Hunter residents have removed more than $700 million from their superannuation accounts during the coronavirus pandemic, and 13,000 have drained their retirement savings completely.
Figures provided by Industry Super Australia show that 72,098 people in the Newcastle, Shortland, Paterson and Hunter federal electorates have taken advantage of the federal government's offer to allow people to access up to $20,000 of their super early.
Almost 24,000 Hunter people have dipped in to their super a second time since July 1, and another 3000 have an application pending.
The average withdrawal across the region is $7530, just below the national average of $7689. Allowing for double-dippers, the average amount withdrawn per person is just over $10,000.
The government allowed workers to withdraw $10,000 before June 30 and another $10,000 after July 1.
The loss in super savings across the region amounts to $722,452,270, and 13,377 people have reduced their account to zero.
In the Newcastle electorate, 20,502 individuals have withdrawn $200,619,079 in more than 27,000 transactions. More than 6500 have accessed their account twice.
Research issued by analytics firm ilion last week showed much of the withdrawn super was not being used as intended and 38 per cent of applicants had not suffered a drop in income.
On average, Australians spent an extra $3618, or about half the average withdrawal, in the first fortnight compared with what they spent in a normal fortnight before receiving early super.
The research showed 64 per cent of this additional spending in the first two weeks was on discretionary items, including gambling ($284 extra), clothing and department stores ($317) and eating out ($287).
The automotive and fuel spending category was up $388 on average per person in the first fortnight.
The Newcastle Heraldreported on Friday that an estimated 35,000 people in the Hunter have lost work since March.
Newcastle financial adviser Brad Ferguson said the early-access program was "frightening".
"There's plenty of people out there who would have needed the access, but there's plenty of people who didn't and have spent it on the wrong things, unfortunately," he said.
"Particularly for young people, taking $10,000 out at the front end will just have hugely significant outcomes at the back end.
"The Australian government at the time will be left carrying the can further down the road."
Finance commentator Noel Whittaker said giving people access to super early was a "really bad thing".
"When you look at the stats of how it's being used, the under-$10,000 car trade is booming, a lot of it is being spent on gambling," he said.
"People would have got through without it, and once your superannuation gets under $6000 you can lose your life insurance."
ISA has used the figures on super withdrawals to push its case for the government to stick to the staged increase in the super guarantee from 9.5 to 12 per cent by 2025.
A group of backbench MPs wants the increase delayed or scrapped as businesses struggle with the impact of COVID-19 restrictions.
"The Hunter region workers who accessed their super to prop themselves up now face a looming tragedy of retiring with less and being more reliant on the pension," ISA chief executive Bernie Dean said on Friday.
"The only realistic way workers can make up the difference is with the promised increase to the super rate."
Treasury forecasts Australians will withdraw $42 billion early from their super accounts before the scheme's December 31 closing date.
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