“Through no fault of their own”

“ Through no fault of their own”. This is the phrase that Prime Minister Morrison used when he announced the new Jobseeker payment that would replace Newstart for the coming 6 months. We were told that thousands of Australians would lose their jobs “ through no fault of their own”.  And since these people could not be expected to live on the Newstart payment of $40 a day, the Jobseeker payment would be doubled to $1,100 per fortnight.

Let’s just take a closer look at the broader social issues behind this government action.

Prior to Covid19, most people receiving the unemployment payment, Newstart, were actually women aged over 50. Many had been on Newstart for years, usually until they were old enough to qualify for the pension. It’s not because they did not want to work. In fact, they were desperate for work, as they were left with little or no super or savings. Most had spent decades in the workforce in a range of professions and are highly qualified. But these women over 50 were refused jobs and locked out of the workplace by widespread ageism on the part of employers, as documented by the Human Rights Commission Report 2019.

Not once in the past did anyone in Government announce that these women were unemployed “through no fault of their own”. Quite the opposite. 

For 25 years, both Liberal and Labour Governments refused to raise the rate of Newstart. Furthermore, this hard line didn’t stop with gross underpayment. There was a deliberate campaign to devalue and humiliate the people on Newstart as dole-bludgers who needed to be drug tested. 

Where were the older women?

Where were the older women in this characterisation? Nowhere. They were invisible. Just as they were meant to be. Because if it were widely known that most people on Newstart were not drug addicts but respectable older women, they would not fit into the stereotype of the undeserving poor. In this narrative, the undeserving poor are characterised as social parasites. So they cannot expect to lay claim to an increased share of the budget from Government.

Compare that to the immediate rejection of placing a similar label and worth on the new wave of Covid19 unemployed. Older women on Newstart had to manage on $40 a day even if it meant not being able to afford to eat every day and sleeping in their cars. Good enough for them, but clearly unacceptable for the newly unemployed. 

It’s no accident that the majority of people on Newstart are older women. It is part of a broader social problem which is based on a systemic failure to value the work of women. Through no fault of their own, hundreds of thousands of women over 50 are ageing into poverty and homelessness. They have become the fastest growing demographic becoming homeless. They are the collateral damage of our society’s institutionalised inequality, gender discrimination and ageism. They bear the consequences of a lifetime of unequal pay and disrupted advancement, unpaid and part-time work, and the devaluation of women as they age. The scale of this phenomenon is of unprecedented magnitude and severity.

Calculating the value of women’s work

It took Covid19 for people to recognise that without the unpaid, low paid or the lowly paid work of women, society could not function. Globally, 70% of health and social care workers are women. But unless clapping in the streets translates into actual monetary compensation and equal pay, it is merely a transient and insubstantial gesture.

Nothing is more telling than the fact that the unpaid labour of women is excluded from the calculation of the GDP. This strips it of recognition as having economic value and makes it invisible. This must change.

On International Women’s Day in March this year, the New York Times published an analysis estimating that if American women earned the minimum wage for the unpaid work they do around the house and caring for relatives, “they would have made $1.5 trillion last year. Globally, women would have earned $10.9 trillion.” The value of this shadow labour exceeds the combined revenue of the 50 largest companies on last year’s Fortune Global 500 list, including Walmart, Apple and Amazon.

The enduring pay gap between men and women in Australia is nothing other than the enduring perception of women as having lower value in contributing to our nation’s economic productivity. Governments spruik GDP as the best gauge of the national economic and therefore societal health. By paying women less than men for the same work and without taking into account the value of women’s unpaid work these figures are systemically distorted. And the contribution of women to the nation’s economic health is grossly undervalued.

Three essentials in post-Covid Australia

Three things need to happen in post-Covid Australia to create a fairer and more equal society.

First: Jobseeker must remain at its present level, even though the Government has announced it will revert to the pre-Covid level.  It is not only inhumane to ‘snap back’, it is also probably impossible with 10% of the population expected to be unemployed. There are now too many ‘deserving poor’ to re-classify them as ‘undeserving poor’. Furthermore, ACTU figures show that 42% of those stood down without pay due to the impact of Covid19 are people over 65. Amongst them, thousands more older women will join the ranks of those already unemployed. The GFC showed us that when older people lose their jobs, they are unlikely ever to find re-employment. 

Second: Australia needs to immediately legislate for equal pay. 

Women can no longer accept unequal pay because this unequal monetary value inevitably handicaps women throughout their working lives and condemns them to economic insecurity as they age. Men aged between 30 and 60 have retirement savings worth 42 per cent more than women of the same age, according to research carried out last year by Women in Super.

If we continue like this, we are perpetuating new generations of women ageing into poverty.

Third: Jobseeker is not meant to be a long-term safety net. It must be transformed into a Universal Basic Income. Spain recently announced that it was introducing the UBI. Covid19 has exposed our society’s desperate need for a better social contract – one that holds the welfare of its citizens as a primary purpose and value. We cannot snap back to a broken welfare system that leaves millions below the poverty line, experiencing hunger, disadvantage and homelessness. To continue to do so will present a greater threat to our national survival than Covid19.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Covid19 – Is it the economy or the elderly?

There is a disturbing narrative growing about Covid19 restrictions. It boils down to making a choice between the economy or the elderly. The argument is that the economy and young people are being sacrificed to protect older people. Mike Seccombe in the Saturday Paper defined it as “the extent to which we will mortgage our children’s future to protect the health of our ageing parents.”   And he talks about “repaying the massive debt we have accrued, largely out of consideration of those older people.”

First, this creates an artificial dichotomy that somehow presents an international and a national crisis as an  inter-generational conflict.

To his credit, PM Scott Morrison has spoken of the dual objective to both save lives and save the economy. In the US, a bipartisan group of 32 prominent economists including former Treasury secretaries and top economists who served the Obama, Bush, and Clinton administrations recently published a letter stating that saving lives during the coronavirus pandemic does not conflict with saving the economy.

