Older women the poorest

With an estimated 533,000 women over 65 living under the poverty line, Australia is facing a crisis, but little is being done to address the issue.

The Women’s Property Initiative (WPI) did a presentation in 2012 at a national housing convention, which focused on the need for affordable housing. At this point it was only an emerging issue and while more research is being done, funding isn’t forthcoming in any great amount. Chief executive officer of the WPI, Jeanette Large, has seen many women, most of them single and needing help, come through the doors of the organisation.

“Many women assume they will have family and support in their later years, but many people don’t have that,” Large says. “Some are divorced, have been widowed or, for whatever reason, have decided to be single.”

In 2013, the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation (LMCF) in Melbourne, which funded the WPI, launched a project to focus on the poverty being faced by many Australians, but in particular, older women. A survey was undertaken, which was split into eight family categories; young couples with children, young couples, single parents, young single men, young single women, elderly couples, elderly single men and elderly single women and this followed how long each group lived in poverty. The elderly groups accounted for 82 per cent of those who lived in abject poverty. Elderly single men living in abject poverty totalled 29.5 per cent, but nearly 36 per cent of elderly single women lived in the same conditions. Catherine Brown, CEO of the foundation did the calculations on a national level, “That’s 533,000 older women who are living below the poverty line nationally. I personally find that very disturbing,” she said.

It’s her belief that if the government invested money in affordable housing, which would enable NGOs to build more affordable housing and community land trusts, that this would address the main issue and enable women to escape such abject poverty and get back into the workforce.

As Catherine Brown says, “Older women are a fantastic resource, [but] they’re a voiceless group. Because they’re so dignified and wanting to help themselves, it’s hard for them to admit they need extra help.”

Read more at TheAge.com.au

Opinion: It’s hardly surprising

While I read the above report with a sinking heart, it doesn’t really surprise me that older women in poverty are being overlooked, but that doesn’t mean something shouldn’t be done about it, and quickly.

As with many Australians who have retired or are approaching retirement, the introduction of the compulsory superannuation guarantee by Paul Keating came a little too late to make any real difference to their retirement nest egg. And while superannuation schemes were available prior to then, for the average wage earner with a family to feed and a mortgage to pay, it certainly wouldn’t have been seen as a necessity.

But for women the superannuation story is even direr, with part-time work, time out of the workforce to raise children and perhaps elderly parents and a lower earning potential meaning that when compared to male counterparts, their retirement nest egg is certainly lacking. An assessment on 2011-12 super balances at retirement by the Association of Superfunds of Australia Limited (ASFA) shows that women have an average balance of $105,000, compared men, whose average balance is some $92,000 higher.

Ultimately, what this means is that more people, but particularly women, will need to rely on an Age Pension in retirement and will become that ‘burden’ which is commonly spoken of when discussing our recent ‘tough but necessary’ budget. Yet the simple means by which to empower and assist people to fund their own retirement, the superannuation guarantee, is being stifled.

The need to increase the superannuation guarantee has never been greater and whilst on the balance sheet the halt to the increase from the current 9.5 per cent to the agreed necessary level of 12 per cent may appear as a saving, the effect on the funding of the Age Pension in years to come will be harsh. Cue more cries of the ‘burden’ of caring for an ageing population. Hindsight may indeed be a wonderful thing, but foresight can be just as powerful when harnessed correctly.

Do you think older women are amongst the poorest in society? If so, is superannuation the best way to end this poverty for future generations? Or should more money be put into funding Age Pensions and superannuation be for those who can afford it?

Written by Debbie McTaggart