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Ageing report find one in three older Australians living in poverty -

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DAVID MARK: One-third of Australians over the age of 60 are now living below the poverty line.

The Global AgeWatch Index has placed Australian at 17th in the world - that's four places down from last year and now behind New Zealand and Canada.

Experts say that unless the Federal Government drastically changes some social welfare policies, the number of elderly Australians living in poverty will only increase.

Lucy Carter reports.

LUCY CARTER: The Global Agewatch index is an annual snapshot of how the world's older citizens are faring.

It ranks 96 countries according to the social wellbeing of their over 60's.

Last year, Australia came in at number 13. However this year that overall ranking has fallen to 17th - which Ian Yates, the chief executive of the Council on the Aging says is a concern.

IAN YATES: We slipped a little bit on employment participation, which reflects the economic situation. And we actually haven't improved really in the areas of income security, health status or an age friendly environment. We're still, in fact 26, in the age friendly environment stakes, particularly because older people rate public transport as not very suitable for their needs generally in Australia, which is not a surprise to us.

LUCY CARTER: The health of older Australians is a standout, with a ranking of fifth in the world.

The chief executive of the NSW Bureau of Health Information, Dr Jean-Frederic Levesque, says Australia's ranking there isn't surprising.

JEAN-FREDERIC LEVESQUE: There are a lot of positives, aspects of care that are rated very well by this population in Australia. For example we can see that New South Wales has more favourable results than eight countries that were compared in the survey with regards to receiving a written plan about how to manage a chronic condition at home, being about to know who to contact if something is not going quite well with chronic condition.

LUCY CARTER: What is more of a surprise is that Australia is ranked 62nd on income security, behind countries like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia.

Ian Yates from the Council on the Aging says that ranking isn't entirely a fair reflection.

IAN YATES: This is one little glitch we have with this particular index, the measures pension coverage at 83 per cent in Australia. Of course the people who don't get the pension in Australia don't because they're well-off.

LUCY CARTER: But Ian Yates says the report is correct in pointing out that one-third of older Australians are living below the poverty line.

IAN YATES: Of course on the Australian federal pension, if you don't have any other income, and there are full pensioners who have little or no other income when they retire, they would fall below that poverty level.

It also reflects the severe poverty of people who are 60-plus and unemployed and trying to live on Newstart, which is well under the poverty level and has quite draconian conditions attached to getting it.

LUCY CARTER: Professor Hal Kendig is from the Australian National University's Centre for Research on Health and Wellbeing.

He's calling on the Government to initiate a full review into retirement income and superannuation.

HAL KENDIG: We need some stability in the system, we need to take into account the relative advantage of what we call tax subsidies for superannuation, as well as the plight - and I would use that word, plight - tenants, especially private tenants living in the private rental market.

LUCY CARTER: Professor Kendig says of particular concern are the retirement incomes of older women.

HAL KENDIG: We need to comprehensively look at superannuation over the lifespan. And for women it's particularly difficult because many have broken labour force participation, so they're in superannuation and out of it, and they can recover the superannuation or they don't. Or they're tied to a partner who has good superannuation or maybe they're not by the time they get to later life. That whole gender dimension is absolutely critical and we aren't looking at it very well now.

LUCY CARTER: Ian Yates from the Council on the Aging is also calling for a better overall Government plan to deal with the ageing population.

IAN YATES: We really need to reframe this, we need to think about ageing through a different set of lenses and talk about it as an investment that we can utilise. How do we encourage and enable people to stay participating in the workforce - both the paid and volunteer workforce? How do we keep people healthy and active in to older age? These are things that have significant payoffs, but they need a coordinated set of strategies.

LUCY CARTER: The World Today contacted Social Services Minister Scott Morrison for comment on this report, but received no reply.

DAVID MARK: Lucy Carter reporting.