THE rising number of elderly living alone should be a call to arms in the fight against the misery of loneliness, experts warned last night.
Around 3.8 million aged over 65 now live on their own, up from 3.1 million in 1996, according to the Office for National Statistics. The total includes 2.2 million over 75. At the other end of the age range, one in four of those aged 20 to 34 still live with their parents. Higher life expectancy is one reason more older people live alone, often following the death of a loved one.
Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK, said: "Living alone does not automatically mean someone will be lonely, but it is more likely if they were precipitated into this through bereavement."
She said her charity expects two million lonely older people by 2026, "so we hope our new Prime Minister will continue to focus government attention on preventing and tackling loneliness among people of all ages".
Ms Abrahams also warned that our "health and care system usually operates on the assumption that there is always a close relative ready to assist".
She added: "These new figures show this is probably not the case for growing numbers of older people."
Last year's ONS figures also show that the majority of those over 75 living alone are women at 1.5 million, as men tend to marry younger women with a higher life expectancy. But growing numbers of men aged between 65 and 74 live alone. The ONS said this could be because more men never get married and they are more likely to live alone after a relationship break-up.
Higher life expectancy has meant that more people are living on their own
Kate Shurety, of the Campaign to End Loneliness, urged people to "Have a chat over the fence, offer to water the plants or invite someone over fora cup of tea. It may seem like nothing, but those small moments of connection can make a huge difference to someone who is feeling lonely or isolated."
Overall, those living alone have passed eight million for the first time.
The rise in the number of young adults living with their parents is "a damning indictment of the property market today," said Andrew Montlake, of mortgage broker Coreco.
The ONS figures also show the number of unmarried couples living together has increased to 3.4 million from 1.5 million in 1996. Statistician Sophie Sanders said that "cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type as people increasingly choose to live together before, or without, getting married".
The number of same-sex couples living together has risen by 53 percent in three years. Married gay couples make up 30 percent of same-sex families.
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