Secondly, it’s not just an old people’s plague. In NSW, 1238 of the state’s 2946 cases are aged under 40.  That’s  42 per cent of positive cases in NSW are now people under the age of 40. While the majority of fatalities have been older people, young people are dying too and worryingly, survivors are left with possibly life-long impairments to heart, kidney and other organs.

Thirdly, many people over the age of 50 drive our economy, particularly the rural economy. But even for those who no longer work, does that mean that they are indebted to the rest of us for protecting them? Isn’t that just our obligation as individuals and as a nation. 

Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe  agrees that health concerns must come first.  “If we need to have restrictions for six months to contain the virus, that’s what we need to do,” he told ABC’s Four Corners.

 “We shouldn’t be worried” about the debt he said.

“It’s the right thing to do… we have the capacity to borrow, our interest rates are as low as they’ve ever been, the Australian Government has a long record of responsible fiscal policy, so the budget accounts are in reasonable shape. And if ever there’s a time to borrow, now is it,” he said.

For those who still think the burden is too great, just look at the catastrophe in the US where market fundamentalists call for sacrificing the elderly.

Do we really want that?

_______________________

 

WomanGoingPlaces applauds the Open Letter of 122 leading economists who categorically reject the views that the lives saved by the lockdowns are not worth the damage they are causing to the economy, and that the case for easing restrictions is strengthened by the fact many of the hardest hit by COVID-19 are elderly or suffering from other conditions.

 

Open Letter from Australian Economists

19 April, 2020

Dear Prime Minister and Members of the National Cabinet,

The undersigned economists have witnessed and participated in the public debate about when to relax social-distancing measures in Australia. Some commentators have expressed the view there is a trade-off between the public health and economic aspects of the crisis. We, as economists, believe this is a false distinction.

We cannot have a functioning economy unless we first comprehensively address the public health crisis. The measures put in place in Australia, at the border and within the states and territories, have reduced the number of new infections. This has put Australia in an enviable position compared to other countries, and we must not squander that success.

We recognise the measures taken to date have come at a cost to economic activity and jobs, but believe these are far outweighed by the lives saved and the avoided economic damage due to an unmitigated contagion. We believe strong fiscal measures are a much better way to offset these economic costs than prematurely loosening restrictions.

As has been foreshadowed in your public remarks, our borders will need to remain under tight control for an extended period. It is vital to keep social-distancing measures in place until the number of infections is very low, our testing capacity is expanded well beyond its already comparatively high level, and widespread contact tracing is available.

A second-wave outbreak would be extremely damaging to the economy, in addition to involving tragic and unnecessary loss of life.

Sincerely,

Professor Alison Booth, Australian National University

Professor Jeff Borland, University of Melbourne

Professorial Research Fellow Lisa Cameron, Melbourne Institute, University of Melbourne

Professor Efrem Castelnuovo, University of Melbourne

Professor Deborah Cobb-Clark, University of Sydney

Assistant Professor Ashley Craig, University of Michigan

Professor Chris Edmond, University of Melbourne

Professor Nisvan Erkal, University of Melbourne

Professor John Freebairn, University of Melbourne

Professor Renée Fry-McKibbin, Australian National University

Professor Joshua Gans, University of Toronto

Professor Jacob Goeree, UNSW Business School

Professor Quentin Grafton, Australian National University

Professor Simon Grant, Australian National University

Professor Pauline Grosjean, UNSW Business School

Distinguished Professor Jane Hall, University of Technology Sydney

Assistant Professor Steven Hamilton, George Washington University

Professor Ian Harper, Melbourne Business School

Professor Richard Holden, UNSW Business School

Professor David Johnston, Monash University

Professor Flavio Menezes, University of Queensland

Professor Warwick McKibbin, Australian National University

Assistant Professor Simon Mongey, University of Chicago

Professor James Morley, University of Sydney

Professor Joseph Mullins, University of Minnesota

Professor Abigail Payne, Melbourne Institute, University of Melbourne

Professor Bruce Preston, University of Melbourne

Emeritus Professor Sue Richardson, Flinders University

Professor Stefanie Schurer, University of Sydney

Professor Kalvinder Shields, University of Melbourne

Professor John Quiggin, University of Queensland

Associate Professor Simon Quinn, Oxford University

Economic Advisor James Vickery, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

Professor Tom Wilkening, University of Melbourne

Professor Justin Wolfers, University of Michigan

Professor Yves Zenou, Monash University


Full list of signatories available on the economists open letter website.

 

 

 

 

 

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Abandoning Old People on Ice Floes

It’s called Senicide – the custom of abandoning or killing the elderly once they reached the age of 60 or 70. Different cultures practiced it in different ways over time. In Japan, it is known as obasute and literally translates to mean ‘abandoning an old woman’, usually by carrying her up a desolate mountain and leaving her there. The Inuit abandoned elders on ice floes. If you are ageing in Australia and are financially vulnerable, while you may not be dumped on an ice floe, you are at risk of being abandoned.

Every week, more than 230 older Australians die while waiting for government-funded help to stay in their homes, according to new Government figures secretly release in January this year and disclosed by Annika Smethurst in the Daily Telegraph. Around 30,000 have died over the last two years.

This is just one element of the social dislocation that we are witnessing with our ageing population and particularly with women ageing in Australia. Never before have we had a growing underclass of women aged over 50 becoming impoverished and homeless. The 2016 Census showed that there were 1,060,515 women aged 65+ below the poverty line. Exponentially the numbers are much higher now. One in 3 single women aged 55+ live in poverty according to an Australian Human Rights Commission report in April 2019.

