People walking with sky behind them

It has been 115 years since women gained the right to vote in Queensland, 111 years since the introduction of aged pensions in Australia, 47 years since the equal pay decision, and 28 years of compulsory superannuation. Yet older women are facing homelessness in greater numbers than ever; unable to find secure and affordable housing in their older years.

Whilst the rate of homelessness for older women is lower than it is for some other groups, the rate of growth in older women is a new and alarming phenomenon. Between the 2012 and 2016 census periods the numbers of homeless women jumped by over 30%.

In Queensland, the 2016 census counted 10,000 women of all ages are homeless – but the numbers reported in the Census are only the tip of the iceberg.

Women in short term or unaffordable housing are not included in this number, nor are women who can afford housing now but know that if they lose their job, they will be unable to pay their rent. Women over 55 years now represent the fastest growing demographic in the homeless population and these statistics will only increase as our population ages.

Why are more older women facing homeless?

There are many answers to this question, including:

  • Women live longer and are more likely to be single in their older years
  • Women earn less and have more periods out of the workforce, especially as unpaid carers of children, partners and parents
  • Women have lower levels of superannuation
  • Home ownership rates have been in slow decline in Australia since the early 1980s and more people than ever before are retiring with a mortgage
  • The same period has seen a slow decline in the proportion of social housing in Australia but a continuing growth in demand for social housing
  • Unemployment for women in their 50s is especially impactful; eroding savings and confidence

This Guide has been developed specifically for older women who are facing homelessness or are anxious about their future housing. It is a Guide for older women, but will also be helpful for friends, family members and workers in services that connect with older women.

Through education and information the Guide can help empower women at all life stages to take control, seek help and connect with other women.

Whilst the Guide is a tool for individual women, the increasing numbers of homeless older women is a systemic issue of concern to all Australians.

Everyone can play a role in responding to older women’s homelessness. The Lady Musgrave Trust will be active in advocating for:

  1. Maintaining the enhanced levels of Jobseeker support (formerly Newstart) introduced in May 2020 in response to the COVID 19 pandemic, and more effective help for job seekers over 50.
  2. More housing assistance; more social housing, more help for women of all ages to retain a home they own, better understanding of ‘over 50s” housing forms and more developments for women with low asset levels and low income, as well as changes to land use planning schemes to make better use of Australia’s current housing.
  3. A greater emphasis on prevention. Crisis and needs-based approaches are essential but need to be balanced by preventative approaches. For older women planning and education can be empowering and can help them to maximise their limited resources.

Message from the President of The Lady Musgrave Trust

I am writing this message in June 2020 as the Trust is finalising its first Handy Guide for Older Women. Inevitably I am reflecting on the impact of the COVID19 Pandemic on those women who may be using the Guide.

This Guide is the culmination of over 12 months work for the Trust. Growing homelessness among older women was already emerging as a critical national issue in Australia when we first decided we needed to do something in this area. Our research for this Guide has confirmed this trend and identified many reasons homelessness is impacting more on older women.

The COVID19 Pandemic has led to many rapid changes to the way we are all living. Things are changing day by day and it is impossible to predict exactly where we will end up.

A couple of positive changes for older women who were struggling before the pandemic are the replacement of Newstart with the Job Seeker allowance and, in some locations, an easing of costs and increasing availability in the private rental sector. However, both of these changes may only provide temporary relief.

Against this is a general atmosphere of uncertainty and fear. Many relationships and businesses are under significant pressure. People are currently experiencing job losses and these losses will disproportionally impact on low income wage earners and women in particular. It is likely that more women will be facing housing uncertainty as we move out of the pandemic.

In this context our Guide seeks to be a helpful tool wherever a woman is in her life, work and family circumstances. By informing women about services, housing forms and planning methods we hope to enable women to increase their sense of control. We hope too that the Guide can be a tool for women to join together with services and each other to develop new and innovative approaches to future housing forms.

The COVID19 pandemic reminds us that we do not know what the future holds. But we do know that there is a lot we can do to be resilient and to support each other along the way. We are all in this together.

Patricia McCormack – June 2020

 

Acknowledgements

For 135 years The Lady Musgrave Trust has helped disadvantaged women and their children, primarily with accommodation and support services. Since 2011, together with its partners, the Trust has developed and distributed the widely adopted Handy Guide for Homeless Women products that assist women in need and help service providers in their vital work.

In 2019, the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced that older women’s homelessness had increased by 31% between the last two census periods. The Trust took decisive action to combat this increase and developed this Handy Guide for Older Women which includes planning tools and a directory of services for women that need assistance. As part of the project the Trust is also undertaking a community-wide education campaign.

This Guide would not have been initiated without the Trust’s partnership with the Cromwell Property Group Foundation, who recognised our vision to address this community need and provided seed funding for this essential project.

The Eastern Star Foundation, who has a goal of assisting older women, provided a significant contribution towards the project and the community-wide marketing campaign.

I also wish to thank Watson and Associates who brought their housing and homelessness expertise to this project. They consulted widely with industry, undertook in-depth research and wrote the contents of this very useful Guide.

The Zonta International (District 22), who aim to empower women and girls through service and advocacy, have truly embraced the project. I thank the members of Zonta for partnering with the Trust, assisting with production and engaging with the community to educate and distribute the booklets.

Other key groups involved in the project include:

  • The ‘Critical Friends Group’, a group of professionals we consulted extensively throughout the project with representation from Centacare, Communify, QShelter, St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland, The Salvation Army, United Care Community and Zonta.
  • The Content Division for their marketing expertise, booklet design and website development.

Over the next 12 months, the Guide will be put into the hands of tens of thousands of women over the age of 50 and the community- wide awareness campaign will be undertaken.

The aim of all our Handy Guide products has always been simple: to empower women with practical, relevant and useful information on how to resolve their unique circumstances and provide advice on where to get help with a variety of issues. This original concept remains true today.

We sincerely hope these booklets, together with all of the Handy Guide tools, will find their way to those who need them.

Patricia McCormack

President, The Lady Musgrave Trust