Older women in an emerging elderly underclass

Older women are increasingly at risk of homelessness in NSW after inaction by both major parties which has led to a private housing market that is excluding older women.


In the past two years COTA NSW has undertaken two major surveys of people aged 50-plus in NSW. Both surveys confirmed that older women are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.


CEO of COTA NSW Ian Day said, “We were alarmed to find that 25% of women responding to our latest survey were living on incomes of $25,000 or less.


“It’s possible to live on this income if you own a home, but many older people – especially women – do not.


“Older women in this cohort are having to rent in an ever-inflating rental market. Sydney is now the third most expensive housing market in the world, and this is distorting the price of property throughout the State.


“We are hearing increasingly disturbing stories about women who are living in squalid, unsafe and insecure housing, and they’re putting up with these conditions because the alternative is homelessness.


“Women often pay the price for investing years of their lives in unpaid care. Older women are much more likely than their male counterparts to have spent years out of the paid workforce. They reach older age with little superannuation and few savings as a result. If they haven’t been able to buy a home when they’re young, they’re in no position to do so as they age.”


While older women are over-represented among those struggling to find secure, affordable housing, increasing numbers of older men are in a vulnerable position too.


Successive governments have tended to treat older people like a homogenous group, and they’ve assumed incorrectly that all older people have managed to acquire a home.


The last COTA NSW survey found that single older people were much less likely to own a home than their married/partnered peers. Only about 60% of respondents who were single/never married owned their home, with the rate of home ownership falling to about 50% of respondents who were separated/ divorced.


Older people in this group – men as well as women – are also extremely vulnerable in the current private rental market.


Mr Day said, “We’re calling on both major parties to announce comprehensive responses to the State’s housing crisis. We need to see more action to increase quantity – we need to increase the supply of housing and to increase density around hubs – but we also need to see measures to improve the quality of affordable accommodation.


“Unless action is taken to stop older people sliding into poverty, we face the very real prospect of seeing the rapid emergence of what can only be described as an elderly underclass, with growing numbers of older people facing homelessness.”


19 March 2015.