meEvery time I speak publicly about the real difficult situation faced by older women in Australia, as I did in last week’s question and answer session, I am inundated with messages on social media. But practically all those messages are from other older women. They trust me with their terror of homelessness and the inescapability of their poverty. They tell me about the indignities and humiliations they suffer at the hands of a punitive and indifferent welfare system, whispering dark stories of domestic violence, neglected health and isolation. These women are my companions (I am 63 years old). They are the girls I went to school with, my sisters, neighbors, cousins and friends. We all start out with the same hopes and optimism about our future, but for too many women of my generation, those hopes have turned to ashes.
Covid-19 has made things worse in many ways, but it presents particular dangers for those of us who are older. There are the losses that cannot be avoided: increased isolation, loss of contact with grandchildren and other family members, and the need to take greater precautions when venturing out, but that’s not the worst. Covid-19 has revealed and accelerated the discrimination and systemic burdens that make women more vulnerable to poverty throughout their lives. A vulnerability that increases as we age.
Before Covid, women over 55 were already the fastest growing group among the homeless. Research published in August estimated that 400,000 women over 45 They are currently facing this fate. Women who are in the private rental market, who are not employed full time and are single parents have a 64% risk of losing the roof over their head. If they have been homeless before, this risk increases to a staggering 83%! These figures are discouraging, but has anyone noticed? Is there a clamor? Does anyone other than the women themselves really care?
Education used to be one of the good news in feminism. Australian women are among the best educated in the world. However, thanks to Covid, even this may be changing. There has been a drastic drop in college tuition per women and girls: 86,000 fewer in 2020. It’s not just fading hopes, dreams, and talent, it’s a life of greater earning power lost. Male enrollment has also decreased, but at a much lower rate. To be sure, female aspirations have not been helped by the federal government’s bizarre decision to price titles popular with female students out of reach. And despite the rhetoric, many women who dreamed of studying humanities have not entered Stem. It seems that many have abandoned the idea of attending college.
The recent budget, touted as all about jobs, did little or nothing to help. Did nothing to support women’s employment, despite female workers lose more hours of paid work than men. In September, the ABS estimated that 61% of all jobs lost since February were lost by women, and only a third of the jobs that have returned have been for women. Lockdowns and working from home have caused many women to experience a large increase in their unpaid work hours, which, as always happens, affects their ability to return to full-time employment. When criticized for ignoring the plight of women in the recent budget, the government haughtily claimed it was “gender blind,” as if not realizing how much women struggled was somehow a virtue.
Not “seeing” women is one thing, but deliberate politics that hinder women’s ability to enter and remain in the paid workforce is quite another. The decision to make early childhood educators, the vast majority of whom are low-paid and women, the first (and so far only) group to lose worker support seems designed to harm working women. Not just daycare employees, but all people (mostly women) who depend on child care to support themselves its job. The government also quickly restored the cost of childcare before Covid, since the most expensive room in the world, reestablishing yet another barrier that prevents women from returning to the workforce after having children, particularly full-time.
The decision to allow Australians early access to their grocery store to help them get ahead has also been particularly disastrous for women. Currently they retire with an average of half of the super men and a third of the women retire without any super. Industry experts are already sounding the alarm that this will condemn future generations of women to a poverty-stricken old age.
To explain to those in the back, this is important because if you are forced into informal, part-time, low-paid work, and women make up almost 70% of part-time workers in Australia, If you enter and leave the workforce due to housework and care, if you are the last hired and fired after age 50, you accumulate less super. Sexism, discrimination and obstacles worsen until, according to this year’s report Measure by measure report, 60% of older single women (never married, divorced, widowed) depend on the full age pension and half of them live in permanent income poverty. In other words, your reward for a lifetime of putting other people’s needs before your own is most likely an old age of poverty and sleeping rough.
I don’t want to believe that our government is using the pandemic to push women, especially mothers, back into the kitchen and back into financial dependence on their husbands, it really isn’t. But when you put it all together, it’s hard not to come to that conclusion. Whether this is part of an ideological belief that women should be at home, caring for children, or simply an inability to see or care about the fate of 51% of the population, the long-term consequences for the generation current women are terrible. Whether they want to think about it or not, younger women now face at least as high a risk of desperately poor old age as their mothers and grandmothers did. Not thanks to Covid, but thanks to government policy.
However, according to polls, this is a very popular government, so I go back to my initial question: why does no one seem to care? Surely we should be marching the streets? Surely there should be daily questions in the House as to why we are gleefully throwing our mothers, aunts, and grandmothers (and soon, our sisters, daughters, and wives) into misery as they age.
Why is it that the only people who seem to notice are the older women themselves?
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.