Who are “the new homeless”?

We are a group of women forced out of our homes by rapidly inflating house prices. We are not substance abusers, we are not victims of domestic violence (at least not immediately). We are ordinary Australian women.

We are calling ourselves the new home-less, although many of us have been itinerant for many years. We have always maintained ourselves in housing independently until house prices inflated beyond the reach of our flat-lined low and fixed incomes.

This is a new demographic of home-less that is not addressed in government policy, rarely addressed by the various housing welfare agencies, and never addressed in the endless talk-fests about home-lessness.

Why are we home-less?

There are four critical economic and social rather than personal factors that have seen the creation of this new home-less demographic.

  1. The new home-less are home-less solely because house and utility prices have inflated beyond the capacity of low and fixed incomes to pay. Put simply, pension payments can no longer pay current rental plus utility prices.
  2. This affects both genders, but single women are disproportionately affected by the disparity between house price inflation in low incomes. According to one charity report, 40% of women over 40 are on the national minimum wage or less. According to ACTU figures, 60% of women aged between 65-69 years have no superannuation at all and they estimate that 38.7% of single women will retire in poverty. This is partly the result of a lifetime of underpayment in relation to men, and partly due to the speculative frenzy that has led to rampant house price inflation. It is a problem that is not going away any time soon.[i]
  3. The increasing casualisation of the workforce, particularly for women’s traditional roles such as education (at all levels), nursing and childcare, has added to the inability of women to accumulate sufficient savings or superannuation. Even in rare instances where their hourly rate is high, their annual salary can be low because they are under-employed.
  4. Ageism in the workforce affects all older workers, but many older women are disproportionately impacted by age discrimination in the workplace and find it increasingly difficult in their older years to secure well paid and permanent work.

The structural issues creating the new home-less demographic

The issues are structural and none is going away any time soon. All single people are impacted.

We believe the entire situation is going to get very much worse before any political actions can reverse the trend. Both our economic structure and our social culture must change if this problem is to be solved.

  1. Minimum wages and pension payments have fallen so far below the true poverty line that only massive increases will rectify the situation – increases that no political party would be willing to make. This can only get worse until our society rediscovers compassion.
  2. House prices are set to continue to inflate, or at least not lose value sufficiently to become affordable for the lowest paid.
  3. Women are still being paid significantly less than men, and have more time out of the workforce during their adult lives, to care for others. This situation is getting worse, not better.
  4. The workforce is experiencing increasing casualisation which will see greater numbers of people defaulting on rental leases and housing loans, taken out in good faith while they were earning. Casualisation of the workforce will cause increasing home-lessness and reduced superannuation savings.
  5. Ageism in the workforce and society generally seems to be getting worse, despite the rhetoric designed to address it. Even those who have managed to accumulate capital up to the age of 40 are at significant risk of losing it between 40 and retirement age.

Even if serious political efforts were made to address these issues today, now, this instant – the backwash from the current situation will exist for at least another 10-20 years before incomes and house prices can be re-aligned.

Significant cultural change will have to take place over that time, where women and older people are valued for their true contribution to society, and pensions are kept aligned with the true cost of living. If this change does not happen, Australia will become a third world nation with huge numbers living in substandard and shanty town housing.

The move towards shanty town living has already started with the push by unscrupulous housing developers, supported by massive new tax breaks recently introduced by the current governments, to develop the worst shanty towns this country has ever seen. They are currently pushing to reduce the legal minimum house size to the size of “tiny houses”, a move that this group vehemently opposes.

So what are we doing about it?

We are doing five things to make the most of this situation while we set about fixing it.

  1. We are providing a safe space to have this conversation.  Women in particular are afraid and embarrassed to talk about their housing insecurity.  And women in general are afraid to point out differences between our situation and that of our male counterparts, that require different solutions. Housing Alternatives Australia Facebook Group
  2. We are helping people stay safe by providing information on short-term housing options. Many housing solutions are short-term and less than ideal, but they make it possible for this new demographic to keep themselves out of danger while they are looking for longer term solutions. With sufficient strategies this demographic need never find themselves living rough.  Finding safe haven
  3. We help people navigate the public housing system – This is a nightmare for most independent people who find themselves on the receiving end of judgemental attitudes and negativity from housing workers. At the end of the day, a few “luck in” and are offered a somewhere to live, although often in unsuitable or dangerous places. The rest are placed on 10 year waiting lists. Homeless support
  4. We help people identify low-cost longer term solutions through which those with some resources can hope to find stable accommodation at some time in the future. You will find all sorts of information about longer term solutions, mostly for those with some funding here. Library of Resources
  5. We are advocating for a public housing system that recognises the dangers faced by single women, and that our needs are different from those of men.  Women cannot be forced to live in close proximity with un-vetted men. Women, when housed by unresponsive and uncaring housing providers are often placed in conditions that are as dangerous or distressing for them as sleeping in their cars. Women’s needs must be taken into account when housing women.  What homemakers (women) want

We need help

But we need more help to change public attitudes and public policy towards women. We need the skills and talents of committed individuals to help us navigate the social, legal, financial and public relations hurdles on our way to implementing solutions that suit women. Can you help?

[i] https://www.actu.org.au/actu-media/media-releases/2016/women-are-still-losing-out-on-pay-at-every-stage-of-life-new-report-reveals

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