In my term as the Age Discrimination Commissioner, I have chosen three priority areas—the rights of older workers, elder abuse and older women at risk of homelessness.
The number of older homeless women in Australia increased by over 30% between 2011 and 2016 to nearly 7,000. We have an ageing population, a high cost of housing, and a significant gap in wealth accumulation between men and women across their lifetimes. Without innovative solutions this problem will continue to increase.
There are a number of organisations working on the issue and advocating on behalf of women who are homeless. However, many of the services currently available focus on women with complex needs—those experiencing family violence or mental health issues, or who have exhausted their savings and their informal support options.
Limited services are available for older women who are renting, working and have modest savings. The moment they are unable to work and pay their rent, they are likely to be homeless. While I am concerned about all women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, I am focusing on preventative solutions to assist this cohort of women.
Older women’s circumstances vary with respect to their assets, income and capacity to work. A range of solutions is needed to assist them to achieve housing security and sustain it through retirement. This requires engagement across sectors to develop practical solutions—from property, finance and business, through to governments, community housing and philanthropy.
This paper explores the issue of older women’s homelessness and a range of opportunities which may facilitate secure, ongoing housing arrangements for this cohort, including ways to capitalise on the financial assets and the capacity of these women to work to increase the possibility of them achieving more permanent housing outcomes.
It is vitally important that we act now to reduce the number of women reliant on social housing and at risk of homelessness, to ensure services are available for those most in need.
The Hon. Dr Kay Patterson AO
Age Discrimination Commissioner