The unwelcome future stalking older single women

The Australians at greatest risk of homelessness and what we’re not doing about it.

mature woman with head in her hands

Debbie Faulkner, University of South Australia and Laurence Lester, University of Adelaide

Older women have been recognised as the fastest-growing group of homeless people in Australia in recent years. Yet until now, we have not known exactly how many older women are at risk of homelessness. Our research, released today, finds about 240,000 women aged 55 or older and another 165,000 women aged 45–54 are at risk of homelessness.

The startling data from our research give us a much better picture of the scale of the problem. We also quantify the impacts of the various factors that may increase women’s risk of becoming homeless.

Effective policy is grounded in quantifying the nature and complexity of issues. To date, a limited but growing number of studies have highlighted the experiences of older women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. But few studies quantified the numbers at risk and the factors that increase the risk.

What puts women at risk?

Older woman looks at her rent payment notices.

Older people who live in private rental housing are at higher risk of becoming homeless. Shutterstock

Older people are generally considered to be at less risk of homelessness because of their higher rates of home ownership. But increasingly unaffordable housing has added to concerns about the circumstances and living situations of older people who do not own homes, have limited wealth and savings and do not have the benefit of living in social housing. These households rely on the private rental market and are at considerable risk of housing affordability stress and hence homelessness.

To examine risk profiles, we constructed an empirical model of risk of homelessness since the 2007–09 global financial crisis (GFC) using data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. The modelling included people who hold a mortgage or pay rent in private or public housing and are aged 45 or older.

This work found older women are more likely to be at risk of homelessness if they have one or more of the following characteristics:

• have been at risk before

• are not employed full-time

• are an immigrant from a non-English-speaking country

• are in private rental housing

• would have difficulty raising emergency funds

• are Indigenous

• are a lone-person household

• are a lone parent (but little evidence for those never married).

We estimated these profiles using a statistical model to analyse the relationship between homelessness risk and the characteristics of interest. We controlled for other characteristics that are likely to influence the risk of becoming homeless but which were not the focus of the study.

Risk factors compound each other
Multiple factors compound the risk of being homeless. While noting sampling limitations (small samples in subgroups of the data and annual volatility), the HILDA data for the post-GFC period suggest:

- for women aged 55–64 in a private rental, about 28 per cent are likely to be at risk

- for women who are also not employed full-time the percentage at risk increases to about 34 per cent

- for those who are also a lone parent the risk rises to over 65 per cent

- the risk increases to over 85 per cent if, in addition, they have experienced at least one prior occurrence of being at risk.

Bar chart shows how a women's risk of homeless increases with each extra risk factor Data: HILDA Survey, Author provided

Clearly, a person’s propensity to be at risk of homelessness is cumulative over time.

Why the numbers at risk will grow
Our estimates of the numbers of people at risk are accurate to within plus or minus 10 per cent. Based on Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) population projections, it is clear that, without changes to policy, these numbers are likely to increase due to one important factor. The model shows a lone-person household is a dominant factor in increasing the likely risk of homelessness.

Lone-person households are expected to comprise 24–27 per cent of all households by 2041. This equates to between 3.0 and 3.5 million Australians (of all ages). Female lone-person households are projected to increase by between 27.6 per cent and 58.8 per cent (ABS 2019b).

Australia has made little policy progress on housing affordability. We also have a severe shortage of social housing to meet demand. This points to the need to pursue other avenues to improve the lives of older low-income households.

The Ageing on the Edge Older Persons Homelessness Prevention Project – funded by the JO and JR Wicking Trust and administered by Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG) – has worked over the past five years to give voice to these older women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The project works with interested agencies (government and non-government) to identify and promote early intervention and prevention strategies and to lobby for government policy change.

Of course, there is one simple answer to achieving long-term outcomes that allow people the basics of a decent older age: an appropriate affordable home.The Conversation

Debbie Faulkner, Senior Research Fellow, UniSA Business, University of South Australia and Laurence Lester, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Housing, Urban and Regional Planning, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Were you disappointed that some of the federal government COVID stimulus measures did not boost social housing? Should governments be doing more to address homelessness?

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4th Aug 2020
Rather than increasing social housing, there should be more education regarding financial planning, budgeting and purchasing a home. I really can’t understand why so many people over 55 are renting (unless they’ve had an unexpected occurrence in their life which they couldn’t have planned for).

