Older Australian women need help to combat poverty, homelessness

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For years, advocates have been warning that older Australian women face a homelessness crisis. But does anyone care?

Commentator, writer and lecturer Jane Caro, writing for The Guardian, says no.

“I don’t want to believe our government is using the pandemic to shove women, especially mothers, back into the kitchen and back into financial dependence of their husbands, I really don’t. But when you put it all together, it’s hard not to reach that conclusion.

“Whether they want to think about it or not, younger women are now facing at least as high a risk of a desperately poor old age as their mothers and grandmothers did. Not thanks to COVID, but thanks to government policy.

“Why is it the only people who seem to notice are older women themselves?”

Ms Caro says when she speaks publicly about women over 45 being the fastest growing group among the homeless, it is other older women who respond.

She says the hopes and optimism of these people have “turned to ashes”.

In May, the federal government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) released a report on the Gendered Impact of COVID19. But the government, and its subsequent Budget, have not addressed the issue.

The facts are:

  • Women over 55 are the single largest demographic group accessing welfare payments.
  • The number of women over 55 on JobSeeker-type payments has risen by more than 60 per cent in the past year.
  • Women retire with just over half the superannuation savings than men do and one in three women retires with no super
  • Women’s working hours fell by 7.3 per cent between March and June 2020, while men’s fell by 6.5 per cent.
  • Women suffered a 5.2 per cent drop in full-time employment between February and June 2020; for men, it was 3.8 per cent.

Women lost more jobs due to the pandemic, as more had insecure casual work in the industries hardest hit by lockdowns such as retail and hospitality. More older women are reliant on the pension, fewer have sufficient superannuation, and Australia’s exorbitant childcare costs entrench employment disadvantages.

Rather than tackle any of these matters, the government’s coronavirus stimulus measures targeted male-dominated industries such as construction.

“The government has used its old toolkit, which is a male toolkit, and it hasn’t focused on female jobs,” Angela Jackson, an economist at Equity Economics, told The New Daily.

She urged an increase in funding for the aged care sector, which employs more women than men.

“We know the royal commission is going to recommend additional funding to increase quality of care, which is going to mean more jobs,” Ms Jackson said.

“And I think funding that increase today, rather than waiting 18 months, would generate new jobs that are needed in the industry, as we need to be providing quality aged care, and it would also support female employment.”

ProBono Australia says aged care, long neglected by governments, is a gender issue.

“Almost 70 per cent of COVID-19 deaths have been in aged care. This catastrophic situation is the result of federal government policy over decades to divest itself of responsibility for aged care. That this divestment has been able to proceed over so many years without public outcry raises questions of how much Australia values its old people. And more specifically, whether it values ageing women, since the majority of older Australians are female.”

Researchers Debbie Faulkner and Laurence Lester told The Conversation older people who don’t own homes, have limited wealth and savings and don’t live in social housing are at the mercy of the private rental market. This puts them at “considerable risk of housing affordability stress and hence homelessness”.

Their research found older women are more likely to be at risk of homelessness if they have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • have been at risk before
  • are not employed full-time
  • are an immigrant from a non-English-speaking country
  • are in private rental housing
  • would have difficulty raising emergency funds
  • are Indigenous
  • are a lone-person household
  • are a lone parent (but little evidence for those never married).

Since the 2008 global financial crisis, the risk of homelessness was as follows:

  • for women aged 55–64 in a private rental, about 28 per cent are likely to be at risk
  • for women who are also not employed full-time, the percentage at risk increases to about 34 per cent
  • for those who are also a lone parent, the risk rises to more than 65 per cent
  • the risk increases to more than 85 per cent if, in addition, they have experienced at least one prior occurrence of being at risk.

Ms Faulkner and Mr Lester say that unless there are policy changes, these rates will increase, because female lone-person households are predicted to rise by between 27.6 per cent and 58.8 per cent by 2041.

Their conclusion is simple: more “appropriate, affordable” homes for older people.

This is crucial because up to 30 per cent of the newly unemployed or underemployed during the pandemic were aged between 51 and 65. Of these 400,000 Australians, the majority are women and, due to age discrimination, “most are unlikely ever to work again”. 

Quoting some of the numbers above, Jane Caro asks: “These figures are grim, but has anyone noticed? Is there an outcry? Does anyone – apart from the women themselves – actually care?”

Do you believe the government is doing enough to help older women? If not, what else could it be doing?

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Written by Will Brodie

18 Comments

Total Comments: 18
  1. 0
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    homelessness is a reality for a lot of carers rising rents ( no means of earning more money) if their caring days end they are often too old /damaged to work after years of being ripped off by the government , they are dumped not old enough for aged pension cant work to satisfy the governments dole requirements , dont qualify for disability.

    • 0
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      I so agree tisme. Imagine, caring for a spouse 15 or 20 years, then at the end of that effort, find themselves without enough to live on. Meanwhile, that caring roll saved tax payers millions and millions of dollars. It seems grossly unfair. Carers need more recognition for the contribution they make while sacraficing their own income possibilities. Speaking from experi8ence.

