Can We Talk About The Cost Of Being Single Right Now?

Single people are already struggling to stay afloat. What will happen this winter?
Sara Monika via Getty Images

Energy bills are rising. Food prices are rising. Fuel costs are rising. Housing costs are rising – and all of these increases are disproportionately impacting single people.

Single people who live alone already pay £7,564 more in living costs each year than those in a co-habiting couple, according to research from Ocean Finance. And when the energy price cap skyrockets in October, the gulf will only get larger.

Single parents in particular are “already stretched beyond breaking point” after years of austerity measures and a lack of practical and financial flexibility, says Victoria Benson, chief executive of Gingerbread, a charity supporting single parent families.

Estelle Keeber, 39, lives alone in Leicestershire and is facing mounting costs due to living and working from home.

“Being based at home, my gas and electricity bills are of course a little higher than most but my main concern is in the coming months,” Keeber, who runs marketing consultancy Immortal Monkey, tells HuffPost UK.

“I work from a home office and sit for most of the day. Whereas before I would have happily put the heating on if I felt a little chilly, I’m now looking at other ways to keep warm, such as heated blankets and extra layers.”

Keeber says her gas and electricity bills “have more than doubled” because of the energy price rises. The price cap is due to rise again in October by 80%, which will mean for those on direct debits, the average household’s yearly bill will rise from £1,971 to £3,549.

“Looking at the figures estimated for the next few months I have no idea how anyone is expected to manage,” says Keeber. “In this day and age no one should have to choose whether they have heating or food. The decisions that can change this need to be made by the government.”

Estelle Keeber
Rob Gurney
Estelle Keeber

Financial writer Ellie Austin-Williams, founder of This Girl Talks Money and host of the Money Unfiltered podcast, says being single “can have a huge impact” on someone’s finances.

“Single people don’t have the more obvious benefits of splitting the burden of rising bills, sky high rental costs and increasingly pricey food shops, but there are also some less obvious impacts on single people,” she tells HuffPost UK.

“Even with the cost of living crisis, events such as weddings are still going ahead and the cost for single people to attend can often be far more than a couple, with hotel rooms costing the same for one or two people.

“A lot of people are picking up extra work or starting a side hustle to meet the rising costs, yet for single parents this can be an impossible task on top of childcare.”

Even small things like keeping warm in winter are a struggle, she adds. “It might sound silly but ... it’s a lot easier to stay warm when you share a bed with another person as bodies generate heat, so single people may find it harder to avoid using energy over the colder months.”

There are some ways in which single people are supposedly supported – for example, they are eligible for a 25% reduction on their council tax bill. But in the context of the cost of living, many are questioning why this discount isn’t 50%. Currently, single people in the average Band D property pay £113.60 per month on council tax, but individuals with partners paid just £75.75.

For those who have no ties to the UK, the prospect of working abroad through the colder months is looking increasingly attractive.

It’s something 43-year-old Sophia Husbands, an IT trainer and wellness coach based in Windsor, is fiercely considering after she spent winter in Tenerife last year. She currently lives in shared accommodation to keep costs down, but is now considering spending the rest of the year abroad.

Sophia Husbands
Elin Robinson
Sophia Husbands

“I noticed last year when I was co-working and living in Tenerife as a digital nomad, how my living costs can be reduced exponentially,” she says. Living in shared accommodation in the northern part of the island cost her €400 (£346) per month, which included internet, utilities and even cooked breakfasts during the weekdays.

“The bonus was, depending on what part of the island I was on, I also had good weather – enough to uplift my mood,” she says. “We should live to work, not the other way around.”

While plenty of single people are having to tighten their belts in the coming months, there are also those who will be pushed further into poverty and forced make impossible decisions about whether they eat or heat their homes. Gingerbread says it is hearing from parents who say basic living costs at the moment are unaffordable and they can only dream of being able to pay all of their bills.

“I dread to think how they will be affected come winter and beyond,” says Victoria Benson, from the charity. “There is no doubt that the shocking price cap rise coupled with sky-rocketing rates of inflation will mean more single parents and their children will be forced to live in poverty with no hope of escape – the impact of this on their mental health and wellbeing will be nothing short of devastating.”

Single mum Keira Parker, an A&E nurse based in Nottinghamshire, lives with her 15-month-old baby Noah, who she gave birth to last year after undergoing IVF through sperm donor via low-cost provider abc ivf.