The Face of Poverty in Australia is the Face of an Older Woman

The face of poverty in Australia is now typically the face of an older woman. The World Economic Forum has declared that Australian women will outlive their savings by an estimated 12.6 years. This is the generation with little or no super, and with fewer assets and savings than men. These are the women who cannot afford to buy enough basic food, who crowd the emergency rooms suffering from hypothermia because they cannot afford heating, who sleep on couches, in cars and even cemeteries because they cannot afford rent or a mortgage, and who, in despair and in increasing numbers, are committing suicide.

The Australian Government fails to acknowledge the scale and severity of this unprecedented social, economic and health crisis. But confront it we must, because it has become an existential issue for Australia. 

For the first time in our history, Australia has a significant proportion of its population aged over 50. One in four Australians will be over the age of 60 by the year 2030 and people are living into their 90s.

Australian governments are not coping.

The OECD scored Australia as having one of the worst levels of pensioner poverty in the world. Thirty-five percent of our pensioners live in a state of income poverty compared with only 18% in Turkey! And the OECD recently recorded that Australians over 65 have the highest rate of rental poverty in the OECD.

No Strategy for Demographic Change

In the same way that we need a comprehensive climate policy to deal with climate change, so too do we need a comprehensive strategy to deal with demographic change. 

The introduction of superannuation by Paul Keating was the most significant policy targeted at an ageing Australia. But since then, no successive government has sought to develop a strategic plan and allocate resources to deal with this new reality.

Such a national plan would need to address two key questions:

  1. How do we prevent the penury, homelessness and preventable deaths of literally millions of older Australians?
  1. How do we address the economic insecurity of women elders in particular, since they constitute the majority of older Australians?Apart from the human cost in this crisis, consider what else is lost. This is the first generation in history of older women with a collective wealth of professional knowledge, with workplace experience and skills. How do we harness this extraordinary human resource?

But the Australian government is not engaged in strategic national planning on this issue. Instead its policy towards financially vulnerable older Australians can best be described as a policy of attrition. It withholds their means to live in security and erodes their spirits to age with dignity.

Policy of Attrition

It  is a policy of attrition that keeps older women, who constitute the majority of people on Newstart, on $40 a day – a rate not raised by Liberals or Labour for 25 years and impossible to live on. Up to 60% of people who receive Newstart experience rental stress, pay more than 30 per cent of their income in rent according to figures provided to Senate estimates by the Department of Social Services last year.

The odds of older Newstart recipients finding work are negligible given both the ageism in the workplace and the fact that the latest job vacancies show that there are only 243,400 jobs for 686,785 Newstart recipients. The statistics confirm that older women are condemned to spend up to 4 years trying to survive on Newstart.

The Government’s plan to drug-test Newstart recipients adds further humiliation for these women.

A  25% increase in older Australians needing unemployment income support has turned those aged 55 to 64 into the largest cohort of people dependent on Newstart. But the Government is so determined to delay spending on older unemployed Australians that it is now increasing the wait time for Newstart. This legislation passed the lower house last year and will now be presented in the Senate.

Pensions & Aged Care

The policy of attrition applies also to pensions. Government spending on the age pension has actually fallen compared to twenty years ago, from 2.9 per cent of GDP to 2.7 per cent of GDP.

Nevertheless, reducing spending on vulnerable older Australians continues. Shortly after the Government announced $2 billion for bushfire recovery, the Government announced it would tighten up the costs of welfare and pensions to deliver a $2 billion savings to the budget. 

This follows on from the pressures exerted on welfare recipients by the illegal use of robodebt. Pensioners were amongst those subjected to immeasurable stress and driven to suicide.

It is a policy of attrition and gross neglect that is responsible for the state of the age care system in Australia, both in residential facilities and in home care. 

A scathing interim report from the Royal Commission in Aged Care Quality and Safety slammed the age care system as “ diminishing Australia as a nation”. It described it as a “sad and shocking” system which was “inhumane, abusive and unjustified”.

As a study of 800 nursing homes showed the average spend on food is $6 a day. But both the Coalition and Labour last December voted down crucial amendments for transparency, accountability and staffing ratios that would have forced nursing homes to reveal how they spent their $20 billion of taxpayer funds each year. 

Australia’s elderly are being abandoned to die not only in residential facilities but also in their own homes. The Productivity Commission recently revealed that 112,000 people have been approved to receive packages, but waiting times to actually receive them have now ballooned out to 3 years. Over 11,000 people will continue to die each year while waiting.

Age-based Prejudice & Ice Floes

The Government is not feeling much public pressure to change its policy. This is due in part because as women age they become invisible, so they and the issues that affect them are not on the public agenda. In addition, the prevalence of elder poverty is being obscured by a grotesque generational conflict.

OK Boomer and rich-retiree/franking-credit stereotypes of greedy, home-owning older people are pilloried almost daily on social media. In fact, home ownership rates for retirees have fallen. And the reality is that even women who own their own homes are in increasingly precarious positions as they still struggle to pay off their mortgages. Mortgage debt for people aged 55-64 was 13% in 1995-96.  By 2018 it was up to 40%.

“Age-based prejudice is the last acceptable form prejudice,”  says New York University’s Michael North, who studies ageism in the workplace. “ People are making age-based generalisations and stereotypes that you wouldn’t be able to get away with about race or background.”

Biding time as more older people ‘fall off the perch’  is a convenient strategy for governments that regard older, vulnerable Australians as a burden. It’s a workable alternative when you don’t have any ice floes off your coast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now We Know Who To Blame

 

Australia is in the midst a housing affordability crisis. And now we know who to blame for it.  

THE ARGUMENT

In the recent ABC 7.30 Report series, interviewees including economists from Deloitte, did not blame Government policies for the housing affordability crisis. They did not blame a financial and tax system that fuels skyrocketing house prices by favouring local and foreign investors, developers and speculators. Nor did they blame the failure of Government policy to address scarcity of housing including social housing. No. The real culprits it appears are older Australians still living in their homes. Their generational greed is to blame. 

