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FactCheck: do political parties ever come up with a policy for singles?

Has there ever been policies aimed at singles during an election? Flickr/Klim Andreev

FactCheck: do political parties ever come up with a policy for singles?

“Does anyone ever target policies at single people?? Ever?? Anyone???In the whole history of the world?? Just one tiny little policy??? Ever??” - Magda Szubanski, Twitter post, 27 August.

Single this election? Not feeling any love from any of the major parties? You are not alone.

To answer Szubanski’s tweet: yes, there have been some policies for single people. But it depends on your definition of “single” and whether you’re talking about policies designed specifically for singles, or simply policies that may benefit them.

Certainly, policies purely designed for single people are few and far between.

If you define single as simply not married, then there is the Sole Parenting allowance, although that has been tightened again recently, meaning more than 80,000 single parents were moved on to the dole.

The Paid Parental Leave schemes of Labor, the Coalition and the Greens all benefit singles, not just couples. And the private health rebate scheme currently in place targets individuals and families, so again this would be a policy that helps single people.

The argument could also be made that single people are covered by some policies indirectly, such as roads, infrastructure, broadband policy such as the National Broadband Network, defence, health, education and so on. These policies are designed to provide essential services to all Australians, regardless of their relationship status.

But what about single, as in alone mad-cat lady or 40-year-old virgin Steve Carrell type of single?

Is it possible to find even “one tiny little policy”, as Szubanski said, purely aimed at someone living alone and not in a relationship? Well, no - as best as I can deduce, there isn’t one (you can leave comments below if I’ve missed something).

So the next question is: why aren’t there any policies just for singles? After all, even married people were single once, so surely they would be just as likely to want a policy in this area?

As they say in politics, numbers are everything. And one look at the Australian Bureau of Statistics website might explain why it is that major parties focus on the family vote.

According to recent ABS figures, roughly 1.9 million of us live alone and are not officially partnered up. Another 950,000 Australians live in group households (distinct from a family household) and are not in a defacto relationship or married, so that takes us to 2.8 million. An ABS study based on the 2006 Census found that about 40% of adult Australians are not in a relationship of any sort.

As you might think, the number of singles gets higher the closer you are to 18 (that whole supply and demand thing). But then as you get closer to your 30s it falls away markedly to around 20% of that age group. The great Oz band the Skyhooks wrote a song about that phenomenon: All My Friends Are Getting Married.

So, here’s the other point to note. There is a huge diversity in a market simply made up of only single people aged 18-35. This is a complex market, and the needs of all those people vary markedly. And that’s true more generally for singles of all ages.

For example, compare the needs of a lone older pensioner to those of a single 18-year-old. The pensioner may not have as much need or interest in a super fast broadband policy, while the 18-year-old may not have as much need for quality health services.

But sadly they are all trumped by the 13.5 million people in a relationship who are living with someone else in a house, and therefore have the sheer mass of being able to really decide election outcomes and are easier to target.

So in other words, specific policies for single people living alone are way too cost ineffective. They would only have the small benefit of influencing a small segment of the population who are usually swayed by other policies anyway.

Wonder no more why the mad cat lady stays mad.

Verdict

Szubanski’s cry is one heard often from disgruntled singles feeling invisible at election time. And she’s largely right. Singles benefit from all sorts of policies indirectly, but there are few specific policies for singles. The reason? Your needs are too complex, and far too diverse, to reach through just one specific policy.


Review

This article will likely give most readers a double take. Firstly they will wonder about the facts. Don’t we have – more or less – a “cradle to grave” welfare system covering income support and social services for singles?

But they may also think that Szubanski has a point. Politicians rarely trumpet policies tailored for singles. For more than a decade now the politically legitimate goals of welfare have been expressed more or less solely in terms of work and family. But good social policy should do so much more.

It’s hard to say what a singles policy would even look like. But asking the question is surely an important first step. - Paul Smyth

The Conversation is fact checking political statements in the lead-up to this year’s federal election. Statements are checked by an academic with expertise in the area. A second academic expert reviews an anonymous copy of the article.