They don’t make headlines. In fact they’re often called ‘invisible’.
But in the last three to four years, carers at Anglicare NSW have noticed an increase in single women over 50 accessing services and facing a real risk of poverty and homelessness.
According to Who is Left Behind? A Profile of Deep and Persistent Disadvantage, released today by Anglicare, women over 50 at most risk of homelessness are those who have had low workforce participation and whose “job” has been one of unpaid family carer. Single women over 50 made up 8 per cent of all household types and experienced some evident disadvantage the report said.
“These are women who have lived conventional lives,” says Susan King, Director of Advocacy and Research at Anglicare. “They’ve raised families, worked part-time maybe, they have little or no super – and they cannot access that anyway until they are older – and they’ve always been renters, not home-owners. They’re not well-off, but led conventional lives.”
Then something happens, King says. A life event. A relationship break-up. An illness. The death of a spouse. Domestic violence.
"They don’t do financially well out of a break-up and suddenly they are catapulted into unemployment or looking for work in their 50s where they have such a skills gap as they have been primary carers. Or they have a chronic health problem that doesn’t allow them to work. Suddenly a life event happens that tips them over and they spiral down," says King.
"Maybe they collect the $239 or so a week New Start, but things don’t get better and they can’t afford that rent. Then they can’t afford the shared accommodation, and then they can't afford to live at the boarding house and then there is the high risk of homelessness."
What makes this particular group vulnerable, King says, is that for over 70 per cent of them, it is their first experience of homelessness. They simply don't know what to do on the streets.
Affordable housing and employment are the keys to turning around this growing demographic says King.
Unlike other groups accessing services, she says, if these women can get a job or can access affordable accommodation they never return.
"If we can get them housing or employment we don’t hear about them again. They are used to coping."