David Cameron, George Osborne and I were colleagues as special advisers during the John Major government in the 1990s. Like them, I've spent more than 20 years working 12 and 14 hours a day to support myself. Unlike them, I forgot to get married, so I don't have a partner sharing the load and supplementing my income – or even staying at home and helping with the domestic chores (oh, for a househusband!).
When, just before Christmas, David Cameron promised tax breaks for married people, he seemed oblivious to the hardship and expense of single life. Finances are already stacked in favour of couples: singles have to pay the whole mortgage or rent by themselves, not half, as most working couples do. What a privilege to be able to share that huge expenditure with someone: a virtuous double-whammy of love, companionship and half the cost of living. I don't need a tax break to encourage me to take up that deal, I just need to find someone I want to marry.
I'm an independent, competent woman with lots of friends and a great life, but it remains a sadness for me – and many like me – that I haven't found someone to share it with. Returning to an empty home after a hard day's work, there's no one to share your tough day with, no one to share everyday domestic trivia - call a plumber, put the bins out, make a cup of tea – just the constant grind of always doing everything yourself. It's almost as expensive for one to eat as two (and very dull cooking and eating alone), and the way food is packaged and sold, it's virtually impossible to buy just enough for one, so much goes to waste. Then we switch on the TV to hear politicians of all parties glorifying "hard-working families" and the superiority of the married state.
This obsessive repetition of the "hard-working family" mantra is particularly galling. Families don't work – people do. The days of sending the kids up a chimney or down the mine are over, so that leaves Mum and/or Dad to do the "hard working". Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has talked about ending the supposed "bias" against married people – but I believe the real bias is against single people.
With the number of single-person households increasing rapidly over recent years and projected to continue rising, it is a mystery to me why politicians continue not only to ignore, but to bait this sizeable demographic. While singledom may be a deliberate option for some, for most it's just the card that life has dealt. According to the Office for National Statistics , 29 per cent of households contained just one person in 2010 – that's 7.5 million people living alone. The biggest increase in single person households over the decade 2001-10, was in the age group 45 to 64, a 31 per cent increase, coinciding with an increase in people in this age group who have never married, or are divorced. By 2031, it is expected that 18 per cent of the entire population will be living alone.
Maybe the pollsters can explain to me why all of the political parties think it is worth hacking off this large group to suck up to the smug marrieds (as Bridget Jones would put it). Worse, they imply that it is somehow morally superior to be part of this happy state and those of us who have failed to achieve it are less worthy beings. Do they seriously think that this growing band of people, who find themselves alone in life for whatever reason, will say, "Oh, a tax break, just the incentive I need to find a spouse. I wouldn't have bothered otherwise."
I recognise that bringing up children is an expensive business and hard work, and I'm happy for parents to receive child-related benefits, but to link a financial reward simply to getting married seems to me ludicrously unfair. If people are lucky enough to fall in love and get married, why should they receive a financial reward for their good fortune?
The DINKYs as they used to be called (Double Income, No Kids) are the most financially advantaged people in society. Meanwhile, as a Joseph Rowntree/IPPR report pointed out, "living costs are often higher for single person households" and "the rise in solo living will create pressures towards poverty". Add to this that single people are more likely to suffer health problems and mental health issues as a result of their isolation and they begin to look like a large disadvantaged group in society that is not only being ignored, but deliberately targeted and belittled by politicians, in favour of the fortunate ones who fit the ideal "family" mould.
I never dreamed I'd be saying this, but I agree with Nick Clegg. The idea that people would marry – or stay married – for a small tax break is utterly patronising. Does David Cameron think that he would be influenced by such a petty financial incentive in making such an enormous personal and emotional life choice? I don't think so. Maybe he just thinks that those "ordinary" people out there are a different species...
Alison Broom was a special adviser to the Conservative Government from 1991 to 1997Reuse content