Now that the Government (some of it) has come around to the idea of gay people getting married, I hope that they're a step closer to accepting one remaining taboo group: single people.
Last week's census showed, for the first time, that more people in the UK are unmarried than married. This was partly due to an increase in divorce, and because of widowed people, but also down to more people just not having a partner. "There were 26.4 million households in the UK in 2012," the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. "Of these, 29 per cent consisted of only one person." Add to that the people who are sharing with flatmates, and it turns out that a hefty minority of people are not living with a partner, with or without 2.2 kids.
Single-person households are increasing like rabbits (though not for the same reason, obviously). We expect to see another two million of them by 2020, but still the Government can't figure out what to do with them. In fact, it doesn't even want to mention them. Despite all the ONS statistics about what kind of people actually live in the UK, all we ever hear about is the effect of policies on "young couples" and "hard-working families". Regardless of the fact that old people are often poorer than young ones, and families don't work: people do.
Take the comments about the Chancellor's recent Autumn Statement. The TUC's Brendan Barber complained about the squeezing of "working families". The economist Christopher Pissarides was concerned about the budget's effects on "poorer families". The website thisismoney was relieved that "young couples" will be helped to get a foot on the housing ladder. Which would have pleased the Tory MP Robert Halfon, who said recently: "We have to be able to show that we speak for hard–working couples …".
Singles have no one to speak for them. But they are also known to work, often even harder than their coupled-up colleagues, who tend to sneak off early to cook Bolognese together and snuggle up in front of Antiques Roadshow.
It is even harder for singles to get on the housing ladder than couples, because two people usually have twice as much money as one. Does the Government think that "young couple" conjures up an image of love's young dream, left cruelly out to freeze in the snow, while talking about the old or people living alone will just make voters think of Scrooge? Does it think that people can't empathise with "people"?
Governments love polls. In 2010, we learnt that singles spend an average £250,000 more than couples over their lifetimes. In 2011, it told us that it intended to solve the problem of single people by "promoting marriage". But in 2012 we discovered that most single women prefer it that way.
Sorry, Government, but the silent single minority is not going away, and every poor, tragic, single one of them has a vote. It might be as well to practise saying the word "people", instead of "couples", before the next election.