Editorial: Growing concern for women alone

It's a frightening statistic in many ways - the number of widowed and single women living in the Nelson region has almost tripled in the past 16 years.

What's of greater concern is that the number is sure to rise. In the last census in 2006, 363,000 people were living alone. That number is expected to increase by two-thirds over the next couple of decades, to 602,000 people.

Despite the huge amount of data available on almost any topic you could name, there is very little in way of research on the impact of people living alone.

That will change next year as research into Nelson's homeless population, which will also look specifically at single women, begins. This is long overdue, but a step in the right direction. The results should be used to formulate a plan as to how to tackle this growing issue.

As families become more and more fractured as the result of divorces, the rise in the number of older, single women is not surprising. Add in the number of partners dying earlier, and it all begins to make perfect sense.

Nelson Tasman Housing Trust co-ordinator Patrick Steer says a third of the trust's 15 permanent homes that were originally designed for low-income families, have been taken by single women aged 50 and older.

He believes the figures reflect the changing demographics that society is struggling to keep up with.

Unfortunately, a majority of these women will be reluctant to request help as they have pride in their independence and were brought up in an era where you solved your own problems. A time when people were much more self-sufficient.

It's also depressing to hear that some of these women, who are often not at fault for the circumstance they find themselves in, have unfortunately been turned away from some services due to lack of room.

You know that for some of these women to have asked for help from agencies would have taken real courage.

Granted that not all older, single women are unhappy with their lot, but there is enough evidence to show the rising number is a cause for concern.

Governments will have to consider welfare issues, superannuation as people living alone get a higher rate than couples, and questions about how to tackle loneliness.

There's also isolation and insufficient care for the elderly and those who are poor and fall by the wayside.

Once they have retreated from society, it's very difficult to get them back. Social interaction is such a vital part of who we are. Decades ago, families would have filled that void, now it's websites like the GrownUps and agencies that are needed.

As a society we should be concerned with these figures. We know the problems exist with the growing number of single, elderly women.

All of us, agencies and families alike, should start thinking and debating ways to solve them.