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Today, Monday 29 August 2022, is Equal Pay Day in Australia, marking the 60 days after the end of the financial year that women must work to earn the same annual salary earned by a man. On Equal Pay Day, Council to Homeless Persons is highlighting the impact of the gender pay gap on women’s vulnerability to homelessness, and the need to provide appropriate affordable housing for women experiencing homelessness and rental stress.

What is the gender pay gap?

The new national gender pay gap in Australia is 14.1 percent, which is an increase of 0.3 percentage points over the last six months. That might not seem like much, but men are earning an average of $263.90 more than women per week.

The gender pay gap isn’t about women getting paid less than men when working in the same job. It is the result of multiple economic and social factors that contribute to a lower earning capacity for women over their lifetime.

For example, the social expectations of women to take on caring roles for children or elderly relatives (Australian women spend 64 per cent of their average weekly working time on unpaid care work, compared to 36 per cent for men) mean that women are more likely to work in part-time roles or face interruptions in their career. Another example is where women are more likely to be overlooked during recruitment processes or for promotions, or where women are unable to access high-paid jobs in typically male-dominated industries, as well as where professions dominated by women are paid less than male dominated industries requiring equivalent qualifications.

These factors, along with many others, mean that women are more likely to earn less over their lifetime, accumulate less superannuation and savings, and will be more likely experience poverty in older age.

What it means for older women and homelessness

After a lifetime of structural gender inequality, many older women live on the edge of poverty. That means, in the face of an unexpected life event – a health problem, loss of a partner or job, or a large bill – women can quickly be forced to eat into their savings.

For the first time in their lives, women can find themselves with no money for housing costs and the essentials, and at risk of homelessness. Women who do not work full time, are in private rental, or are single parents are particularly vulnerable.

Women over 55 are now the fastest growing group of people seeking assistance from homelessness services in Australia, increasing by 31 per cent in just five years.

Women, financial difficulties and homelessness

At any age, women’s reduced earning capacity can impact their ability to find secure and stable housing. Financial difficulties and the housing crisis are leading reasons for women seeking the support of homelessness services and the number of women presenting to homelessness services in Victoria because of financial difficulties increased by 52 per cent between 2011-12 and 2019-20.

Australia has a lack of affordable housing for all groups. But, when taking into consideration the gendered experiences that women face of lower income and caring responsibilities, the opportunities for women to secure appropriate and affordable in the private housing market shrink even further.

As a result, women make up 52 per cent of people living in low income households in rental stress, single women make up 48 per cent of people receiving maximum rates of Commonwealth Rent Assistance (25 percent are single men and 27 per cent are couples).

What can be done?

Women have specific needs within the housing market, and reduced capacity to secure appropriate and affordable housing.

The provision of safe and affordable social housing is an essential step to provide women with housing choices. Not only does social housing help to alleviate demand for lower priced properties in the private housing market, it also offers a safety net for women who find themselves unable to afford their mortgage or private rental costs.

But the fact remains: women should not be worse off because of their sex. Flexible work arrangements, improved access to quality childcare, equal employment opportunities, and meaningful valuation of traditionally “female” professions is required on a broad scale to improve the long-term outlook for women and their financial positions.

Read more about equal pay day at equalpayday.com.au

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