Older women in Australia are increasingly at risk of becoming homeless. Lack of superannuation savings, unaffordable housing, divorce and domestic violence all play key roles in this sad trend.
Following strong anecdotal evidence that a growing group of people becoming homeless in Australia are women aged over 55 there was a clear need that research was needed to better understand the depth of the problem and its causes.
The Mercy Foundation commissioned a research report from the University of Queensland to investigate this issue and look at possible solutions to the problem.
The report revealed the largest proportion of older women presenting with housing crisis in Australia have led conventional lives, and rented whilst working and raising a family. Few have previously had involvement with welfare and other support systems.
Older women’s risk of homelessness can be lessened by the way welfare and housing systems work and interact with older women. However, there remains a lack of evidence which considers issues of specific concern to older women. Many of whom may be homeless for the first time, primarily because of poverty and unaffordable housing.
There is a lack of attention to older women’s homelessness internationally despite recognition of demographic changes, increasing numbers of older people living in poverty, as well as the ageing of people who are already homeless.
Mercy Foundation CEO Felicity Reynolds, told ProBono Australia that the increasing lack of affordability of private rental housing in our cities meant older single women who do not own their own house and who are living on the aged pension or have only small amounts of retirement savings are at greater risk of a housing crisis and homelessness.
The report cites that “older women are more likely to be statistically invisible in data systems” due to the fact that many aren’t rough sleepers. The report found that older women are more likely to be staying with friends, living in a car, living under the threat of violence in their home or physically “hiding”.
So what’s the answer?
Catherine Robson, Financial Planner, told the ABC’s 7:30 Report that one of the challenges for women is that there’s, a.) a gender pay gap, so for the last 25 years that gap’s been about 17, 18 per cent. So across the course of a working life, women earn less. The other is that women often take periods of unpaid leave, so they’re not having contributions put into the super system, even though superannuation is compulsory.
Catherine Robson says early adult years are the most important. Even $2,000 a year contributed to superannuation by young women between the ages of 19 and 26 can mean the difference between comfort and poverty later in life.
It is clearly a complex issue and there isn’t a simple solution. Instead, a range of policy, service and housing responses are needed.
A copy of the research report can be found here.
- ABC’s 7:30 Report, “Older Australian women becoming homeless at increasing rates”, Broadcast: 09/01/2015, Reporter: Amy Bainbridge
- Probono Australia, “Older Women Among Australia’s ‘Hidden Homeless’”, published 15/04/2014