We were told that Australia is divided into two classes – those who own homes and those who don’t. Housing affordability was framed as an issue of “fairness” – a zero-sum game in which the advantaged, older Australians, simply by virtue of owning their homes were disadvantaging younger generations who don’t own homes. These older homeowners are generally pictured as a cohort of greedy ‘Boomers’ who have reaped the advantages of Australia’s development and are selfishly sitting on that wealth.

The Grattan Institute’s economist Brendan Coates went even further by pointing to pensions as the cause of additional inequity and as a factor contributing to the housing crisis. “The fact that you can own a $2 million house and still get the pension is probably unfair in a world when there are so many Australians who don’t own their own homes and an increasing number who won’t own their own homes in retirement,” Coates said.

Implicit in this statement is the idea that the pensioner owes it to society to either sell the house or not get the pension. Either one of these would somehow help other, younger Australians as yet unable to own their own homes acquire the means to do so. Without supplying any evidence, it also implies that all pensioners or at least a majority, live in $2 million houses.

The best first step to redress this unfairness, according to the Grattan Institute, is to no longer exclude the home in the pension assets test. They spelled this out in their submission to the Government’s Retirement Incomes Review . Coates and his co-author Jonathan Nolan recommended that the family home of pensioners be included in the pension assets test above a suggested $500,000 threshold. They proposed this measure as one of the ways the government could avoid increasing super contributions and save the government money. 

However, framing the housing affordability crisis as a generational conflict distorts the reality of the housing crisis. And the proposal to include the home in the pension asset test will actually impoverish a greater number of older Australians, particularly older women, at a much faster rate. It will only accelerate homelessness. Furthermore, it would most likely force a dramatic increase in Government spending rather than reduce it.  

THE REALITY

What is clear is that if the family home were to be included in the pensions asset test, it would have the most drastic consequences for older Australians.

Median house prices in Melbourne and Sydney at the end of December 2019 were $778,649 and $973,664 respectively. In the other capital cities the medians were around $500,000 or more. This would mean that most home-owning pensioners would become disqualified for the pension as their homes most probably would be valued above the suggested threshold. Pensioners receive the pension either in full or part, because they have no or little income. So this measure would mean pensioners would be forced to sell their homes in order to survive. 

The reality is that Australian pensioners already live in one of the worst states of pensioner poverty in the developed world. OECD figures show that 35.5% of Australian pensioners live below the poverty line.

PLUMMETING HOME OWNERSHIP AMONGST OLDER AUSTRALIANS

The reality is that the home ownership rates amongst older people are already plummeting. Growing numbers are being forced into homelessness. Around half a million Australians aged 50 years and over lost their homes during the first decade of this 21st Century according to the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Report 2012.  And the numbers continue to rise.

In the past, Australians usually had paid off their mortgages by the time they retired. Now, the number of mature-age Australians taking on mortgage debt to survive and carrying mortgage debt into retirement is soaring. Average mortgage debt among older Australians has blown out by 600 per cent since the late 1980s after accounting for inflation. Nearly half of all homeowners aged 55 to 64 are still paying off a mortgage, up from just 14 per cent 30 years ago. “ These statistics are quite shocking,” said Rachel Ong ViforJ, Professor of Economics at Curtin University and lead author of the study for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI).

The most vulnerable and the hardest hit are older women who have worked all their lives whether inside or outside the home. They have paid taxes but crucially, have no or little savings or superannuation, otherwise they would not be eligible for the full pension. These women also constitute the majority of people on Newstart and they are fastest growing cohort of those becoming homeless.

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) in 2012 had already raised concerns that rising mortgage debt and falling home ownership rates in later life were undermining the role of home ownership in supporting retirees’ financial wellbeing. They alerted us to a trend that is pushing more low-income older Australians into poverty.

The Grattan Institute’s submission insists “No pensioner would be forced to leave their home” if these homes were included in the assets test because in an acknowledgement that most pensioners are cash poor, they could “continue to stay at home and receive the pension under the Government’s pension loans scheme, which recovers debts only when homes are eventually sold.”

But in order to access the Pension Loans Scheme applicants must be eligible for a qualifying pension – such as the age pension – which the proposed inclusion of their homes in the asset test would most likely disqualify them from receiving. 

The most likely outcome of such a move would be forcing pensioners to sell their homes.

FORCED TO SELL & GO WHERE?

What happens if our pensioner sells?

Likely she would lose the pension because the sale of her home would send her over the asset limit of $263,250 for a single homeowner on the full pension. She would have to find a new home and pay for it in full because banks will not give mortgages to the elderly unemployed. And she would also need sufficient funds left over from the sale to support herself for the rest of her life because rampant ageism in recruitment means she is unlikely to ever again find work. She would not be eligible for a pension again until most of the money realised from the sale is gone. To buy a home she could afford in these circumstances, she would probably have to seek much farther afield, a move that would entail dislocation and isolation from the social connections she has made and the services which have supported her over many years.

By seeking affordable housing in moderately priced areas, she would also be competing with all the other generations seeking affordable housing – you know, the ones who are supposed to benefit from the pensioners selling their $2 million homes.

Many would likely have to find rental housing. New research by the OECD recently found that Australians over the age of 65 have the highest rate of rental poverty in the OECD as a result of the housing boom and an inequitable retirement system. Furthermore the situation for over 65s in the rental market is getting worse, as recorded by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Research (CEPAR) at UNSW.

Those losing home ownership are often forced to rely on rental housing assistance. Moreover, as older tenants, they are unlikely to ever leave housing assistance.  As noted in the AHURI Report, this will put pressure on the government to boost spending on housing assistance, which is likely to further boost demand for housing assistance.

GOVERNMENT SPENDING

The combined impact of these changes is expected to increase Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) eligibility among seniors.

The real cost to the federal budget of rent assistance payments to older Australians is forecast to blow out from $972 million to $1.55 billion a year according to the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.

So removing the pension will probably increase the need for government spending on older Australians instead of reducing it as forecast by the Grattan Institute.

