Separated couples add to housing crunch in Britain

November 19th, 2008 - 1:19 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 19 (IANS) Britain is going to face a housing crunch in the coming decades and married couples staying apart are partly to blame, says a new report. Pressure on housing is also attributed to more single people who will not marry, more elderly people living longer at home and children wishing to leave their family home earlier.

A report by a British charity for homeless, Shelter, says there could be 4.5 million more households by 2026, while the shortfall in housing is expected to be around a million at that time.

According to the report, 1.1 million married women and 800,000 married men are living separately from their partners. If the number of such men is lower it is probably because of under-reporting by men or because they are more likely to have more than one regular partner, it says.

Shelter’s report focuses more on the shortage caused by couples living apart given the fact that it is becoming a popular phenomenon in the country. The couples choose to live separately because of sinking relations or because they want to keep their own household or live in their own homes for tax or lifestyle reasons.

The report sees this pattern emerging particularly among middle-aged couples or people who marry late and who can afford two homes.

The number of married couple households is expected to fall from 9.4 million in 2006 to 8.9 million by 2026, while the number of cohabiting couples will rise from 2.2 million to 3.4 million. The greatest predicted increase will be in one-person households, from 6.8 million in 2006 to 9.9 million by 2026.

The Times studied the case of Ruth Gledhill of London and her husband who are married, but live in their own separate homes. Both are professionals, previously divorced with children from their earlier marriages, met when relatively young, had their own child, and married late.

When the time came for them to set up house, they realized they were too old to change their individual life-styles. Gledhill said: “Neither of us really wanted to change our domestic habits, and neither of us has. We had both shared homes with previous spouses, experiences we did not want to revisit upon each other.”

They decided to live separately and she says the experiment is successful. “We spend most of our time together, in my house. We use his place as an office when one of us is working from home. At any time we know that if either one of us gets fed up, we can simply run up or down the hill and escape. That has never happened yet. We can also use it as a couple, to get away from everyone else. That does happen occasionally, often enough to think that this is a marriage that might last.”

A couples’ counselling group, One-To-One, feels such relationship patterns are popularising the living-apart culture. A spokesperson said: “As couples increasingly delay marriage until their early thirties, more people are able to afford to live on their own and remain single well into their professional lives.”

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