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Homeless older women forgotten

By Helen Polley - posted Thursday, 11 January 2018


Domestic violence, wage inequality, financial dependence and lack of superannuation are all key drivers for homelessness of women of all ages.

But I want to shift the focus to older women's homelessness because they are the fastest growing demographic among our homeless population and Malcolm Turnbull hasn't done a thing about it.

It's easy for him to ignore this issue, because it has no bearing on him and he just doesn't get it.

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It doesn't matter that as a nation we are the most unequal we've been since the Great Depression, Mr Turnbull is as determined as ever to cut penalty rates and give a $65 billion handout to multinationals and the big banks.

Rather than grasping at countless "thought bubble" policies that are socially destabilising and detrimental to economic growth, the Turnbull Government should focus on the issues that really matter.

Like the fact that in 2015-16 21,600 people over the age of 55 sought specialist homelessness services and 55% of them were women, or that 32% of single women over the age of 60 are experiencing income poverty.

There are a number of reasons why more women are facing homelessness later in life, but the superannuation gender gap is a huge factor endangering older women with homelessness and a growing number of Australian women are finding they just don't have the funds to retire comfortably.

This comes down to a number of factors, but at the heart of the issue is the fact that women and men experience work differently.

Women are more likely to work part-time or casually and are more likely to take breaks from the workforce to have a family or to take on a caring role. Consequently, they earn significantly less than men and on average retire with about 47% less superannuation as men.

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Our retirement income system was designed around men working full time and being breadwinners. It has always favoured higher income earners who work full-time, without breaks.

There is no simple solution here, but the number of people aged 65 and over is going to double in the next 30 years and this is not something that's going to go away.

Our population is ageing, equal access to superannuation only really came into effect in 1992 and according the ANZ Women's Report 2015, one-in-five women yet to retire have no superannuation.

Older women are increasingly vulnerable to later-in-life homelessness and more vulnerable on the street. We cannot and must not turn a blind eye to this.

A Shorten Labor Government will put tackling homelessness back on the national agenda and Malcolm Turnbull needs to do the same.

Too many women tell me that becoming homeless is their greatest fear and there are too many incidences of older women sleeping in their cars or on someone's couch or house sitting just so they have a roof over their head.

The numbers are climbing and it's a national disgrace. People ask me how this can possibly be happening in 2017 and I tell them that it comes down to inaction at a Federal level.

The Turnbull government has no plan to address homelessness or housing affordability - the only thing they've come up with is a dodgy plan to allow people to take voluntary contributions they make to their superannuation and use that to help purchase their first home.

This is dangerous policy. It will actually make the situation worse and undermine the retirement incomes of Australians which will lock the next generation of people out of secure housing when they get older.

Superannuation should not be used for this purpose, but this is the best the Turnbull Government can come up with – they're hopeless.

There is a massive gap in homelessness and housing policy – and we need national leadership to address it.

Mr Turnbull doesn't shy away from his own success and net worth, in fact, he is flattered by it. He needs to get real and start showing some heart for Australians who are less fortunate.

If he doesn't, Labor will.

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About the Author

Helen Polley is a senator for Tasmania, and the Shadow Assistant Minister for Ageing.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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