Older women at increased risk of homelessness

Jenny Leong MP made a Private Members' Statement in Parliament to draw attention to the increased risk or poverty and homelessness that older women are currently facing. She called on the Government to act to address this growing crisis, as older women's homelessness is often invisible or overlooked.

You can watch Jenny speaking on this in NSW Parliament below:




"This week is Anti-Poverty Week, which is a time to highlight the very real inequity within our society. Often it is the people who need the most support who get the least support. Even before the COVID pandemic hit, it was clear that there was a huge problem with the way our society supports and values older women. When I am out doorknocking in the electorate of Newtown I meet countless older women and I see and hear of their struggles with isolation and poverty. As younger women, they took on caring roles in their households and have now not amassed enough superannuation to be able to live in their homes.

The lack of respect, support and recognition for older women needs to be called out. This is a feminist issue, an equality issue and a social justice issue, and nowhere is the problem more stark than in the area of housing. This month theOlder Women in the Private Rental Sector: Unaffordable, Substandard and Insecure Housing report was published. In it, Dr Emma Power from the School of Social Sciences at Western Sydney University highlights some extremely concerning experiences that older women face in our community. Many of them have already experienced significant rental stress and homelessness. The research for the report was done prior to the pandemic, and I am sure that the situation is now much worse. The report found that single, older women aged 55 and over are hugely over-represented among Australia's poorest citizens.

On census night in 2016 some 15,000 women in New South Wales were experiencing homelessness, representing 40 per cent of the people who were sleeping rough in New South Wales—an increase of 35 per cent from 2011. Those figures are staggering. It is a direct result of the way that our society views and values women. We are subject to a number of risks that accrue throughout our lives and make us vulnerable to poverty and homelessness later in life. We know that it is harder for older renters to find adequate and secure housing. Older women are at particular risk because of a number of identified factors, including lower incomes; less secure jobs; less access to benefits like superannuation; greater loss of income and housing standards, particularly if they leave a relationship with a man; greater risk of domestic violence; unaffordable rents; unfair evictions; housing that is inaccessible; and longer life expectancy.

For many women, while they were able to work or had a partner to share the load, they were able to manage, but without the safety nets that men are afforded, like higher wages throughout their lives and therefore more superannuation, the private rental market is out of reach for older women. As the current private rental market is characterised by unaffordable rents, unfair evictions and inaccessible housing, it is not necessarily difficult to understand why so many older women are facing homelessness. I acknowledge the Older Women's Network [OWN] for bringing the issue of homelessness and housing insecurity to the public debate. I particularly acknowledge Bev Baker, the chair of OWN. It is absolutely wonderful to have the home of that organisation in the heart of Newtown.

It is absolutely vital that we address these issues and there are clear ways we can do that. We need to permanently raise the JobSeeker payment, enable access to affordable housing, end "no grounds" evictions, quantify minimum rental housing standards and offer financial assistance to support involuntary moves that are a result of a notice to vacate or a rent increase. We know that renting costs people more money than owning a home because they have to move more often. People who are already suffering from financial insecurity have more challenges because they need to find, on average, $1,618 to be able to move each time they are required to.

I held a feminist event this week with my colleague Abigail Boyd and we heard from older women who expressed their outrage and concern at how they often feel like they are treated as invisible and not seen in the community. Their views are often not heard and respected. This is not acceptable and it is not something that we should allow to continue. The housing stress and homelessness crisis faced by older women in this State can be addressed and we urge the Government to do so. To the older women in the community of Newtown and across the State, I say: We see you, we hear you, we respect you and we will continue to advocate for solutions to the pressures that you face due to housing insecurity, poverty and the ongoing inequity brought about by the patriarchy."


Sign up for updates