A national strategy and investment in safe, secure and affordable housing is needed to support an increasing number of older women in Australia, writes Debbie Georgopoulos.
Older women have emerged as one of the most vulnerable groups in relation to housing insecurity and homelessness in Australia in recent years.
They are not a group that is historically associated with homelessness and indeed, many older women have never been homeless before. They are less visible than other groups and the current service system is ill-prepared generally to provide timely housing solutions.
There was a 31 percent increase in the number of older women experiencing homelessness during the five year period between the 2011 and 2016 census. It is estimated that almost 7,000 older women were experiencing homelessness on the night of the 2016 census.
A National Older Women’s Housing and Homelessness Working Group, chaired by the Mercy Foundation, investigated the housing needs of older women.
It released Retiring into Poverty – A National Plan for Change: Increasing Housing Security for Older Women in late 2018 at Parliament House, Canberra.
The Working Group comprised leading academics, advocates and service providers, drawing on data, research and the day to day experience of specialist women’s housing providers.
From their work we know that Australian women aged over 50 are at risk of financial and housing insecurity because they did not benefit from compulsory superannuation at the beginning of their working lives and were more likely to be in low paid work and have time out of the workforce to have children.
Housing affordability in Australia, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, is a major barrier for many older women. Home ownership is out of reach for many Australians and the private rental market has become unaffordable, particularly for singles.
The National Rental Affordability Index shows a severely unaffordable private rental market for single aged pensioners and Newstart recipients.
The plight of older women seeking safe, secure, affordable housing is showing up in requests for crisis accommodation and social housing. Demand for housing at this end of the housing continuum is far greater than the available supply. Often only short term assistance is available and the waiting times for social housing mean many older women may have to wait years before they receive an offer of housing.
The numbers of older women experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness are significant. The trends are definitive. And the impacts on individual women are major.
It is time for a National Housing Strategy and investment in safe, secure, affordable housing so older women can have a place to call home.
Next week’s Bi-Annual Conference of the Older Women’s Network, called ‘A Place to Call Home’, will focus on housing affordability. Keynote speakers include Jane Caro and Susan Ryan.
I am participating on a panel to discuss affordable housing along with representatives of other key organisations.
Join us to help come up with solutions to tackle homelessness and find older women a place to call home. Find out more here.
Debbie Georgopoulos is chief executive officer of Women’s Housing Company, a not-for-profit community housing provider
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