SO WHO BENEFITS WHEN OLDER PEOPLE SELL THEIR HOMES?

Will house prices drop to prices younger people can afford and the scarcity of affordable housing be eliminated? Not likely.

Developers and investors are the ones most likely to benefit. Older homes on bigger blocks are opportunities for developers to put up town houses or apartments they can sell for great profit, especially if the homes are located in central, established suburbs. These apartments and townhouses tend to be aimed at the higher end market with price tags to match, not at young couples with kids.

 Who else benefits? The Government. Removing people from pensions is always a welcome outcome for governments, especially those committed to cutting welfare costs.  Furthermore, the politics of division – pitting society against vulnerable sectors or groups, in this case targeting pensioner homeowners, serves a very useful purpose. It distracts from the lack of Government interest in or policies for providing affordable housing. 

It avoids any public pressure to change policies that benefit foreign and local investors.    Significantly, there are no calls for them to give up their houses so that younger people can afford to buy homes. Only older people are singled out.

To blame older Australians for buying houses earlier than other generations is to blame them for being old, for buying their homes when housing was not seen as an investment or a market opportunity. It is to blame them for buying homes when houses were generally affordable for working class Australians and immigrants. They bought their homes when Australia was a society of greater equity of income and full-time employment. 

WHAT DO WE WANT OUR COMMUNITIES TO BE LIKE?

But the policy of divide and distract works because there has been very little discussion about  the question lying at the heart of the issue – what do we want our communities to be like? This question places the home in the context of community and how we value older people in our society.

This question is rarely asked by the media and therefore most public discussion around the topic of affordable housing has unquestioningly accepted the assumption of the home as a financial product, a valuable asset without any meaningful context other than what may be realised financially. Part of the commodification of everything. But this ignores the context of community. Community is essential to our well-being as individuals and as a society, especially if we’re going to survive the challenges of rapid change. This was most recently and powerfully illustrated during the bushfires when only the resilience of communities sustained individuals in the face of catastrophic loss.

What do older people value when they speak of a home?  Research by The Australian Centre for Social Innovation found that  the value older people place on a home is not financial but “its greatest value is as a safe and private space from which to connect with the outside world, express identity and build social relationships” (Quoted in Emma Dawson & Myfan Jordan “Older and poorer: Retirement Income Review can’t ignore the changing role of home.” The Conversation, Feb 26, 2020)

This is a view that people of all generations would find compelling.

What we should be talking about is not how we drive old people out of their homes but how we plan for and build communities that connect people of different generations in housing where the value of their homes is seen primarily in terms of social cohesion and well-being rather than financial investment.  Who would benefit? Everyone.

 

 

 

 

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We, the Matriarchs…

We, the Matriarchs… are the first generation in history of older, highly educated women to number in the tens of millions.

We are the first ever generation of older women who have spent decades in the workforce in professions and skilled employment, and not in the sweatshops and the fields.

We are the first ever generation of older women who have accumulated independent wealth and economic clout, despite discriminatory wage practices.

And we are the first ever generation of older women who can expect to live into their 90s.

But now we are entering the age of retirement.

What next? What does society expect of us?

Well, nothing really. We are the most invisible segment of the population. If they see us at all we are only seen as stereotypes – kindly grannies, old hags, frail spinsters or old biddies selfishly occupying homes that could better be used by young families. I went to a luncheon for International Women’s Day attended by over 400 women. So little was expected of this large congregation of women that the only sponsor was a funeral home.

The Last Frontier of Feminism

Over the last decades, feminists have addressed the issues in the life cycles of girls and women – contraception, abortion, education and workplace equality, child-care etc . But only now are we feminists of the ‘60s hitting our own 60s. Only now are we ourselves facing the problems of older women and experiencing the magnitude of the discrimination.

Women ageing is the last frontier of feminism.

A National Asset

Older women are seen as a national liability, whereas in fact, we are a national asset.

We are actually the fastest growing sector of the Australian population, we have significant spending power as a group, and remarkably we are a key driving force in the creation of start-up enterprises. More older women are creating new businesses in the US, England and Australia than cool young males.

We are society’s unlikely innovators. Creating new enterprises, re-inventing ourselves and re-defining how women age.

And we have had to take matters into our own hands and find our own way because there are no good roadmaps for women ageing in contemporary society. Society offers us few options. Thirty years is a long time to babysit the grandchildren, garden or play golf.

Instead, we see the coming years as a considerable period in our working lives uninterrupted by child bearing and rearing. Years in which to deploy a lifetime of experience and expertise. We enjoy using our highly developed talents and skills, but few employers are willing to give us work.

“Like kryptonite to Superman”, ageism is a huge barrier to female employment, notes the incomparable Kathy Lette.

Senior Women Entrepreneurs

Undaunted, many women over 50 have taken to the internet in mass numbers and are setting up our own enterprises. Astonishingly, baby boomers are expected to contribute an additional $11.9 billion to Australia’s GDP, specifically by starting online businesses. The numbers of male and female entrepreneurs are roughly equal at present, but Dr. Alex Maritz, Professor of Entrepreneurship LaTrobe University predicts a surge in women senior entrepreneurs.

Vulnerable Older Women

Older women continue to work, not only because we can and want to, but also out of necessity. We all know how precarious the situation is for many older women, particularly those in their sixties and older with limited or non-existent incomes.

We were the generation that worked decades before super was introduced. Then there are the cumulative effects of a lifetime of discrimination: lower pay than men because women were not “ the main breadwinner”; part-time work; lower paid professions and the exclusion from the top professional and business levels. Add to this, the years out of the workforce to have children and look after family members. Re-entry to the workforce then becoming either impossible or with reduced pay.

Since statistically, women live longer than men and only 15% will have their husband alive when they die, most women will lose the couples’ pension. Living on one pension with the government relentlessly chipping away at it, is forcing women to sell their homes.

