WWDA Submission to the Senate Enquiry into Housing Assistance

This is a copy of the submission Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) submitted to the Senate Enquiry into Housing Assistance in 1997. Copyright WWDA 1997.

About Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA)

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is a national peak body representing women with disabilities which seeks to ensure equal opportunities in all walks of life for all women with disabilities. WWDA is a member of the National Caucus of Disabilities Consumer Organisations, and the Coalition of Participating Organisations of Women. WWDA is the only national consumer group which encompasses all types of disability.

WWDA’s members are women with disabilities, and there are State WWDA branches around Australia. WWDA is therefore well placed to comment on the housing needs of women with disabilities in Australia. It should be noted, however, that information about disability and housing is generally lacking. Although many reports have been written, and studies carried out, all of them acknowledge that basic data does not exist.

WWDA has three policy areas of priority:

  • Health
  • Housing
  • Violence

WWDA has had considerable interest in housing issues, stimulated by the concern of members. This includes active involvement in the lead up to the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II). Proposed changes to public housing have caused considerable debate among members, who are concerned about the possible implications to their housing situations.

Women with Disabilities

Women with disabilities is a diverse group of people, which includes women with physical, psychiatric, sensory and intellectual disabilities as well as women with acquired brain injury. To talk about their housing needs as a whole is very difficult. However, as a group they share some characteristics which are relevant to their housing status and housing needs. Unfortunately, gender and disability remain two characteristics linked with poor social indicators.

Women with disabilities in Australia:

  • are less likely to be in paid work than other women, men with disabilities, and the population as a whole;
  • earn less than men with disabilities;
  • are less likely than their male counterparts to receive senior secondary and tertiary eduction;
  • are more likely to be institutionalised than men with disabilities;
  • are often forced, through poverty or lack of housing choices, to live in situations which make them vulnerable to violence; and
  • report a higher level of unmet need than their male counterparts.

Disability is a poverty issue – gender is a poverty issue.

Women with disabilities as a group, are twice as likely as men with disabilities to have an income of less than $200.00 per week. In fact, over 50 per cent of women with disabilities are represented in this income bracket.

The housing poverty of Australian women with disabilities

Housing is not an isolated issue but is inextricably linked to all aspects of daily living. ‘Good’ housing is essential for the basic well-being of people and means safe, accessible, appropriate, affordable and secure housing. Absence of such ‘good’ housing affects all other areas of living and is the main contributing factor to the ‘poverty trap’, where the majority of those caught are women.

Considerable research shows that women, and women-headed households, are the ones most affected by poverty, that they are less likely to own homes, and spend more of their gross income on housing-related costs, such as rent, mortgage repayments, and maintenance. In April 1995, National Shelter published The Cost of Housing Report, which addresses the connection between poverty and housing, and the often unrealistic ratio of housing cost to gross income to determine what constitutes affordability.

The Report shows that single women pay more than any other group (35.8 per cent of their gross income) on private rent. As private home buyers they pay 37.7 per cent of their gross income, again the highest level, and single women pay the highest percentage of that gross income as public housing rent.

The Cost of Housing Report does not provide specific statistics regarding women with disabilities. However, the inference is that since they are less likely to be married or be in a dual income household, women with disabilities are among the group identified by National Shelter as paying the highest level of their gross income on housing as well as in the lowest income earning bracket of the community.

Women with disabilities carry the additional costs of their disability, which compound their lack of options in the housing market. Watson (1995), in her report “…we do without…”, details a range of such costs, including those of modifying dwellings internally and externally to provide access as well as costs incurred by the need to purchase personal care and accommodation support services without which quality of life and level of independence would be severely restricted. In addition, health care costs are an enormous drain on the resources of many women with disabilities.

Cooper (1993) maintains that, as a matter of equity, these additional direct or indirect costs related to disability must be taken into consideration. “If people have the same level of income, but its real value is reduced by costs which they require to do the ordinary activities which human beings do, then the group with the extra costs is disadvantaged.”

Senate inquiry into housing assistance: Terms of reference

c. the responsibilities of Commonwealth and State governments in the delivery of housing assistance with specific reference to:

  • iii) an effective framework for determining housing need, setting national goals and developing national strategies for housing assistance.

Women with disabilities are an immensely diverse group who consequently have diverse housing needs and wishes. While conducting research, WWDA found that one of the greatest difficulties in determining the needs and wishes of women with disabilities is the acute lack of available data. This is echoed in numerous research studies and reports (National Working Party on Housing for People With Disabilities 1994, Sach and Associates 1992, Conway 1994).

This problem is not confined to Australia. The Housing Needs of People With Disabilities (1991), a report for The National Housing Strategy, states that “…recent US research reports that the needs of women with disabilities have been largely unidentified and unexplored …” and that “… a report of the European Economic Community found little information [on women and disability] because [the] women have been largely forgotten and their lives and problems unrecorded.”

There has been some push for housing data to be generalist in nature, and not to disaggregate groups such as indigenous people and people with disabilities. It is imperative that data collection disaggregates special needs groups.

