Saturday 20 December 2014

Life without a plus one doesn't come cheap

Hannah Betts, Telegraph.co.uk

Published 09/05/2014 | 18:32

One always likes to be in the vanguard, modishly au courant, insouciantly zeitgeist-surfing, and so it is with my single state.

For, according to new estimates, the number of lone rangers is growing 10 times as fast as the overall population, the proportion of people engaging in lone living having doubled in a generation to around nine million.

A study commissioned by insurers Liverpool Victoria concludes that youngsters will spend 50 per cent longer living solo than members of their parents’ generation: an average of 15 years on their tods, as opposed to 10. Already, the 2011 census demonstrated that, in areas popular with young professionals – in the capital, not least - we single are the dominant social group.

People live longer, get hitched later, if at all, and walk away more sharpishly if matters do not turn out as planned. Moreover, increasingly singleness is a state that people actively choose as easier, more social, fulfilled and downright happier than any alternative. Ask what has changed most during my lifetime and I would answer: the evolution from the stigmatised “spinsters” of my childhood, via the pilloried Bridget Jones “singletons” of my youth, to men and women embracing blissful singularity because it they consider it a superior mode of being.

There is, however, a cost - and that cost is literal. For all the cross-party obsession with supporting “hardworking, middle-class families,” it is the single who suffer financially. The Liverpool Victoria research argues that the single each pay an average of £1,826 more a year on housing, utilities and other household expenses than the conjoined.

Meanwhile, polling by the firm suggests that, while couples have an average of £6,000 in savings to fall back on the event of hardship, lone livers boast just £2,000. Almost a quarter of single people surveyed said their savings would run out within a fortnight. Richard Rowney, managing director for life and pensions, remarked: “It is important to realise the financial cost of independence. A worrying number of people do not have a back-up plan.”

To which I retort: “Back-up plan? Most of us have problems functioning day-on-day.” I say this as a lone ranger renting a £1,400-plus one-bedroom cellar so mouldering that I inadvertently fried a slug taking refuge from the dank on my 43rd birthday. When I lamented this to single friends, more than one suggested that I should have taken advantage of such economy protein.

The dizzying fabulousness of our existences is counterbalanced by lone shouldering of rent / mortgage (and deposit), utilities, broadband, television licence, even council tax, where a 25 per cent discount is, evidently, 25 per cent too short. Single hotel supplements are no longer the most glaring inequality in a world in which theatre tickets are often only sold in pairs, cheap flights ditto. One finds oneself unable to take advantage of cinema ticket offers, discounted gym and museum memberships, and meal deals, while enduring insurance penalties for one’s high-risk existence.

And, still, the Government strives to bolster the conjoined. September 2013 saw the announcement of a marriage tax allowance under which, from April 2015, married couples and those in civil partnerships will be allowed to transfer £1,000 of their personal tax allowance to their partner. Couples also benefit from inheritance tax rules, being allowed to pass their assets to each other tax-free. Meanwhile, a single individual leaving an estate worth more than £325,000 will burden beneficiaries with a 40 per cent tax bill on anything in excess.

Even in the halcyon pre-Recession era, the economics of lone living were less Sex and the City, more Rising Damp. A survey published in 2005 found that 3.9 million single Britons were living in poverty - a number that had risen by 300,000 since 1997. In 2010, the price comparison website uSwitch.com put the cost of being single at £254,082 over a lifetime. Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch, observed: “Increasingly we are seeing evidence that to enjoy a good quality of life in Britain, a household needs two incomes.”

The most obvious manifestation of this comes when one compares a conjoined abode to a lone one. A friend recalls a moment of interior design-based revelation. “I was at my friends’ place and found myself thinking how elegant, plush, and grown-up their home is, unlike my own flat that still boasts the rakish air of student digs. And then it hit me: both of them get everything half price! When the inevitable whinge about the cost of children came along, I wanted to scream: ‘You live like kings!’”

She had, of course, stumbled across that time-honoured formula: 1 + 1 = 2 Visas with which to hit John Lewis; 1 + nada = squat; specifically, the one you’re living in.

Still, what price freedom? Oh, right, yes - £254,082, plus inflation, and counting.

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