I’m an ‘older single woman’. I bought my house when I was 26 and had paid it off by the time I was 32, because it only cost $46,000 way back then. I don’t understand why people in my age group, who have had 40 years or more to buy a house, have not done so.

And I know some people don’t plan for their future / retirement years because they expect the government to look after them. There should be incentives for people to pay off a house and be self-funded at retirement, but there isn’t. In fact the opposite occurs.
4th Aug 2020
What a patronising comment. You assume that most other women in your age group have enjoyed the same income and opportunities as you. You mention twice that you're unable to understand - it's very clear that you don't.
4th Aug 2020
Baxbee - agree. Defintely needs to change name from 'Fedup' to 'braggerme'. The one thing she did get right was when she says "I don't understand'. I too am an older single woman, and I have a large group of women friends, all with varying and different housing situations and all I can say to Fedup - she was lucky.
Take into account divorce. Death of a male partner. Being ripped off by an employer. I was a single parent in my late 20's after my fiance was killed in an accident. I got ripped off by a Victorian Govt sponsored home loan scheme, and ended up having to walk away with nothing and starting again at age 42. I worked my butt off, no holidays, no relationships, limited going out, worked 3 jobs - all in lower paying jobs, my main priority, my daughter and her education. I bought a dump of a place when I was 49, I have only JUST paid it off. Still had a small mortgage on pension. Little to nothing in super.
You can plan all you want, I would have loved to be more financially independent, but circumstances stepped in. As has happened with the current pandemic situation.
5th Aug 2020
Well Fedup lucky you!!!
I can’t agree more with Older & Wiser and Bazbee. You obviously have no understanding of the difficulties that can come into someone’s life that can make things such as home ownership, getting loans and having superannuation nest eggs, impossible dreams. Try thinking about an older woman like myself who discovered after 40 years of marriage that a fraudulent husband had frittered away all joint savings as well as her superannuation. It’s a complex world Fedup. Don’t judge those of us who have had a harder road to walk.

4th Aug 2020
Number one question here is, are there more homeless men than homeless women. Please include 'older' if you like.
4th Aug 2020
As rents are so high now would it be possible for say three women to buy a modest house together? At least they couldn’t be chucked out and the money they spent on rent would then be on a more useful mortgage.
4th Aug 2020
Why does the Government not put money into public housing. Over the last decades less and less public housing stock is available. Spending on this would help the construction industry and all those people who struggle to stay in housing could be supported.
4th Aug 2020
And there will be more because of those losing their jobs now in Victoria, it is time to boost jobs by building social housing, rents are still going up while housing prices are going down. There is no point wondering how people have been made homeless, the fact is clear, we have too many facing homelesseness for many reasons and it is time as a wealthy country to fix it.
5th Aug 2020
Gee Fedup you must have had a good job to pay off your house loan in 6 years. When I got married we took out a loan from a private money lender as well as the main loan from a building society to buy our house because we didn't have enough for the deposit and we had to pay the private loan off in 6 years. My husband worked 3 shifts on a fairly low wage and I did office work as a Girl Friday all around the district in between having 2 children in those 6 years, relying on family as babysitters and practically living on bread and dripping. In 1956 our house cost 7,500 English Pounds in those days and it took over 25 years to pay back the building society. So don't tell me about financial planning! But for the grace of God and a loving husband I now still have the house but am now a widow and struggling to keep it, considering repairs required on a 64-year-old house and only being on an aged pension with no super or savings left because of helping my family along the way with disabled children and adults. It is a struggle to pay the council rates on my property because it is in a very good desirable area.
I have a friend who has had 2 houses repossessed by the bank because her husband went into private business but couldn't manage it and they lost everything. She has had to work all her adult life to keep her head above water as well as raising 2 children. Well, Fedup, you've had it easy. You haven't done your sums correctly not taking into account the raising of children or the loss of a partner or husband and using your savings and super to help out your family. It makes a big difference.

5th Aug 2020
That's it' Lets care about homeless women. Don't worry about the holes men of whom there are greater numbers.
5th Aug 2020
That's it' Lets care about homeless women. Don't worry about the homeless men of whom there are greater numbers.
5th Aug 2020
It is not about not caring for homeless men, the article is talking about the fact that the fastest increase in homeless people are women. All homeless people need to be looked after, and only Government building of social housing will fix this crisis.
5th Aug 2020
Well Incognito the singular gender focus is repetitive.

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