‘The missing middle’: The growing homelessness crisis among women over 55

May 31, 2022
According to the report the number of older Australian women accessing homelessness services has increased by 63% in the last five years. Source: Getty Images

A new report from the Retirement Living Council has found that women over the age of 55 are the fastest-growing group of homeless Australians.

The Retirement Living – A Solution For Older Women at Risk of Homelessness report found that the number of older Australian women accessing homelessness services has increased by 63% in the last five years.

Retirement Living Council president Marie-Louise MacDonald said “there are potentially up to 240,000 women aged 55 and over who are at risk of homelessness and that a large portion of these are the ‘missing middle’”.

“Over the past decade there has been a 31 percent increase in women who are homeless, and it is the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia. This report is focusing on the older women who are at risk of becoming homeless,” she said.

“These are women who have done everything that society has asked of them, yet they are in housing limbo because they have too much money to qualify for social housing and too little money to buy a house. Their age is often a big barrier to securing a housing loan, and the pressure of paying rent quickly eats into modest retirement savings.

“They are also missing from the homeless statistics as many of them are missed in data collection.”

The report found that factors such as limited personal savings and superannuation, the gender pay gap, housing and rental affordability, discrimination based on age, breakdown of a relationship, and domestic violence contributed to the growing number of older Australian women who are winding up homeless. The report also found that these women had “led conventional lives” with “stable homes and families” and homelessness was often “forced upon them after critical life events.”

The report stressed that “urgent action is needed to find safe, secure and long-term housing options for older women who do not have the option of home ownership” and highlighted that inaction will result in Australian women over 55 living “lease to lease in homes that are not age-friendly” with rental payments that will soon surpass pensions and personal income.

Eight key recommendations were offered in an effort to assist women caught in the “missing middle” which include increasing awareness of retirement living as an affordable housing option, supporting affordability with rental assistance, creating a portal for pre-listings, government supported loans for women with equity, providing early access to superannuation without a penalty, an expansion of the shared equity model to include over 55s and a series of support grants.

Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson acknowledged the need for solutions in addressing this growing crisis among older Australian women.

“There are a range of needs, circumstances and possible solutions which are practical, innovative and achievable, highlighting that early intervention measures will save all levels of government money in the medium to long-term,” she said.

“I congratulate the retirement living industry in tackling this complex issue and commend their genuine commitment in providing and suggesting affordable housing solutions for older women at risk of homelessness who, once they move in to an older person-friendly community, will know they have housing security for the rest of their life.”

The Rental Affordability Snapshot National Report April 2022 recently found that the housing crisis in Australia, making rental properties a competitive and expensive market, has left less than one per cent of affordable houses available to pensioners.

The Snapshot identified key factors such as low incomes and high prices as the main reason for rentals being unaffordable for pensioners and of the 45,992 assessed rental properties, only 312 of the properties were available to those on the age pension.

Anglicare CEO Simon Miller issued a warning saying “any further delay is just extending the crisis”, calling on the government to focus on fixing the housing crisis.

“This year, our Snapshot affirms that the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to impact the vulnerable in our society and economic recovery is still affecting those that are living on the margins,” Miller said.

“For example, in suburbs like Parramatta, there are simply no housing available for a single parent with 1 or 2 children receiving either the parenting payment benefit, Jobseeker or an aged pension.”

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