With Australia’s aged care and pension systems essentially predicated on the assumption that seniors own their own home, the increase in the numbers of older people renting or still paying a mortgage will lead to growth in old age poverty unless a national housing policy is developed.
That’s the overarching message from Anglicare Australia’s Rental Affordability Snapshot released on Thursday, which reported that age pensioner couples would find suitable just 3.4 per cent of the 65,600 properties sampled.
Anglicare Australia called for a national affordable housing plan and singled out priority areas including housing stock that was designed and modified for the needs of older people and those with disability.
The report is the latest research to highlight the need for greater affordable housing for seniors. In January think tank Per Capita made a range of recommendations on how government could respond to the “urgent issues” arising from the disconnect between national housing strategy and aged care policy. Peak body Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) has also called on government to develop a national housing strategy, pointing that out an estimated 2,000 Australians aged over 65 currently sleep rough.
The Anglicare Australia report singled out older single women as particularly at risk in the affordable housing shortage. It said:
“Older, single women are currently one of the most disadvantaged population groups in Australia due to a range a reasons including time spent out of workforce, caring responsibilities, the pay gap compared to their male counterparts, less superannuation and expensive rental prices.”
The report said that with the aged care and pensions systems effectively “designed for home owners,” the poverty rate after housing costs had been deducted was higher for those who did not own their home.
“With a scarce supply of housing in the private market, older people may be required to move into residential aged care at an earlier age, which can be as or more costly than private rentals,” the report said.
It warned that while home ownership was currently high among those aged over 65 (82 per cent), greater proportions of the future aged population would hold mortgage debt or be renting. “Without a corresponding increase in housing supply to match demand, the result will be an even higher demand of appropriate housing stock.”
Launching the report, Anglicare Australia executive director, Kasy Chambers said many older private renters were at risk of homelessness for the first time in their life. “Social housing is especially important for older people as the long term tenure, as well as low rent, allows them to maintain independence and connection, but it is in short supply,” she said.
Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia backed the call for a national affordable housing plan.
COTA chief executive Ian Yates said the risk of poverty increased exponentially for older people if they were not home owners, particularly if they rented privately, but almost one in five over 65s did not own their home outright.
“Secure long-term tenure and affordable rents are absolutely vital to keeping older people in their communities, where they can access services, maintain their friendships and support networks, and remain independent,” said Mr Yates.
Aged care provider Benetas also backed the call for a national strategy. CEO Sandra Hills pointed to the increasing risk of older Australians moving into residential aged care before they were ready, because of a lack of options.
“We have serious concerns about the effect this has on individuals and their families, such as inferior quality of life and lack of independence. In addition, it leaves the sector with a higher demand in beds for people who really need them. It is simply an unacceptable outcome for everyone.”
Ms Hills urged government to work with the key peak bodies to implement a national plan to provide better housing support to all Australians who need it.
Related AAA coverage: Project targets CALD seniors at risk of homelessness