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.
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.
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