|12 Mar 2021|
Australia’s ageing population, high cost of housing, and significant gap in wealth accumulation between men and women across their lifetimes is leading to increasing inequality. Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reveals that women comprised more than two-thirds of all people seeking homelessness support and were not able to be helped last year. And without solutions, this crisis will continue to snowball.
“[The] data shows that women continue to bear the brunt of any crisis, whether it be fires, a pandemic, or an economic recession,” Chair of Homelessness Australia Jenny Smith says. The AIHW December figures show that in 2019 to 2020, 260 people each day seeking homelessness support missed out. And more than two-thirds, or 67 per cent, of this group were women or girls. “This includes many women who were presenting to homelessness services with young children," Smith says. “Last year, there were 11,201 children under ten who missed out on support.” More than 400,000 women over 45 are at risk
As demand for homelessness services continually exceeds capacity, women over the age of 45 are one of the fastest-growing groups of people who are homeless in Australia. An estimated 405,000 women over the age of 45 were at risk of housing affordability stress and subsequently becoming homeless, reveals the "At Risk" policy report from Housing For the Aged Action Group (HAAG), and Social Ventures Australia. And census figures show, there was an estimated near 7000 women over the age of 50 who were homeless in 2016, this figure reflecting a 31 per cent increase since 2011.
Kobi Maglen of HAAG national older persons homelessness prevention says this represents the “tip of the iceberg” as older women don't tend to present at homelessness services. “But instead make do by missing meals or medication, staying with friends, or housesitting,” she says. Women retire with lower average superannuation balances than men due to a range of social and economic factors including the gender wage gap and time taken out of the workforce to care for children or family members. Female-dominated industries are more likely to be low paid, casual or part-time, while experiences of family violence, gender and age discrimination more likely to impact their work. Maglen says this problem is exacerbated by Australia’s lack of appropriate and affordable housing. “And this means that increasing numbers of older women are left with nowhere to go,” she says. “This is an unfolding crisis compounded by the economic, social and health impacts of Covid-19. It also highlights the critical link between safe, secure and affordable housing and good health and wellbeing, particularly in older age.”
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