Co-ordinating bodies
The National Working Party on Housing for People With Disabilities was a subcommittee established by Housing Ministers. The Working Party had begun to draw together a picture of and offered some hope of sharing data to work towards better outcomes for people with disabilities. WWDA recommends that this, or a like body, be reinstituted.

f. the value and impact of housing assistance given to the private rental market, with specific reference to:

  • i) the capacity of the private rental market to meet the needs of low income and disadvantaged households.

There are some housing issues which are of particular significance to women with disabilities and these are outlined in the following section of this paper.

Security of tenure
Security of tenure is of vital importance to women with disabilities for a number of reasons:

  • poverty – As a group, women with disabilities are considerably poorer than most of the rest of the population. The costs of moving therefore constitute more of a burden on them. In addition, the actual costs of moving are likely to be higher if the woman cannot manage the physical move themselves.
  • lack of other accommodation – The lack of alternative accommodation for women with disabilities makes security of tenure all the more important. Issues such as physical accessibility of the neighbourhood, discrimination by landlords, lack of accessible housing and proximity to disability services make it very difficult for women with disabilities to move house where they have no security of tenure.

Suitable location is particularly important for women with disabilities. Lack of accessible transport means that they may need to live very close to work, shops and schools. They may also need to live close to disability or health services. Outer suburbs are simply not feasible for many women with disabilities.

As mentioned previously, women with disabilities as a group have low incomes. In addition, they often bear the burden of extra costs associated with their disability. The other side of the equation is the expense that women with disabilities can bear in renting accessible accommodation. This may mean wheelchair accessible, or it may mean extra rooms to house equipment or carers, or for women with organisational problems due to head injury etc, they may require extra rooms.

Accessible housing
For women with physical or some sensory disabilities, accessible housing is absolutely necessary. This may range from requiring a specially designed bathroom and kitchen, to the installation of ramps and rails. This type of housing is simply not available on the private market to the degree required. It is beyond the means of most women with disabilities to make these modifications, should a private landlord allow it, and lack of security of tenure means that they may have to make modifications every time they are forced to move.

Discrimination in the private rental market has been well documented. Women with disabilities are subject to this type of discrimination, which may make it extremely difficult for them to find accommodation. This is particularly relevant to women with psychiatric disability, intellectual disability and acquired brain injury.

The only area in which the private market currently has an advantage is in the location of dwellings. However, without addressing the other factors of affordability; security of tenure; accessibility; and discrimination, the advantage of location is nullified.

iii the impact on market rents of a reduction in public housing stock.

WWDA generally has concerns about the impact on market rents of a reduction in public housing stock. It is believed by many people that the State acts as a market regulator.

More particularly, WWDA is concerned that many women with disabilities occupy a specialised section of the housing market – their need for accessible, suitably located and secure housing may make them vulnerable to ‘market forces’ which may push rent prices up.

g. the appropriate level and mix of income support and supply assistance measures to ensure adequate affordability and supply of housing in the medium and long term for low income households.

WWDA has a particular concern regarding the mix of income support and supply assistance measures, based on proposals which have been released through the media and other venues. Of particular concern is the proposal which we understand will link eligibility for rental assistance to receipt of Social Security Benefits.

As outlined previously, women with disabilities are generally poor, and have as well the added burden of costs associated with their disability. Many women with disabilities could be considered the ‘working poor’, and receive no social security benefits. In addition, many women with disabilities receive workers compensation benefits which in most cases render them ineligible for social security benefits. Should they lose access to public housing due to reduced stock, yet not be eligible for rental assistance, they will be severely disadvantaged.


Women With Disabilities Australia recommends that:

  • A Commonwealth /State Housing Agreement be maintained.
  • National data collection be instituted, which disaggregates specific needs groups, including by gender and disabilities.
  • A national Working Party, such as the National Working Party on Housing for People With Disabilities be reinstated.
  • That housing stock levels be maintained by States, with support from the Commonwealth.
  • Ensure that capital funding be guaranteed for housing stock for women with disabilities.


Australian Bureau of Statistics (1993); Disability, Aged and Carers Survey, Summary of Findings, Australian Government Publishing Services, Canberra.

Cooper, Margaret (1993); ‘Housing Issues for Women with Disabilities, A Response to the National Housing Strategy, Issues and Discussion Papers’, unpublished report.

National Shelter (1995), ‘The Cost of Housing Report’, Canberra.

Pane, Lina (1994); ‘Emerging from the Shadows’, Women with Disabilities Australia, Canberra.

The Habitat Agenda: Draft resulting from the Second Intersessional Meeting of the Informal Drafting Group of the Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), Unedited Draft, 13 October 1995.

Office for the Status of Women (1991); ‘Women – Shaping and Sharing the Future: The New National Agenda for Women 1993-2000’, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Sach and Associates (1991); ‘The Housing Needs of People with Disabilities’, Discussion paper, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Watson, Judyth (1995); “… we do without … “, A Report about the Costs of Having a Disability’, Office of the Shadow Minister for Disability Services, Perth.

Women in Human Settlements (1995); Housing Policy: Starting Right, pp.13-14, (no place given).