Money For Jam – Helping Older Women at Risk of Poverty

10 May 2016

by Katelijne Lenaerts

A public policy think tank has teamed up with women over 50 to codesign a support program that will help older women achieve greater financial security through micro-enterprises.

The new initiative, Money For Jam, by Per Capita’s Centre for Applied Policy in Positive Ageing (CAPPA) aims to reduce the risk of permanent income poverty for women in their late 60s and beyond, by working with the women one-on-one to get to the root of their strengths and limitations.

It comes in response to what CAPPA calls a “hidden epidemic” – that one in three Australian women over 60 are living in permanent income poverty – and follows what it describes as “months of conversations” with women who are living off government support.

CAPPA’s director, Katelijne Lenaerts, said the exposure to income poverty of women in later life was enormous.

“One of the amazing findings is that the potential scale of the issue is much much bigger than what is traditionally known,” Lenaerts said.

“These women are not losers – many have a good education and professional careers, and they are not necessarily from a low socio-economic background.

“All it takes to go from middle class comfort to homelessness is a combination of a series of unlucky events such as an accident, deteriorating health, a difficult divorce, domestic violence or bullying.

“Loss of self-confidence often blocks the pathway out of despair, and having to rely on government support and crisis accommodation contributes to feelings of shame and guilt.”

The Money for Jam program follows months of in-depth conversations with 13 different women to gain an understanding of their life stories, current circumstances, needs and barriers.

The study found current mainstream support services did not take into consideration the reality of women’s commitments and constraints, including carer responsibilities and mental and physical health concerns.

“We don’t come up with a program and ask women if they will use it, we basically start off with understanding women’s lives, their barriers, their life stories and what’s going on in their lives and then out of that, we analyse it, to think about what would be a good outcome for those women,” Lenaerts said.

“These women don’t want the IKEA version of a business start-up – a DIY kit of business planning templates or a loan that relies on an asset test. They don’t want to go it alone and often can’t dedicate 80 hours a week to this. The ‘full time or nothing’ approach offered by available services is not suitable to them.

“On a positive note, we were amazed at the resilience and resourcefulness of the women in their journeys through hardship and could not help but wonder how this can be better harnessed for income generation.”

Money For Jam’s approach uses these strengths, as a tool to support micro-enterprise start-up.

The program delivers emotional well being strengthening as well as personalised one-on-one practical support for micro-enterprise start-up, the use of adaptive language and an approach of taking action over plans.

“Money for Jam model is based on a principle that emotional well being has to be strengthened first, before you can start talking about financial well being. Although this program is all about helping women with earning income, what we discovered is their self-confidence had been knocked down, so that needs to be strengthened first,” Lenaerts said.

“The first element is a well being boost, that is followed by a component where they sit down with a person one-on-one, they have a conversation with the women and they understand their life story, their strengths and also their barriers. That is really important, that the program is built around what their capacity and their limitations are.

“The next stage they go into a one-on-one facilitation session where somebody will walk alongside them, to go through some micro enterprise ideas and their practicality is tried out. That is what it is all about, they try out a number of ideas, they could be really simply like dog walking for a fee or English language tutoring or whatever, it is all lined up to their interests, their passions and their strengths.

“Their mentor walks alongside them to get those enterprise ideas going until they find traction and then they are on their own.”

CAPPA said it is now ready to pilot Money For Jam and is seeking collaborators to support the program.