSW, to do the same,” a spokeswoman for the Minister for Families, Housing and Community Services, Jenny Macklin, said.But the NSW government says it needs the increased rent to pay for the maintenance and refurbishment of public housing properties and council costs.A spokesman for the NSW Housing Minister, Frank Terenzini, said the government ”has a great amount of sympathy for those people struggling to make ends meet … however the costs to maintain, refurbish and build more public housing are always increasing”.The Council on the Aging (NSW) urged the state government to permanently quarantine the increase. It said single aged pensioners were especially vulnerable to increased costs.”That $7 a week pays for milk and bread,” the council’s policy and communications manager, Anne-Marie Elias, said. ”We know older people will pay their electricity bills and their phone bills before they eat.”If not a quarantine, Ms Elias said Housing NSW should adopt a two-step formula to calculate the rent of single pensioners to preserve a greater percentage of the recent increases.Lyn, 71, who has lived in public housing in Glebe for 28 years, said she only has $125 a week from her $350 pension after she has paid for rent ($75.70), groceries ($80), electricity ($17), contents insurance ($6), telephone ($20) and medicines ($25).”It’s hard enough to survive on your own as it is, and now they want to take one-quarter of what little we get,” she said.Lyn, who did not want her surname published, said the state’s most disadvantaged people should not be slugged to pay for basic government services.The Westpac-Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia Retirement Standard indicates the requirements for a modest lifestyle is $373 per week for a single person and $521 a week for a couple.
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