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The rise and rise of the Tumbleweeders
Published 02/06/14



DRAMATIC changes in the way we live have seen the number of people living alone more than double over the last four decades.

New research from insurance and protection specialist LV= (Liverpool Victoria) reveals that the number of single households in the UK has jumped from 3.8 million in 1974 to around 8.7 million at present.

The biggest rise in solo-dwellers is among the 35 to 44 age group, which now accounts for 1.2 million single households, compared with just 148,000 recorded 40 years ago.

Not only are a greater number of people living alone, the research also suggests people are living alone for longer.

Young adults aged 20 to 30, for instance, can expect to live on their own for a total of 15 years, while those in their sixties and seventies will live alone for 10 years over the course of their lifetime. LV= attributes this to a combination of longer life expectancy and lifestyle changes such as marrying later and higher divorce rates.

Stephanie McMahon, head of research at Strutt & Parker, comments: “This surge in solo-dwellers is something we also identified in our recent Housing Futures research report. By 2023 a total of 41 per cent of total households will be occupied by one person, and three-quarters will have no dependent children.

“Solo-dwellers often fall into a housing tribe we refer to as ‘Tumbleweeders’ — people that occupy homes that are too large for their needs.

“The challenge for the housing industry with Tumbleweeders is to provide suitable solutions to individuals’ housing needs. As a nation of low supply and high demand, we would rather have all homes occupied efficiently where possible. In reality, Tumbleweeders have the potential to be one of the greatest limiters of supply, and while being discussed in the social housing arena, their impact upon the wider housing market is not currently being addressed.”

Another worrying implication is that many of the individuals living alone seem to have little or no financial back-up plan should things go wrong. A person going solo typically forks out 1,826 a year more on housing and utilities than someone living in a couple, even when the single person’s council tax discount given to those living alone is taken into account.

These figures show that average single households pay 1,392 more on mortgage and rent compared to someone living in a pair, 294 more on utilities and 140 more on household goods and services.

In total, a single dweller in a residential property will spend around six per cent more than someone living in a couple household.

But, despite this bigger outlay, 60 per cent of people living on their own do not have a financial Plan B, such as income protection, that would enable them to fund their lifestyle and pay the bills should they be unable to work.

Some 31 per cent of those that have a financial back-up plan admit they would use their savings if they lost their job.

MEANWHILE, Stephanie McMahon, head of research at Strutt & Parker, gives her thoughts on “later life living”, following the news that increasing numbers of over-65s are living with no child nearby.

“If you have been watching the news recently, you will have seen that according to a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), by 2030 there will be more than two million people aged 65 and over with no child living nearby to give care if needed.

“The UK’s demography is a ticking time-bomb, not just because of the baby boomer generation now moving into retirement and beyond, but also due to our lifestyle and cultural choices which are resulting in changing behaviour. For example by 2033, approximately 60 per cent of household growth will be headed by a person over 65.

“Our Housing Futures research explores the movement of the large 20-year demographic ‘bump’ of baby boomers into retirement, where one might expect to see a run on age-limited communities on the edge of towns. However, the baby boomers in our research have been quite clear to voice their objections to living the same way as their parents did in retirement.

“Being typically in good health, with good pensions and active lifestyles, they desire to live where they can continue to have their established lifestyle minus the day job. Hence the need for Platinum Places — a phrase coined to describe new mixed communities that are part of a town. Replacing some of the traditional retail spaces in town centres that are sitting vacant (thanks to online shopping), imagine a development open to all ages that easily combines access to amenities that go beyond day-to-day living requirements, with easy access to cultural experiences such as theatres and farmers’ markets.

“Such developments would offer facilities such as gyms and swimming pools tailored specifically to the needs of different members of the community. Ultimately, inclusion, not segregation, will be the tenet for the future.

“The IPPR said the country must build new community institutions to cope. We think Platinum Places are one step closer to that vision.”

Published 02/06/14

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