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Lack of affordable housing presents serious issues for Australia’s older women

Australia’s ageing population. It’s an ever-growing demographic that keeps the government on its toes as it attempts to meet the changing requirements for support and care. Now added to the government’s challenge is the growing number of potentially elderly homeless women.

Women have always lived longer than men, but today, they are living even longer – requiring affordable housing so they can live out their lives in good health and with dignity. A large number of working women are approaching retirement while still renting or paying off a large mortgage and this presents a looming crisis.

According to the 2011 census figures, it was estimated that some 585,000 women over the age of 45 on low to middle incomes, didn’t own a home of their own and would experience ‘rental stress’ when they retired.

According to Helen Dalley-Fisher, manager of Equality Rights Alliance – a national network of 62 not-for-profit women’s organisations, the above figures present a serious problem as “we have no means of addressing that through aged care policy or through housing policy”.

In early 2015, a Senate enquiry into affordable housing concluded that the Australian Government’s aged care policy needed to address the increasing number of elderly women living in rental accommodation who faced challenging issues such as the inability to install home modifications. It was also found that (out of a sample of 65,600 properties) only 3.4% of aged pensioner couples could find appropriate properties – so inappropriate accommodation is another escalating problem.

Combine this with lower incomes, fewer assets and savings, and you find that many women are living alone in unsuitable houses because they are more affordable. Even worse, many are facing homelessness in the future because they can’t find affordable housing close to necessities such as shopping areas, public transport and medical care.

House dog owned by senior - Sage Institute of Aged CareAs the economy has been changing so quickly, we’re faced with yet another problem – the government has been relying on statistics that are now out of date. This lag time impacts access to current information, especially on the effects of Australia’s escalating housing prices on mortgages. In previous times, elderly people would have paid off their mortgages by the time they had retired. Today, many people carry the burden of a heavy mortgage right into their senior years. When retirement hits, this becomes a serious issue. Others without mortgages are still paying a heavy price on rent, which becomes unsustainable on a pension.

According to Dalley-Fisher, this housing problem is also worse for women over 50 who have suffered relationship breakdowns, or the loss of a partner. These women have often been left financially vulnerable, having spent large periods of their lives caring for children, spouses or their parents. Combined with the gender pay gap, and the fact that they have far less stored away in superannuation and other savings than their male equivalents, they are faced with a very concerning problem.

Sage Institute of Aged Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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