With pensions cut and no jobs available for older women, not surprisingly, in the past five years, there has been a 44% increase in older women becoming homeless.

I am reminded of a film I saw about a Japanese man taking his ageing mother on his back up a mountain to leave her there to die. That was a traditional way of dealing with ageing women.

Older Womanpower

We must speak out against our government’s policy of impoverishing older women.

But we must not frame the discussion around older women solely in terms of helplessness and national liability.

We must provide opportunities for older women to earn an income in dignity and speak out against ageism in employment.

Not all women want to open up their own businesses, but the many that do must be given the legislative support, funding and incentives provided to the start-ups of younger people.

Australia has an enormous reserve of skilled womanpower that we cannot afford to waste.

And we older women, don’t want to live this part of our lives in the straitjacket of society’s expectations.

That is the mandate of WomanGoingPlaces. To showcase the older women of Oz in all our rich variety, wisdom, strength and accomplishments.

 

Photo – Professor Lyn Slater- accidental icon.com

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True Face of Newstart Recipients

Wendy Morgan, in her appearance on ABC’s The Drum, showed the true face of Newstart recipients.

The majority are older women and they are on Newstart much longer than younger people, often for four years until they are old enough for the pension.

Wendy is not a drug addict. Nor is she a dole bludger.

She is a science tutor, has a double science degree in physics and chemistry, ran a printing lab and also has a forklift license.


Until seven years ago she could afford her rent even though it was being raised each year.
And then she lost both her job and her home because she could not afford it or any other apartment on Newstart.
She put her possessions in storage and began sleeping in her car.


With all her qualifications and experience she found it impossible to find a job, because of age discrimination.
“Once you hit 45, it becomes incredibly difficult to find work.There are few employers who will even give you an interview. If you turn up, they will find a way to dismiss you. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, it is simply not valued.”


Her case worker told her to delete her qualifications from her CVs. The only work she was offered was as a cleaner but several employers would not give her work even as a cleaner because they would be obliged to pay her according to her qualifications.


This is the daily experience of tens of thousands of older women. Despite decades in the workforce they are now trapped on Newstart- unable to survive on a payment that has not been increased in the last 25 years. And on top of that stigmatised and smeared as drug addicts and social rejects.

It is unconscionable!

 

 

For the full interview with Wendy Morgan see https://iview.abc.net.au/show/drum

 

 

 

 

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WOMEN OVER 50 – what shall we call ourselves?

 

Let’s start by listing what other people call us, we women over 50 – matron, old lady, granny, biddy, old bag, crone, hag, witch, are some of the names used.

There is nothing positive about these appellations. They are either neutral or negative.

They denote weakness, ugliness, helplessness and even evil.

They constitute a massive put down.

In a society that values women primarily for their youthful beauty, sexual and reproductive powers, the more we age, the more we lose value. Our currency as women is devalued.

Until we become invisible.

Ask around and hear how many older women will tell you they feel invisible. Discarded.

Men gain gravitas and authority as they age, women are enfeebled and disappear from the

public stage.

This does not reflect our true role in society.

Nor does it reflect who we women are and how we see ourselves.

We are a powerful force not only in the lives of our families, but also in the general community.

We include millions of women, the first generation in history, to have higher education.

We are the first generation of women in history who, en masse, entered the professions and         an unprecedented range of occupations.

We are the first generation in history to have spent decades in the workforce – full-time and

part-time.

All this while raising and/or caring for families – children, partners and parents.

We have a lifetime of expertise, skills, experience and knowledge.

And we just happen to be the largest demographic group in Australia.

There is power in our numbers.

It’s time for us to demand that older women be more visible and play a more prominent role in society. The campaign to have more women in leadership positions must include not only young women, but also older women. Older women should be present in all levels of government, on boards and in the media.

Older women must also be more involved in making policy and dealing with the critical issues facing women as we age – senior entrepreneurship, ageism in the workplace, poverty, homelessness, innovative housing and social solutions, aged care and elder abuse.

The existing approaches to an ageing population are outdated and collapsing.  And the political establishment has little awareness and no commitment to tackling these issues.

A good starting point is proper recognition and acknowledgement of the critical roles

women have played and continue to play. It’s time we got, what Aretha Franklin demanded –           R-E-S-P-E-C-T. As well as more decision-making P-O-W-E-R.

Changing the names we are called may begin to change the way we are perceived.

We should get to decide how we define ourselves and what we are called.

Earlier feminists didn’t want to be defined by their marital status so Mrs. and Miss were changed successfully to Ms as a form of address.

WomanGoingPlaces likes the appellation Matriarchs. It denotes respected status, power, wisdom, leadership and knowledge.  ‘A powerful and usually older woman in charge of a family, or the female leader of a society in which women hold power’ is the definition of Matriarchs given by the Cambridge Dictionary.

Nice.

We’d love to hear your suggestions of what you would like to be called and how you would like to be described. Go to our FACEBOOK page and join the discussion.

 

* * * *

Photo: Maye Musk 68 year-old model Matthew Priestley/W Magazine

 

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The ‘Invisible’ Crisis

 

This election is characterised by bipartisan blindness. Both the Coalition’s 2019 Budget and the Budget Reply show that Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten have overlooked a looming national crisis.

Neither is prepared to recognise that older women in Australia are ageing into poverty and homelessness in unprecedented numbers. These women remain invisible to both leaders and to their party platforms.

So it seems we can best describe it as an ‘Invisible’ crisis.

And yet the statistics are available to those who want to see them.

