Gail Forrer, Group Editor of Seniors Newspaper Network, is driving the campaign to correct the imbalance in older women's finances.
Gail Forrer, Group Editor of Seniors Newspaper Network, is driving the campaign to correct the imbalance in older women's finances.

Why have older women become our invisible homeless?

YOU probably won't recognise her. She's usually clean, tidy and you can identify her social status as lying somewhere in the circle of middle class.

You might feel you have some connection, perhaps you recall your kids went to school with her kids, or at one stage you were on the same committee.

But you rarely see her around these days and, come to think of it, when you do see her, well, she's a little bit shabby, a little bit sad.

Anyway, she doesn't make a show of herself. In fact, she's generally invisible.

This woman is a statistic, one that makes up the fastest growing group of homeless Australians - the older woman.

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Shocking statistics reveal one-in-four women aged more than 55 years make up this category.

Yet, it can be hard to pick these women.

They're not obvious, except their accommodation consists of sharing flats, couch surfing, uncomfortably living with family or, worst-case scenario, living quietly from a car.

It's an extraordinary situation brought on by everyday factors these women have lived with - limited education, free care-giving, glass ceiling, pay inequality, divorce, part-time work and career breaks that have finally resulted in a lack of superannuation funds and assets.

Media commentator, author and businesswoman Jane Caro says this lack of financial security in later life is the "reward for a lifetime of self-sacrifice".

For these women, saving accounts are desperately small or non-existent because it has fallen on women to manage home, family and a working life superannuation contributions have stagnated when they have taken time out from the paid workforce to look after others - children, parents, partners.

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They have taken a dip when casual/part-time work is chosen to leave time for domestic life.

Ms Caro said statistics showed women may never recover from a divorce, while for men it is a one-off financial hit.

The disparity is often due to women taking on the children, while men are more able to actively sustain a career.

This is the social background behind the new poor - and about to become poorer - generation of women.

These women matured in an era when it was unusual to encourage female education beyond high school.

Well-meaning men were more interested in the education of sons rather than daughters and mothers gently advised their daughters to marry well and support their man. And find their place within the home

Ms Caro said: "The plan was to marry and the man would support the family for the rest of their lives."

Even if a women rebelled against the stereotype, there were hurdles to overcome in the workplace.

For instance, it was 1968 when women were finally allowed to keep bank jobs after they were married. Today, even in jobs of equal value there is a gender pay disparity.

At 59-years-old, Jane Caro, refers to "my generation"' of women. A generation of women who found thoughts of romance as far more interesting than finances.

She said men were brought up to be, hard-headed and pragmatic. Men were generally able to negotiate a higher salary

On the other hand, "women have been trained from birth not to ask things for themselves".

Ms Caro is speaking up on behalf on these women and she says unless we wish to see a lot more senior women out on the street, then we must act.

Her suggestions envelop changes to housing, education and welfare policies, including:

* For every unit development of 70 or more, two should be put aside for social housing. Among other things, this would stop the development of ghetto-like areas of social housing.

* Provide significant incentives to employ older workers and proper recognition of skill base.

* Increase the pension to a living wage.

* Education and financial advice available freely through local communities. "Better late, than never," Ms Caro explained.

FACTS AND FIGURES:

* The Federal Government's Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics from 2011-12 to 2013-14 show the number of women aged 55 years and over accessing specialist homelessness services increased by 26%. These figures are for the women who actually sought help from a homeless support service. Source: www.humanrights.gov.au/face-facts.

* In 2009-2010, Australian women reached retirement age with an average of 36% - or $87,532 - less superannuation than men. [14] As a result, women are more likely to experience poverty in their retirement years and be far more reliant on the Age Pension.

* 2009-2010, average superannuation payouts for women were just over half (57%) those of men. Average retirement payouts in 2009-10 were of the order of $198,000 for men and only $112,600 for women.[15]

* One in five Australians aged 55 years or over claim that age is a major barrier to finding a job or getting more hours of paid work. They say that employers consider them "too old".[9]

* Approximately 80% of all Australians aged 65 years and over rely, at least in part, on the Age Pension.[10]

Have you or someone you know experienced homelessness? What do you think about the statistics? HAVE YOUR SAY by clicking the red "ADD COMMENT" button below.


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