From tax breaks to hotels, being single comes with a penalty
Whether you think singles are out there whooping it up or think that solo means saddos wolfing down endless ready meals, it's clear we're undergoing a shift in our society towards solitary living. Back in 1996 there were 1.1 million single people in Ireland. By 2011 this had soared to 1.5 million. But this change has crept up so gradually and insistently that it hasn't begun to register on the political radar yet.
The single-person home is fast becoming the most common type of household; in fact it's probably the most prominent lifestyle trend around today. Government statistics point to an extraordinary shift in our household structure over the past generation. There were 392,000 people living on their own at the time of the last census, almost evenly split between men and women at 194,000 and 198,000. The reasons range from later first marriages to the availability of divorce that allows people walk away, and then choose not to remarry or cohabit again. So the traditional image of the 2.2 family and goldfish has become increasingly unrepresentative of people's actual experience.
But life is horrendously expensive outside a couple. Everything costs more when you're going solo. You need to factor in mortgage repayments that cannot be split, utility bills, meals for one, running a car and even single supplements on holiday. There have even been some studies that show how singles are expected to work longer hours, for less pay, than their coupled up colleagues.
Younger singletons can live in flat-shares, where costs are split anyway. But the problems start when people want to rent or buy their own place. With lending criteria tight, buying can be virtually impossible on one income. Without a plus one, you can't buy perishable goods in large packs, so feeding yourself becomes very expensive. And a study from match.com indicates that singletons spend an average of £1,107 (€1,355) a year on dating alone. This includes all the essential date-related expenses like new threads and blowdrys that must be purchased to impress.
Our government tends to cultivate the marital unit. There's the new water charge of €240. The Jo Malone candle won't smell so sweet when it's accompanied by a 16 cent charge for each solo bubble bath. Insurance companies still discriminate on your marital status. Income tax is more sympathetic to working couples and if one person loses their job the working person can claim the tax credits for the non-working spouse. If you lose your job, you don't have a financial lifeboat. In some situations, married couples may be entitled to certain social welfare benefits or allowances not available to unmarried people. The local property charge on a house valued at €300,000 was €495 this year, which is steep when you don't have another half to chip in.
Last year, the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice compared the findings of the CSO Household Budget Survey 2009-2010, to the Minimum Essential Standard of Living expenditure needs data. The comparison found that the Household Budget Survey average weekly expenditure is €87 greater than the MESL weighted average expenditure need for this One Adult household composition: €342 as opposed to €255.
Society still tends to think of us singles in reductive stereotypes such as nerds, bitter spinsters, psychopaths or deviants that are unlovable by anybody. If I were actually on my own in this, things might be different, but I am not. The meringue dress isn't the only possible ending. Us singles are a growing force, yet the outdated, negative moulds persist. Society thinks I'm continually thinking about slitting my wrists. The truth is I'm more likely to spend weekends happily eating peanut butter from the jar and watching Nordic detective series in my undies.
And yet my singleness and that of those around me feels unrepresented. Isn't it about time we acknowledged singularity? The choice to live on your own shouldn't be a costly one. We need an equivalent here of the American Association of Single People, which continually lobbies Congress against the "singlism" that rewards couples with tax breaks etc. Single shouldn't have a surcharge.