Retirement Income

Women in their 60s are the new homeless

Women in their 60s are the new homeless

Having worked hard your whole life, you’re a few years away from retiring and pondering winding down, then – bam! You suddenly find yourself homeless. Sound impossible? Sadly, it’s becoming the reality for an increasing number of Aussie women in their late 50s and 60s.

We tend to think of homelessness being associated with youth living on the streets. But homelessness comes in many forms, from couching-surfing to staying in shelters, bunking in with your children, or living out of a car. And it is rapidly affecting women in their later years.

Putting the spotlight on the problem is the first step in trying to resolve it.

Scope of the problem

Some 116,427 Australians were homeless in the last Census in 2016. And while men dominate homelessness figures overall, the ABS noted that “the number of older homeless females increased by 31% to 6,866 in 2016, up from 5,234 persons in 2011.”

That’s a one-third increase in just five years.

Meanwhile Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) agencies supported over 1.2 million Aussies between the 2012 and 2019 financial years, including 290,300 in 2018-19 alone. Of these, 60 per cent were female, and over 55s are one of the demographics “known to be at particular risk”.

As our population ages, this problem is only likely to get worse – particularly in the post-COVID world. It’s a trend I’m already seeing more frequently among women seeking financial advice in an attempt to turnaround their finances and their lives.

Why is this happening?

Like most social problems, this one has many contributing factors. The ones I see all too often are:

  • Single parenting: Raising kids on a single income isn’t easy. What money does come in, it is put towards short-term living costs, leaving nothing to put away for retirement.
  • Divorce: Relationship breakdowns often leave women with little in the way of savings. Either walking away without what they are entitled to, or getting the family home in settlement with a mortgage only to find out they can’t afford to keep it and are forced to sell.
  • Family and domestic violence: One in six Australian women are victims of violence at home (compared with one in 16 men). Many are literally fleeing for their lives, with a woman killed by her partner on average every nine days.
  • Gender pay gap / gender retirement gap: In 2020, Aussie women still earn 13.9 per – or $242.90 – less per week in full-time earnings than men. That in turn means lower contributions going into their superannuation.
  • Primary caregiving: Many women are forced to abandon full-time work for caregiving responsibilities. And not just for kids – they are juggling caring for children and elderly parents/in-laws simultaneously.
  • Simple biology: Aussie women statistically live four years longer than men. Logically, a longer lifespan requires more money to maintain our standard of living. And inheritance from their partner is not always forthcoming, as it may have been spent on healthcare or used up to fund travel or other lifestyle things.
  • Not seeing advice: Many women fear seeking financial advice early enough and have no financial plan or a too conservative plan.
What can women do?

Thankfully, there are steps women can take to minimise the risk of becoming homeless in their pre-retirement years.

As a start, I generally recommend:

  • Having an emergency fund: This is non-negotiable. Even a small amount put aside each week offers some relief should disaster strike.
  • Spending and investment plans: Have an eye over all your expenses, reviewing bills like loans and insurances regularly to get the best deal and having spare cash to invest.
  • Insurances: Have appropriate personal insurances for your or your partner so a life event doesn’t destroy your position.
  • Time management: Finding a better routine can help free up more time for income-generating activities.
  • Upskilling: Make yourself more employable and able to command more money by gaining extra qualifications and training in your field.
  • Don’t fear advice: Lots of women admit to being scared of seeking advice on money matters. By doing so, they often miss out on expert tax, super, budgeting and investment strategies.
  • Being proactive: Many women leave household finances to their partner, meaning they come unstuck if their partner dies or they separate. It’s your money too, and you have an equal say in how it’s spent/invested for the future!
Helen Baker is a licensed Australian financial adviser and author of two books: On Your Own Two Feet – Steady Steps to Women’s Financial Independence and On Your Own Two Feet Divorce – Your Survive and Thrive Financial Guide. Proceeds from the books’ sales are donated to charities supporting disadvantaged women. Find out more at www.onyourowntwofeet.com.au

Note this is general advice only and you should seek advice specific to your circumstances.