Older women ageing in long term income poverty is not an appealing topic. Our society is ageing at rapid rate and it is expected that the number of older women living in income poverty will dramatically increase.

The later parts of life are not especially honoured in our society. However older women have great strengths and skills, and have made huge contributions to our community, sometimes in unpaid caring roles, as volunteers, and in lower paid or casual employment.

Working out how to prevent older women from ageing in poverty is an issue that philanthropy can take the lead in finding solutions.

When I first read the Productivity Commission’s 2013 report on Deep and Persistent Disadvantage in Australia, I was shocked to learn that 34 per cent of older women are living in long term (10 years+) income poverty in Australia. I phoned the Productivity Commission to ask how many women this equates too – more than half a million!

It’s time to take action.

As a community foundation we use a lot of different tools from the Philanthropy Toolbox. We need to dig deeper to understand an issue properly and to help find new solutions to entrenched or emerging problems.

In tackling this issue the Foundation has commissioned research, convenes a working group, contracted a social enterprise expert and funded a feasibility study to investigate a project solution.

L-R: Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation CEO Catherine Brown, Adjunct Associate Professor Dr Susan Feldman (Monash University) and Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria CEO Sue Hendy at the launch of the Time of Our Lives? report.

Our research report 'Time of Our Lives? ' was launched yesterday for International Women’s Day. I would like to thank Dr Susan Feldman and Dr Harriet Rademacher on the quality of this report.

Older women have lived through a time of economic and social transformation. Some have unwittingly found themselves living a life that is difficult and disappointing. The report highlights the avalanche of risk factors and triggers that can lead one third of women to income poverty in old age.

They relate to a combination of work issues and life events: low superannuation from having worked in casual or unpaid roles; higher divorce rates; higher survival rates for women than men – 38 per cent of older women are widowed; increases in the cost of housing; and age discrimination in the workplace.

To find oneself at 65, 75 or 85 years of age living in insecure housing and unable to pay household bills and other expenses is not the quality of life any woman would aspire to.  It is up to us all to do something about this and certainly philanthropy can lead the way.
Catherine Brown