Thursday, 31 July 2014

Spectre of loneliness haunts the Borders

We're drifting into solitude at an alarming rate...or at least that's how it seems, according to a stark set of figures just published by the National Records of Scotland.

I found it a shade depressing to be told that within Scottish Borders Council's territory there are currently 20,054 dwellings with an entitlement to a single adult discount on council tax bills, which means only one grown up lives in each of those homes. The figure represents 35.1% of all the 57,097 occupied properties in our region, and in many instances there wont be another human being of any age in residence.

So more than one in three of us may already be struggling with or enjoying a solitary existence with the prospect of another 10,000 Borders households joining the ranks of one-person 'family' units between now and 2037.

I've always been a bit of a loner, so perhaps the prospect of rattling around in my own wee house - should it come to that - scares me less than it might some other folks. For many frail elderly people the thought will be horrendous, and for the public services tasked with caring for the lonely in their burgeoning number of individual houses a raft of issues is already drifting over the horizon.

The latest demographic picture for the Borders shows we had just 43,473 households in 1991. But between 2003 and 2013 the number spiralled from 48,543 to 52,934 (an increase of 4,391 or nine per cent). The situation is no different nationally...a combination of divorce, dysfunctional families, a greater desire on the part of youngsters to find their own space, and radical lengthening of life expectancy have combined to create those thousands of extra households.

We're experiencing a parallel rise in the number of dwellings spread across the Borders; there were 51,279 in 2001, now the total stands at 57,097 representing an increase of 4,770 (nine per cent) in 12 years.

National Records of Scotland's local authority tables tell us 53,122 of those properties are occupied, 2,826 are vacant, and a further 1,149 are classified as second homes.

Sheep and rugby country continues to be a popular target for the wealthy in search of a holiday bolt hole or a chance to make a fast buck with an investment property. The number of second homes went up from 1,032 in 2012 to 1,149 in 2013.

For the record, the report provides a breakdown of the number of dwellings in each council tax band. In the Borders 63% of dwellings are in the A-C tax ranges, 21% have D-E bandings with 16% ranged between F and H. Ninety-three per cent of our dwellings are occupied, 4.9% are vacant, and two per cent provide second homes.

But how those 20,000 "dwellings with a single adult discount" stood out for me. One wonders do lots of their occupants hardly see a soul? Does someone check regularly to make sure those single residents are OK?

The forecasters warn (as if any warning was needed) that less than 25 years from now 488,200 people aged 65 and over are expected to be living on their own in Scotland, an increase of 51% compared to 2012. The statistic is the equivalent of the entire population of Edinburgh, and if the percentage increase is mirrored in the Borders well over half of us will be living solo by 2037.

All the lonely people...where do they all come from? Let's at least spare them a thought.

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