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Alarming statistics highlight hidden poverty

11 March 2014

Catherine Brown, CEO of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation in Victoria, blogs on topics close to the Foundation’s heart. The Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation is the largest independent community foundation in Australia.

Of the many challenges facing the community Catherine has become very aware of this frightening, hidden one. The recent Productivity Commission report on Deep and Persistent Disadvantage in Australia found that of the people experiencing long term relative income poverty in Australia 36 per cent are elderly single women.

Ruby recently did a piece on a housing initiative in Canberra which also took into consideration this alarming problem and looked at the work of Dr Andrea Sharam on female homelessness.

Catherine’s recent blog (reproduced here) for International Women’s Day shows how the the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation is tackling the issue.

“Life does not always turn out the way we expect it to.

More than a third of people living in long term income poverty in Australia are single women over 65 years. This is more than 500,000 older women.

How is this possible? How did this group of women who have worked all their lives in paid or caring roles find themselves in this predicament? Through a career path interrupted by caring responsibilities, a lack of superannuation, ill health and/or family breakdown, women can find themselves old and poor.

Late last year we helped bring together a forum for the Productivity Commission to present a new research report on poverty and disadvantage in Australia. This research brought together a wide range of data about real life Australians for the first time. The statistic about older women living in poverty came from this report – and it saddened me greatly.

As we celebrate International Women's Day and all the positive progress women and girls are making in our community on so many fronts, it worries me that we don't fully recognise the challenges and disadvantage facing some women and girls in our own community.

What is the Foundation doing to address these issues?

In its 91 year history, the Foundation has given grants to many important organisations supporting women and girls. And now, the Foundation is increasingly becoming an investor in social innovation.

Based on research and consultation, we both support and initiate projects that tackle problems from a new perspective. For example, we have supported COTA (Council on the Ageing) to expand the Age Friendly Cities initiative. We have helped fund the Women's Property Initiative who are developing a social enterprise that provides real estate services to women.

We are also supporting a social worker in PILCHConnects' Homelessness Legal Service to help women deal with the other complex issues (domestic violence, untreated mental health issues, unemployment to name a few) that are contributing to their housing issues.

 We care about getting girls and young women into education and employment–and the Foundation is supporting this area strongly – however older women also need our attention.

When you can't afford to have a coffee in a local café with a friend, something is wrong. Where is joy? Where is dignity?

I would like to hear from more people and organisations that have ideas about preventing older women falling into poverty.”

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