  • 1,060,515 women aged 65+  are living on or below the poverty line ( ABS 2016 Census)
  • 1 in 3 single women aged 55+ live in poverty (Australian Human Rights Commission April 2019)
  • Older women were the fastest growing cohort of homeless people between 2011 and 2016. (AHRC 2019)
  • 63% increase in five years of older women accessing specialist homeless services in 2017-18 (AHRC )
  • Approximately 48% of women aged 45 to 64 have no superannuation or own less than $40,000 (AHRC)
  • More people, particularly women aged 55-64, are on Newstart than younger people and they are on it for much longer ( ABS 2018 & The Benevolent Society 2019)
  • 35.5% of Australian pensioners, the majority being women aged 65+, live in income poverty compared to only 18.4% in Turkey! (OECD statistics 2018)

Yes, both parties did budget for increases in aged care, but we are not talking about women in aged care facilities or those receiving home care. We are talking about women who still maintain independent living. And it is these women who are struggling to pay for the basic necessities of food and housing, as documented by the excellent comprehensive 2019 Australian Human Rights Commission Background Paper: Older Women’s Risk of Homelessness. 

National Crisis

The number of older women becoming impoverished is rising so rapidly that we are facing a national crisis. And it will only grow worse. By 2030 around 1 in 4 Australians will be 65+. The majority will be women and a growing percentage of them will have no financial security or housing.                                               

Bill Shorten spoke compassionately about people becoming impoverished through expensive cancer treatment. He is right and the new measures his party proposes are welcome. 

However, older women as a demographic group, are not becoming impoverished solely or even chiefly through illness. They are becoming impoverished by virtue of having led conventional lives. They did everything right – got an education, entered the workforce, raised families or cared for family, and did most of society’s unpaid work. They can’t be accused of being slothful or wasting their years on drugs. They are the archetypal ‘hard-working Australians.’

So how is it that many in this generation are now destitute and homeless?

They are proof of the dangerous long-term consequences of depriving women of equal work opportunities, equal pay and advancement, and concentrating them in low paid or part-time professions.

Remarkably, these women were the first generation of Australian women in history to have higher education, professions and expertise, and decades in the workforce. They should have been better off than previous generations of women. But as they have aged, they have been left with fewer assets and superannuation than men.

Most of them have no super as it was introduced too late for them. But those who do have some super, prove that super is failing women. Currently women retire with on average $157,050 while men retire with $270,710. Super was designed specifically and unthinkingly for men in the workforce. It did not take into account unequal pay and time out of the work-force raising families and the subsequent inability to re-enter the workforce. Perhaps it was assumed that there was a male partner who earns the ‘real’ income.

Australia is now reaping the consequences of social and economic practices that have disadvantaged women’s financial independence and undermined their financial security. So much so that after the age of 50,  it only takes an unfortunate event to push women towards penury – death of a partner, divorce, domestic violence, an inability to find work.

Intergenerational

Bill Shorten did not relate to this issue. Instead he spoke about ‘intergenerational’ issues.

This ‘intergenerational’ argument which has taken off lately is extremely disturbing. It is populist talk that pushes stereotypes of rich boomers who have everything and now are standing in the way of younger people getting homes and everything else. It pits one section of the population against the other. It distorts reality and is a dangerous demonisation of an entire demographic. 

What it does most effectively is that it diverts attention away from the real sources of inequality. That is, government policies that enabled speculators and investors, local and foreign, to drive house prices up astronomically.

If older women are still able to live in their homes it’s not because they are exploiting others but because they bought their homes decades ago when all Australians, including the working class, were able to buy homes. They are not the ones who have made homes unaffordable.

Nor can young people blame older women for exorbitantly high rents. In fact it is older women who suffer most from unaffordable housing. Virtually no properties on the commercial rental market can be afforded by women pensioners without assets. Social or public housing has long waiting lists — 60,000 in NSW alone. Waiting time is up to ten years. And compared to young people, their chances of being able to keep working or even to find jobs diminishes dramatically with age. That’s why we see them couch surfing, sleeping in cars, and even in cemeteries. And that’s why experts say that this masks the real scale of homelessness as women are less visible than if they were sleeping on the streets.

And yet neither party committed to supporting the large-scale construction of social housing.  A measure so desperately needed.

 

Age discrimination in workplace

Neither the Government nor Labour will commit to raising Newstart. But Scott Morrison goes even further. His stated aim is to pressure people off Newstart. “ What we’re doing is getting those people in record numbers who are on Newstart into jobs – that’s the best form of welfare, “ he told ABC’s News Breakfast.

But the reason older women are on Newstart longer than the young is because rampant age discrimination prevents them from holding and getting jobs. A newly released government report, Employing Older Workers, by the Australian Human Rights Commission, found that almost a third of Australian employers will not employ people over 50, despite the practice being illegal.

Tax cuts are not going to improve the lives of older women significantly. The Government will only apply tax cuts to people earning over $40,000. Labour will lower that threshold. But many women who are low-income, in part-time work or not working at all, are unlikely to see much if any benefit from this measure.

For younger women in the workforce today, the experience of this older generation offers salutary lessons. Unless gender equality is achieved and superannuation is revised, the only thing that stands between women in the workforce today and future poverty is a few years and a bit of good luck.

So the question remains – when will our leaders recognise this ‘Invisible’ Crisis                                     – the plight of older women, and begin to address this as a national problem?

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TWO AUSTRALIAS

Paul Keating recently expressed fears that as our population ages it will be divided into two Australias –  the privileged Australia with all sorts of assets, and the Australia of people condemned to the pension and poverty. But we are already there. We already have a generation of older women who have worked all their lives and now find themselves impoverished. They are women aged over 55 and there are over a million of them.

Referred to disparagingly as ‘boomers’, these women were actually the first generation of women in history to enter the universities, the professions and the workforce in mass numbers. This should have ensured their financial security as they aged. For many it did, but for too many it has not.

To try to find out how many older women face impoverishment you have to really search for the statistics. Older women are not only invisible socially, but are also often overlooked in economic data. Specific statistics about them are usually not included or appear as an afterthought.

Take for example, John Daley CEO of the Grattan Institute who rejected Keating’s fears of impoverished old Australians and breezily assured us that super and “savings won’t run out at 90 – multiple sources show that on current trends most Australians die with savings almost as large as when they retired.”

