Being able to pay for a roof over your head shouldn’t come at the expense of feeding yourself or being able to buy medication you need to stay alive, and yet that is the situation in which thousands of older Australians find themselves.
YourLifeChoices research shows that of the 5561 who responded to the Retirement Affordability Index 2017-18 survey, more than 53 per cent of those on the Age Pension often run out of money before their next payment.
Of the 3339 homeowners who took part, just over 54 per cent say they wouldn’t be able to meet weekly expenses if they didn’t own their home.
Of those who rent, many are left to choose between food in their mouths, freezing through winter or foregoing important medication in order to pay rent. Some simply won’t be able to afford to do so for much longer.
Academics and housing providers warn that homelessness is on the rise, particularly for those aged 55 and over.
On the heel of this warning, and with projections that the nation’s older population will double in coming decades, comes the call for more money to be injected into affordable housing for the elderly.
A new report to be launched today by Senator Doug Cameron will call on policymakers to urgently address the problem.
At last count, there were 18,625 homeless people aged over 55, but there could be more, as the Census only takes responses from those with a fixed address.
Renters aged over 65 are struggling to make ends meet, many paying more than 30 per cent of their income on accommodation costs, an increase of 42 per cent in the past five years. In some cases, rent can take up to 70 per cent of an older person’s income.
“This situation is only going to get worse,” warned Debbie Faulkner, the deputy director of the centre for housing, urban and regional planning at the University of Adelaide.
“They tend to pay their rent first and go without their health needs, their pharmaceutical needs or even food.”
And these are the ‘lucky’ ones who still have a roof over their heads.
Brian Lipmann, who founded a non-profit organisation that helps disadvantaged older Australians, says the homelessness situation is getting worse.
In the 30 years since he opened the Wintringham Specialist Aged Care Centre, which provides housing for around 1800 people aged over 50 on any given night, he says evidence of elderly homelessness has never been so bad.
“We now have 1900 people on our waiting list,” said Mr Lipmann.
“A lot of those people have never had anything to do with homelessness before.”
Common causes of homelessness for older people include domestic violence, the death of a partner and elder abuse, he says.
People who can’t even afford to rent are joining billowing queues for public housing. In Victoria alone, around 4000 people are on the list, with that number growing weekly. According to Council of Homeless Persons chief Jenny Smith, around 23,000 people aged over 55 requested help from homeless services.
“Due to the chronic shortage of affordable housing, the best those people are offered is a short stay in a refuge, rooming house or caravan park,” said Ms Smith.
“This type of marginal accommodation has a devastating impact on the physical and mental health of the elderly.”
Aged-care homes are not an option either.
“The Age Pension isn’t enough to pay private rents and the current aged-care system is designed for those with property and assets,” said Mr Lipmann.
And contrary to stereotypes, most homeless older Australian have done the right thing all their lives – working, paying taxes, raising families – only to find themselves struggling at a time when they should be looking forward to a peaceful retirement.
“At the time of your life when you’re the frailest and sickest, to be faced with trying to find a feed or trying to find a place where you’re not going to be bashed or robbed or raped is terrifying,” he said.
Experts are calling for bipartisan support to help solve this crisis before it’s too late – if it’s not already.
Do you struggle to make ends meet? Do you know someone who does? Is owning a home pivotal to a manageable retirement?