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Older women still facing significant issues in housing, employment: commissioner

Workforce discrimination, affordable and accessible housing and elder abuse are among the most significant issues currently facing older women, says Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner.

Speaking at an event to mark this week’s International Women’s Day, Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan said that while older women had made great inroads over the last few decades, “the status quo is still not acceptable.”

Ms Ryan told the event, hosted by the Older Women’s Network (OWN), that the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into employment discrimination against older people had shown age discrimination in the workforce remained rife.

Around a third of those who lost their job due to age discrimination would never work again, resulting in effects such as poverty, ill health, loss of social contact and homelessness.

“As women live longer, are paid less and have less super than men, this growing poverty is of even greater consequence for older women,” said Ms Ryan.

Ms Ryan said she was keen to address workforce discrimination so that women in their 50s and 60s could continue working, build their super and avoid an old age marked by poverty and desperation.

The lack of affordable and accessible housing for older people, particularly women who generally had lower retirement incomes, was another key pressing issue.

“Older women who do not own a home will not be able to afford city rentals once they are fully reliant on the age pension,” said Ms Ryan.

(L-R): OWN Australia president Aloma Fennell with Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan

From left: OWN Australia president Aloma Fennell with Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan

Ms Ryan said that related to this was an absence of housing accessibility, leading to further exclusion.

“Older people don’t want to, and often can’t live in buildings that have lots of awkward stairs, unsafe bathrooms and kitchens, that are badly lit and lack clear signage,” said Ms Ryan.

Ms Ryan said this was not a new or revolutionary concept, yet it currently lacked leadership at a government or policy level.

While bodies such as OWN had warned decision makers of the housing crisis facing for older women for years, very little has been done, she said.

Executive director of Anglicare Australia Kasy Chambers, who also spoke at the event, said the organisations’s Rental Affordability Snapshot  had shown that if on a single age pension, as many older women were, less than 1 per cent of 65,500 rental properties surveyed across Australia were affordable.

Elder abuse

Ms Ryan said that elder abuse was the worst violation of human rights she had come across in her term as commissioner.

“Unless we can tackle, and tackle effectively, the scourge of elder abuse in our homes and in our institutions, we cannot look to a fairer future for older women,” said Ms Ryan.

Ms Ryan reiterated her call to the Commonwealth Government to set up a national prevalence study into elder abuse in order to effectively measure the problem and put in place appropriate levels of protections and services.

Pru Goward, NSW Minister for Women told the event that 68 per cent of calls to the NSW elder abuse hotline in 2014-15 were regarding abuse to older women.

“Those figures are very disturbing, and I don’t think it’s just that women live slightly longer than men, I think it reflects this ongoing lack of real equality,” said Ms Goward.

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