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04 Mar

The number of people living alone has passed eight million for the first time, official figures reveal. Around 600,000 have been added to the total over the past five years – a growing proportion of them middle-aged men who have divorced or never married.

Nearly three out often properties are now one-person households, according to the breakdown from the Office for National Statistics. Almost half of those living alone are under 65.

Based on large-scale surveys, the ONS found that 8.2 million Britons are single-occupiers, up from 7.6 million in 2014 and 7.2 million in 2004.

Campaigners said the figures highlighted the risk of isolation. “We are seeing a huge shift in how long people are living, where they’re living and who they’re living with,’ said Catherine Foot of the Centre for Ageing Better.

“With more people living alone in later life, it is vital that our homes and communities reflect this shift, and are able to support us to stay connected as we age.

‘That means well-designed places with walkable streets and good public transport, so people are able to get out and about. It requires strung community infrastructure, like volunteering opportunities that suit people of all ages.

“And it is crucial too that our homes are safe and suitable for people with mobility needs, so that people can stay healthy and independent In their own homes for longer.” The report estimates there are 12.8 million married couples, and 3.5 million cohabiting couples the latter total growing by half a million in five years.

There are also 2.9 million lone parent families, which are increasingly likely to have adult instead of young children. In London, nearly one in five families have a mother or a father only and not both.

The ONS report said the rising number of men aged 45 to 64 living by themselves was a result of a growing proportion never marrying; a higher likelihood they will wed at older ages than women; and ‘partnership dissolution’, leading to men living alone while women may live with their children.

While divorce rates are at a 50-year low, family break-ups continue at a high level because of the growing numbers of cohabiting couples. Such relationships are thought to be three times more likely to break up than marriages.

Among older people, many live alone after a husband or wife has died.

Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation think-tank said that greater promotion of the stability and benefits of marriage would help stem the rate of family break-up and limit the numbers of middle-aged singletons. Mr Benson said: “The figures provide yet another reminder to politicians of all parties that if they want greater family stability, they must back marriage and commitment.

Despite the well-documented increase in relatively unstable cohabiting couples, the proportion of couples with children who are married has actually gone up slightly from 60.9% in 2009 to 61.4% in 2019. Research has shown time and again that, on the whole, married families tend to thrive best. They are most likely to stay together as parents. Their children are least likely to experience mental health problems.”

The report also said there are now 212,000 same sex couples just under half of who are married.

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