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The grey ghettos: seniors on the fringes doing it tough

A landmark analysis of census data shows that a “wellbeing divide” is emerging among older Australians, with housing the key issue.

Relying on the age pension for their income, getting around without a car, and living in rental or public housing, Australian seniors doing it tough are living in large numbers on the fringes of the capital cities.

Secure and affordable housing was the most crucial factor affecting an older person’s wellbeing, the new analysis showed. The authors warned that Australia faced “a crisis of wellbeing” among the growing number of seniors on low incomes who did not own a home.

The Index of Wellbeing for Older Australians (IWOA), conducted by The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) and commissioned by The Benevolent Society, identified the areas where seniors with the lowest level of wellbeing lived, and the factors that contributed most to their low wellbeing.

The study, the first of its kind in Australia, examined how seniors were faring in key domains including health, education, wealth and housing, using data from the census and other public sources.

The authors said the study’s online maps showing the geographic patterns of wellbeing in each jurisdiction added further weight to international evidence that a wellbeing divide among older Australians was emerging.

In December an OECD report found that 36 per cent of Australian pensioners lived below the poverty line, ranking Australia second lowest on social equity out of 34 countries.

University of Canberra Professor of Economics and co-researcher on the IWOA Robert Tanton said the areas with the lowest levels of wellbeing were in the outskirts of capital cities, while the areas with the highest wellbeing tended to be inner urban areas.

Housing the key issue

Older people living in private rental on a low income were doing it toughest, the analysis found. With so much of their income spent on housing there was little to cover essentials such as food, health, transport and energy costs. This forced some seniors to move to areas with less amenities and poorer access to services.

“We would all hope to own our own home by the time we are 65, but for many people this will not be the case. Those who are still paying rent are doing so with government benefits, leaving little else to live on if they are living in high-rent capital cities,” Professor Tanton said.

Benevolent Society CEO Jo Toohey called for urgent action from government, business and the not-for-profit sector on the financing and supply of more affordable and social housing for older people.

“It is imperative that affordable housing become the centrepiece of a long-term comprehensive policy on ageing,” Ms Toohey writes in an opinion piece published this week by Australian Ageing Agenda.

Growing evidence of seniors’ housing crisis

The IWOA is the latest study to highlight the chronic shortage of affordable and secure housing for seniors.

In December, the Productivity Commission’s Housing Decisions of Older Australians found that seniors who were renting were generally “highly vulnerable and economically disadvantaged.” It documented the risks facing older renters as including poverty, homelessness and mental health impacts.

Last May, the Senate inquiry into affordable housing found that the Federal Government should review its aged care policy to take into account the growing number of seniors living in rental accommodation who faced significant challenges such as the inability to install home modifications.

Other recent research from the National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre and Anglicare Australia has also starkly highlighted the issues arising from the shortage of affordable housing for seniors.

Targeted policies, services

Meanwhile, the IWOA’s authors said the new index would fill a critical gap in information about the wellbeing of older people, and help policymakers and providers identify where seniors experiencing low wellbeing lived, and guide decisions on what policies and services were needed and where.

“If services and resources are not targeted to the neediest areas at the right time, there is a risk that the disparity between high and low wellbeing of older Australians will become increasingly wider,” they said.

READ NEXT: Want to age well? Fix the housing system

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5 Responses to The grey ghettos: seniors on the fringes doing it tough

  1. rosemary photopoulos February 18, 2016 at 10:51 am #

    If you want to see the grey ghettos come to the Central Coast NSW – $250 a week for two rooms and another which is a laundry room with a shower/toilet. The corner of the main room is a makeshift cooking area. The oven dates back to Noah’s days, oven has no temp. Control the sink is plumbed into the toilet. Water and sewage pipes run across the ceiling. Some people rent converted garages. All levels of government should be ashamed of themselves that elderly people have no choice but to live in these conditions, as for support services if you cant fend for yourself then you might as well give up!

  2. Nessa February 24, 2016 at 11:00 am #

    There’s an appalling shortage of affordable rental housing for seniors. There are many villages people can buy into, but most don’t offer any rental accommodation.

  3. Tania February 25, 2016 at 8:37 am #

    Meanwhile, plenty of money and comfortable housing for refugees 85% of whom are still bleeding dry Centelink (you and me, the taxpayers) after five years here. On Sydney’s northern Beaches, church groups are putting in an enormous amount of energy and co-ordinated organisation and funding, appealing for granny flats, smail studio flats, disused garages that can be converted and donations from what they see as their wealthy area, all for refugees. Never has this amount of effort and coordination gone into helping our ageing and homeless populations by any church ir other charitable institution that I am aware of and certainly not by the government.

  4. antia February 25, 2016 at 2:24 pm #

    Hi Tania – I’m not sure if you are aware that most aged care services were actually established by church and charitable organisations. Thankfully that spirit of ‘looking out for others’ continues today, both in terms of aged care (and childcare, and homelessness, and family support ….) as well as for those displaced due to wars, terror and the like. If you’re worried about the cost of refugees to our overall national budget, perhaps you might want to review the research that shows the economic, social and cultural benefits of welcoming refugees, summarised in places like

  5. Janet February 25, 2016 at 4:56 pm #

    Hi Tania

    The plight of the poor aged is of great concern to me. But likewise is that of those forced to seek asylum in our country. Many, many asylum seekers receive no government support, have no work rights and/or no work and are destitute. Even those in reciept of government support are more often than not, homeless and need to couch surf or live in very crowded rental situations. The research than Antia, above, refers to tells us that we benefit in the long run from welcoming asylum seekers and migrants because fo the boost to our economy.

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