    • 0
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      Sorry for the typos….

  2. 0
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    Would love to help an unemployed older lady who has been made homeless or is struggling like myself, I have spare rooms. I am in SA

  3. 0
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    Hang your heads in shame all governments in the last 20 years. You’ve let older women down.

    They deserve better and more respect.

  4. 0
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    I am one of the lucky ones who owns my own house and car, about $4,000 in super and limited savings and no family who are supportive. The whole Covid lockdown really made me grateful for what I have because I don’t know how I would have survived without those two assets.

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      Midnight – exactly the same as you. And agree about Covid. This is one time I am REALLY glad that I am on the aged pension, and not in the work force. Before Covid hit, I really wanted to find a part-time or casual job. Now that employers aren’t interested in seniors, or see them as too much of a perceived health risk, my days of applying for jobs are well and truly over.
      Having always been single, I didn’t go on over seas holidays, buy a new car every few years, go out for dinners, or buy designer gear. I often worked 3 jobs to ensure I did not have a mortgage when I hit pension age. My friends used to laugh at me, often saying I was anti social and being a tight arse. Funny how now they are openly jealous and envious of my owning a house, whilst they are still renting. How they manage private rental is beyond me.

  5. 0
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    Try being an older solo female living in private rental.
    Not much fun!

  6. 0
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    This is certainly an issue and the evidence is obvious. One example is of a woman who is divorced but still bringing up children under working age. Income is limited to child support if
    available and accommodation is usually rented. With limited super and limited working opportunities the situation gets dire as old age approaches. A friend who is 65 with no possible work possibilities is still being harassed by centrelink to attend job interviews. On Job seeker she will transfer to the OAP at 66 which will reduce her income ! System broke ? Dead right it is.

  7. 0
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    Australia has a fairly well developed social security system but it is in need of a revamp.
    It is too complex and piecemeal. If you are talking about renters being unfairly treated under the Age Pension I agree. Try to change it though and there will be a howl of protest from those with homes. ” I worked hard to buy a home why should I be penalised?” Social security should be as simple as possible and where complexity is needed there should be assistance provided free of charge. It should also be monitored properly to make sure it is not abused. The operative word is properly not the Robo debt wrongly designed computer system. It is easy to blame “the Government”. In a democracy you sometimes have to blame “the voters” as “the Government” will be contrained by popular opinion.

  8. 0
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    I take issue with this quote from Caro; “I don’t want to believe our government is using the pandemic to shove women, especially mothers, back into the kitchen and back into financial dependence of their husbands, I really don’t. But when you put it all together, it’s hard not to reach that conclusion.

    “Whether they want to think about it or not, younger women are now facing at least as high a risk of a desperately poor old age as their mothers and grandmothers did. Not thanks to COVID, but thanks to government policy.

    “Why is it the only people who seem to notice are older women themselves?”

    Does Caro have any shred of proof that “government is using the pandemic to shove women, especially mothers, back into the kitchen and back into financial dependence of their husbands”? Quite easy to make sweeping statements without proof to get a headline, much harder to back it up.

    What government policy is Caro quoting to justify her opinion that younger women are now facing at least as high a risk of a desperately poor old age as their mothers and grandmothers did? Again, sweeping statement with not a shred of proof to support it.

    Now to some hard facts Caro, women work fewer hours than men on average and because they earn less, they attract less super. A large number of women take time away from work to have children and while they are not working, they don’t get a pay packet nor do they attract super. Women make up the majority of the casual workforce, not because they are repressed or downtrodden but mainly because a large proportion chooses to work casually.

    I note that the statistics quoted have omitted the statistic that of the jobs created since the pandemic was announced, 60% were filled by women. What do those who contributed to this article want the government to do? Do they want what Plibersek has suggested that women get paid a higher super rate and that the government adds to women’s super when they are not working? How is this fair? Government money has to be raised by taxation so will that mean that men will receive less in their pay packet to pay for someone who isn’t working? As Teddy Roosevelt said; “Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining”.

  9. 0
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    So thankful I had my own home. Paying a mortgage while on the Age Pension has been a challenge. I took out a reverse mortgage, paid the mortgage out, did house repairs, sold the house and bought into a retirement village at a very good rate. Renting would have been out of the the question as there was no affordable housing in the regional area I lived in. There’s no help for someone on their own who is repaying a mortgage. And it’s time rent assistance was increased. No super so dependent on the pension. I get by, but it’s not e assu

  10. 0
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    What would really be helpful is YLC collecting all our good suggestions on this vital subject and finding an effective way to get it into the right hands at government level.

    Then to monitor and follow up until we get action. YLC has the power of many many thousands of members. Maybe it’s time to put your position to work for your members. Make a positive contribution for the good of all Australians.

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