New research highlights risk of homelessness faced by older women in Australia

New research highlights risk of homelessness faced by older women in Australia

By Rachael Wong

Two new reports highlight the risk of homelessness faced by older women in Australia.

The first report, At Risk: understanding the population size and demographics of older women at risk of homelessness in Australia, by Dr Debbie Faulkner and Laurence Lester from the University of Adelaide, has found that 240,000 women aged 55 or older and another 165,000 women aged 45-54 are at risk of homelessness – that’s more than 400,000 women over 45. 

Older women – those 55 years and over – have been the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia in recent years and are overrepresented amongst the asset poor in Australia.

Older women’s homelessness is often the result of long-term systemic issues. Women generally retire with less superannuation than men due to various structural social and economic factors including: the gender wage gap; time taken out of the workforce to care for children or other family members; female-dominated industries being more likely to be low paid, casual and part-time; experiences of family violence; and, gender and age discrimination in the workforce.

The second report, Older women in the private rental sector: unaffordable, substandard and insecure housing by Dr Emma Power from Western Sydney University, shows that older women in Australia are struggling to afford rent, leaving many living in substandard housing and unable to afford necessities like food and utility bills.

With the number of older Australians who rent predicted to increase over the next decade, the report calls for urgent action to address secure, affordable housing across the country.

While the research was completed before the COVID-19 pandemic, the researchers believe that the pandemic makes the findings and recommendations of the research even more urgent due to the adverse economic impact of the crisis, as well as the critical role that housing plays in controlling the spread of infection.

Rachael Wong is the CEO of Women’s Forum Australia