The Global AgeWatch Index now ranks Australia 17th in the world in terms of older citizens’ well-being. According to the Index, Australia has slipped four places over the last year. Now, Australia sits behind other comparable countries, with most of Western Europe, the United States, Canada and New Zealand, which all occupy places above Australia on the Index. Most alarmingly, the report indicates that 33 per cent of older Australians live in poverty.
Unfortunately, this outcome comes as no surprise to CEO of COTA NSW, Ian Day.
“The pressures on older people are mounting, especially in a state like NSW,” he says. “A number of forces are working together to undermine older people’s security. On the one hand, we see the impoverishing effects of workplace insecurity. In recent years we’ve seen unemployment rates among over-50s climb, with people below the age of eligibility for the age pension sliding into extremely precarious financial positions while they attempt to live on Newstart payments, which start at just $259.00 a week.”
“On the other hand we see rapidly rising housing costs. Sydney is now the third most expensive housing market in the world, and many older people are struggling to obtain or retain safe, secure housing.”
The picture for older women is revealed to be especially grim. The Index includes data generated by the International Labor Organization which reports that Australian women aged between 55 and 64 are significantly less likely to be employed than their male counterparts.
“There are also some troubling indications that women in the 65-plus age group are increasing their participation in the labour market,” says Mr Day. “Our own consumer research suggests this is often because women in this age bracket are struggling to make ends meet in what used to be the ‘retirement period.’ We’re finding that women who are single, separated or divorced don’t have the superannuation or savings that others have acquired to ‘top up’ their income.”
The recently released ANZ Women’s Report highlights the massive impact this factor has on women’s ability to accumulate the savings and superannuation that make older age more secure. The Report notes that Australian women tend to earn $700,000 less over their lifetime than men, partly because of the gender gap in pay rates, and partly due to the length of time women tend to invest in unpaid carer responsibilities.
“It’s wrong to think that these issues are going to resolve themselves – governments need to address the poverty trap that unemployed older people are facing, they need to address housing unaffordability, and the community as whole needs to confront the ageism that’s rife in many areas of daily life.”