The 27-year-old has noticed that her food shop has increased and her monthly petrol bill has doubled. “I’m in an area where public transport isn’t readily available,” she tells HuffPost UK. “I rely on my car to get me about to work, and to take Noah to the childminder or to my mum [who lives 20 miles away] if she’s looking after him.

“Beforehand I was spending maybe £200 a month on petrol, whereas now that’s probably doubled. So that’s a massive increase. Even the food shop now... it’s probably an extra £10 a week which all adds up.”

Keira and her son, Noah
Keira and her son, Noah

When the energy price cap rises in October, Parker will be initially protected from steep increases as she’s on a fixed contract, but she is anxious about what happens once the fixed term ends.

“I try not to even read into it because personally I don’t want to deal with the fact that it’s going up. I don’t know how I will cope with it,” she admits.

“I think I pay £90 a month currently for my gas and electric, which has gone up – it used to be £60. The thought of it going up more than that... it would be very difficult. I’d probably end up staying at my mum’s house.”

The UK is in the grips of a childcare crisis, too with two-thirds of parents in the UK paying more for childcare than they do their mortgage. One in four have had to cut down on food, heating or clothing to afford childcare, according to a survey of 27,000 parents by Pregnant Then Screwed and Mumsnet.

The average annual nursery bill for a child under two has increased by 44% since 2010, from £4,992 to £7,212 in 2021, according to The Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Parker says realistically she needs to be working full-time to be financially stable, however the price of childcare – £75 a day for a childminder to look after her son during her 13-hour shifts – means it’s not feasible for her. Instead, she works part-tome, but still pays £478 a month for childcare fees, because nurseries are closed during her shifts.

“I get no help from the government either, I’m not eligible for any universal credit and I own my house, so I’m not entitled to any housing element,” she says.

“I personally think there should be more help for single parents. Now I know I chose to become a single parent myself, because I had a donor to conceive Noah, so I knew right from the get-go that I would be financially providing for him just on my wage. But equally, I am working and trying my best to provide for him.”

Mentally, it’s tough bearing the brunt of paying for everything alone – especially as overheads begin to outweigh income. “I know people who are in relationships and have a second income coming in, and they’re mentioning how difficult it is,” she says. “But then I personally think: well how do you think I feel? I literally have one income coming in and that is it. I solely have to rely on myself.”

Single mum-of-two Nicki Rodriguez, who lives in Essex with her youngest son, agrees there is not enough support. She believes council tax should be “massively brought down” for single-person and single-parent households.

Nicki Rodriguez
Nicki Rodriguez

“The cost of living absolutely terrifies me,” says Rodriguez, who runs her own cleaning and decluttering business, Essex House Dolly. She is only able to work a set amount of hours a week as her 11-year-old son has autism and attends a specialist school.

“There is no breakfast club or after school clubs and I cannot have childminders either, so I am limited. I can only work whilst he is at school,” she explains.

With the cost of living rising so dramatically, she’s having to budget on food and limit how much she uses her car socially. She now spends a lot more time at home rather than going out, and has cut out luxuries like takeaways.

The price cap increase makes her “very anxious” she says, and when the cold weather hits she’ll be limiting the length of time her heating is on. “The government surely has to step up more to help us all as it is ridiculous how much the economy has inflated,” she says.

More now needs to be done to protect single parents and vulnerable people, says charity Gingerbread, which is calling for an urgent increase in targeted welfare support.

“We also need to see an end to punitive policies like the benefit cap, the two-child limit and draconian benefit sanctions, all of which disproportionally affect single parents,” says Benson.

If nothing is done, single parent families “will be forced to live in poverty, take on more expensive debt, and go without basics like food and heating,” she adds. “This will have a devastating impact on their physical and mental health and we will see a two-tier society with single parents trapped firmly at the bottom.”

In response to a request about how it is supporting single people and single parents through the cost of living crisis, a government spokesperson said: “We recognise people are struggling with rising prices which is why we are protecting millions of the most vulnerable people with at least £1,200 of direct payments, starting with the £326 cost of living payment, which has already been issued to more than seven million low income households and are also supporting six million disabled people with an extra £150 payment, landing in bank accounts from 20 September.

“Through our £37bn support package we are saving the typical employee over £330 a year through a tax cut, allowing people on Universal Credit to keep £1,000 more of what they earn while all households will receive £400 energy payments. And vulnerable people in England are also being supported by the Government’s Household Support Fund – which was boosted by £500million – to help pay for essentials.”

They added that preparations are also being made in order to ensure that any additional support or commitments on cost of living can be delivered quickly when the new prime minister is in place.