Which trends was he referring to? Certainly they totally overlooked older women who have neither savings nor super.

Two other recent reports were just as cheery. Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report pronounced that Australia has overtaken Switzerland as the country with the highest median wealth per adult in the world. Figures about older women facing dire financial stress were subsumed by the general affluence. And the Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research added to this bountiful picture by remarking that the median standard of living of older Australians has improved but is “held down by the typically much lower balances of women, which average 64 per cent less than men’s.”

WHAT IS THE REAL PICTURE?

The ABS 2016 Census recorded that there were 1,060,515 women aged 65+ whose income was less than $499 per week, with $433 per week being the poverty line. That was two years ago. The number of women in this cohort has increased since then and will continue to do so.

OECD statistics this year recorded that 35.5% of Australian pensioners, the majority being women aged 65+, live in income poverty compared to only 18.4% in Turkey! The figures in the table show just how badly Australia compares to other OECD countries.

One in three Australian single women – unmarried, divorced or widowed – live in poverty by the time they are aged 60.

Thirty percent of people on Newstart are over the age of 50, and most are women.

About 40% of renters aged 65 and over are below the poverty line. And, among those living alone, the poverty rate rises to 60%. The majority are women.

We are already seeing thousands of homeless older women who can only afford to eat one meal a day, who couch surf, sleep in cars, or on the streets, or even in cemeteries.

ECONOMIC DISCRIMINATION

Their economic disadvantage is the consequence of a history of gender discrimination.

An entire generation of women over 55 spent decades in the workforce but have little or no superannuation whatsoever because super was introduced only in 1992.

And throughout their working lives, these women suffered decades of economic discrimination, inequality and injustice in the following ways:

  1. Working women were forced or encouraged by their employers to quit their jobs once they married, became pregnant or had children. This was a widely acceptable practice. For example, it was only in 1966 that the Marriage Bar was lifted so that Australian women in the public service could continue to work after marriage. Nowadays, women would sue for wrongful dismissal. It was not an option back then.
  2. They received unequal pay and unequal opportunity across all professions and jobs throughout their working lives, regardless of position and seniority.
  3. Maternity leave was unpaid.
  4. Barriers prevented women re-entering the workforce after time-out raising children. If women were able to re-enter the workforce, it was usually part-time. Both their pay and promotion were consequently severely compromised.
  5. No childcare subsidies were available to enable them to remain in the
    workforce.
  6. Women carried out unpaid labour caring for dependents, including the elderly.

This economic discrimination has resulted in financial and social problems on an unprecedented scale. It has meant that unlike men, women enter old age with little savings, super or assets. And they are expected to make it last for 20-30 years.

These women worked, raised families, cared for relatives, and contributed essential services to society. Society could not function without their essential work. And it was work. A lifetime of unpaid and underpaid labour, as well as unequal access to employment and advancement. To abandon them now is unconscionable. It is also not a realistic option.

ONGOING DISCRIMINATION

Nor is it realistic to tell them to go get a job.
The reality is that because of ageism, older women cannot get work however much they would like to both earn an income and use a lifetime of skills and professional expertise.

A newly released government report, Employing Older Workers, overseen by the Australian Human Rights Commission, found that almost a third of Australian employers will not employ people over 50, despite the practice being illegal. The government has let them continue to do so without sanctions. Some of those discriminatory employers may include government agencies.

Nevertheless, the Federal Government just issued new regulations that will make things even worse for older job seekers. As of September 20, in order to continue receiving Newstart, job seekers aged 55 to 59 who previously had to do 30 hours per fortnight of voluntary work, must now do at least half of these hours as paid work. And those over 60, will for the first time, have to do 10 hours of paid work per fortnight.
In the face of the clear evidence of discrimination against older workers, this regulation can only be interpreted as a cynical policy to cut off even the inadequate Newstart funding that they receive.

Inevitably, it will exacerbate an already perilous situation for older Australians.

 

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The Queen & Other Older Women

Have you noticed something about the women who were honoured this year in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list?

Have you noticed that a significant number of these leaders in business, the media, STEM, women’s rights, Indigenous recognition, and innovation are women over the age of 50 – usually referred to as ‘older women’.

These women have quite rightly been recognised for their valuable contributions to society.  So why is it that women over 50 are generally regarded in the media and in terms of employment as having expended their value with their youth?

A recent Human Rights Commission report found that 30% employers would not employ an older person. The majority of people now on Newstart are older people, mainly older women. And they stay on Newstart much longer than younger people as their chances of getting employment are minimal.

There is a massive disconnect between what older women can and do contribute to society, and the prevailing attitudes towards them and their capabilities.

The fact that for the first time ever, 40% of those honoured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list were women does not mean that older women suddenly started doing stuff. They have always been doing the work, but it has not been publicly acknowledged. It has never won the recognition commensurate to the degree that reflected the actual achievements and involvement of older women.

But we have now reached the stage that we have such a critical mass of women doing great things that it can no longer be ignored. Perceptions have begun to shift. Campaigns such as Honour A Woman deserve great credit for making this a public issue.

This is important not only to give acknowledgement to the women themselves. It is also important to provide the younger generation with role models. As Julia Gillard in her campaign to promote women’s leadership always says – ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”

But that still leaves us with literally tens of thousands of women ageing into poverty and homelessness because they are unable to find work. And I would like to remind you, that this is the first generation of older women as a demographic group who have been to university, have professions and expertise, and have spent decades in the workforce. But now employers won’t even consider them when they seek work.

Which means that employers are actually overlooking people with valuable sets of skills.

A recent internal review by Google into the top characteristics of successful employees revealed that soft skills were the biggest indicator of success. Soft skills were defined as : being a good coach, communicating and listening well, possessing insights into other values and points of view, having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues, being a good critical thinker and problem-solver, and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Older women have honed these soft skills over many years and possess them in abundance.

Just ask Queen Elizabeth.

 

 

 

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