Pru Goward, the NSW Minister for family Community Services, Social Housing, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assualt, talks about why women over the age of 55 are the fastest growing group of homeless
Ross Greenwood : Welcome back to Work Life Money right around Australia. Well, in a week when a lot has been talked about the issue of people trying to get into their first homes. I think it’s always worthwhile thinking about the other side of it, and that is, people who don’t have a home and are not likely to ever have a home. Homelessness is a fundamental problem in Australia right now.
While you might be sitting there and thinking about the way in which you might be able to try and turn the equity in your house into superannuation to live off in the future, the decisions about your kids and whether you should be helping your kids with their deposits for a new home, all that type of stuff. Bear in mind that there is a risk that everyone of us could with a false few small slips in our lives, find ourself without a roof over our head. I’ve got be honest and say that for the St. Vincent de Paul of Venice, I do the CEO Sleepout each year. Now, that again is something to highlight the plight of homelessness in Australia: men, women, the whole lot.
But there’s another fundamental problem and that is, that there is an increasing number of women, aged over 55, that are becoming homeless. Now, St. Vincent de Paul have done a lot of this work. But the whole point is that it’s going to be the fastest growing group of people experiencing homelessness in percentage terms are women aged over 55. This is not good in a society that’s supposed to be the most wealthy in the world, in fact, second most wealthy behind Switzerland.
But a person who is trying to do something about this and can understand the issues is the Minister for Social Housing, the Minister for Family and Community Services and also the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in New South Wales, Pru Goward, who’s on the line right now. Many thanks for your time, Pru.
Pru Goward: Thank you, Ross.
Ross Greenwood:Look, the real worries about this is that there are 700,000 women in Australia aged over 45 who are single. There are 500,000 of those 700,000 are likely to fall into housing stress over the next 20 years: that’s half a million people. Not necessarily who are homeless, but who might have struggles hanging on to the home that they might, the apartment that they rent, the house that they might have a mortgage over. The issue here is that it’s significantly worse for those women who might be divorced as compared with those women who are married, but it’s increasingly becoming a female problem as they age.
Pru: That’s right. And remember, often these women — we all have thought that they have found a house, or that they do own a house in common with their partner, and then he gambles it and because their name is on the title with his, they lose their half of the house as well. Or there’s a very bitter divorce and he walks off with his half, you walk off with yours but you haven’t got enough money to buy a house, certainly not in the area that you’ve grown up in or that you’ve been living in.
I guess one of the worst problems I’ve encountered is women who do pay half the mortgage, who’ve worked all their lives and then on divorce or their partner just leaves, they discover that he never put their name on the title, that he was the sole owner, and that all those years of working have left them without a cent. If you don’t catch them before they get away with the money and spend it, you can end up at the age of 55 or 60 without anything.
The moral of that story is that it’s not enough to be economically independent by working. You have to know your financial rights, and you have to be able to see the documents. You have to ask yourself, “Why haven’t I signed a bank document for the mortgage? Why haven’t I have been sent notices about rates and taxes that are paid by land owners, by property owners?” There’re the sorts of give away that should be telling a financially literate woman that she is not the owner. Then she’s going to make a decision: she either get herself on that property title or she leaves the relationship.
The importance of knowing and understanding where your assets are.
Ross Greenwood: Okay. I need to go to another aspect of this because it is actually really important. These are basic things that people will confront in their lives. And as you say, it’s actually during your working life, during your relationship knowing where the assets are, who holds the assets because quite often it can be on both sides. Say for example, for whatever reason a home might be held in a wife’s name or it might be held in a male’s name or it might be — these type of things, you’ve got to actually understand where the assets are, what the assets are. Not only is it helpful in say, for example, if there’s a separation and as we know, the number of marriages have now starting to split apart in people’s 50s and 60s is on the rise as well. That leaves people highly vulnerable because they can’t work their way through the problem.
Pru: Their earnings years are limited. And if as many women do, they have broken up their work history by taking years out to be at home with the children, then they often don’t have the opportunity to then get back into the workforce at anything other than the casual level, the unskilled level, part-time level. And you just don’t have the years left, Ross. I think we also need to remember that intimidation and financial intimidation is a kind of domestic violence.
I met one woman recently who worked all her life but he stood over her. She handed her pay packet to him; he put it in his bank account. There were threats of violence. Well, it’s one thing to say, “I can put up with the violence”. But it’s not good enough for yourself to say, and “I can put up with earning all my money, giving it to him not knowing what he is doing with it, and running the risk of being left with nothing”.
Ross Greenwood: And given the fact, we also know not only are women worse off after divorce, but also that in regards to superannuation that men quite clearly end up with a larger balance, largely because they don’t have the same gaps in their work life as women do. They end up with a roundabout 40% more superannuation than what women have and therefore have more to live off.
The ideal situation is a couple stay together and as a result, they can go into their retirement years as two rather than one: it’s a cheaper cost of living. But the reality is, it doesn’t always happen. Men have to be as conscious as women do, but it’s women often that are more vulnerable because of the fact that they have less superannuation and end up often less well-off as a result of divorce.
Pru: That’s right. When I worked for John Howard as head of the Office of the Status of Women, he changed the superannuation laws so that women could claim a share of the man’s superannuation on divorce. What was that? That was nearly 20 years ago. 20 years later, a lot of women don’t know that naturally right. You’re the one working the night shifts at the local hospital as the nurse while your partner is the farmer, but he never shows you the farm account.
It’s having the confidence to assert your economic independent, to assert your economic equality within a relationship to say, “I’m a part of this marriage. Okay, I only work part-time; you work full time but I’ve looked after our children. I need to be sure that I’m on every document that I need to be on; that I do have the share of the house that I believed I was entitled to. I’ve got to make sure that I am able to look after myself if anything would happen to me or to you in our 50s”.
I’ve seen so many women ending up living with their own children, sharing a bedroom with an 8 year old grandchild. That starts to wear a bit thin. We’re asking a lot of families. And the obvious solution is make sure you know your financial rights: you know that your notice on that title; you should be looking at the rates and taxes notices you get from your local council. If you’re not on it, that’s a dead giveaway. You don’t actually have ownership of that property.
Ross Greenwood: I’ll tell you what, Pru Goward. Good to have them on the program. It is really a salient reminder to all people, women in particular who can be vulnerable that really you’ve got to understand exactly where you stand inside that relationship and also from a financial point of view. Pru Goward is the Minister for the Social Housing, Minster for the Family and Community Services and Minister for the Prevention of domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in New South Wales. Great to have her on the program. Pru, we appreciate your time.
Pru: Thank you, Ross.