Sex and the City? Brussels municipality vows to be first 'single-friendly' local authority

Sex and the City? Brussels municipality vows to be first 'single-friendly' local authority
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Woluwe-Saint-Pierre in Brussels has become the first municipality in Belgium (and Europe) to commit to taking single people into account in all of its policies, by evaluating the impact they have on one-person households.

Belgium is seeing an increasing number of single residents, and this trend is not likely to reverse in the future.

The latest Statbel figures show that the number of single-person households rose to over 1,8 million in June 2023 – accounting for 35.9% of the 5.1 million private households in the country. In Brussels, this number is even higher: 47.1% of the Capital Region's households are single-person ones.

"The problem is that the large group of people who live alone is incredibly diverse: it ranges from young to old, from students to divorcees (with or without children), from widowed people and internationals in the EU bubble to members of the clergy," Carla Dejonghe, the president of the advocacy group for people living alone 'all1,' told The Brussels Times.

And precisely because this group is so diverse, it has always remained under the radar, she stressed. "People do not realise what an important group singles were because, apart from the fact that they have to live on one income, they often do not have very many things in common."

'Not Sex and the City'

Now, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre is increasing its efforts to take this growing group into account when deciding on policies and unanimously approved a charter called Towards a municipality in solidarity with one-person households living on a single income.

A survey carried out by all1 among single people found that for 84% of respondents, living by themselves was not a choice but rather the result of a changing situation in their lives, such as a death or a breakup. In addition to that, single people without children in Belgium are also among the most heavily taxed in the OECD countries.

While Dejonghe stressed that it is "obviously not all doom and gloom," she also underlined that policymakers should not get stuck on the image of "the happy single from Sex and the City" because "the reality, unfortunately, is not like that at all."

By signing the charter, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre is committing to treating everyone equally in services, regulations, and communication – with particular attention to single residents, with or without children. "We acknowledge that taking into account single residents plays a decisive role in providing equal opportunities for every resident." Measures will be "consciously, thoughtfully, and sustainably" integrated.

A man resting on a bench. Credit: Belga/Dirk Waem

Firstly, the municipality will adopt the so-called "single reflex": it will consistently assess the impact of policy measures on single-person households, to make sure they would not have any adverse effects on people living alone. "It is in our interest as policymakers to no longer think from the perspective of the traditional family as the norm, but to strive for measures that are neutral to living arrangements."

The other measures include entering into dialogue with the hospitality industry about being more accommodating to people who come alone. There would not be any obligations, but restaurants could consider providing one long table that guests can sit at on their own, or offering good wines by the glass instead of just by bottle.

"Offering good wine by the glass is good for everyone, including for couples where one likes red and the other white wine," Dejonghe said. "As a general rule of thumb: if it is good for single people, it is good for everyone."

More consideration for single people in the workplace is an important one as well, Dejonghe stressed. "We often see that if working overtime is needed to finish a project, this often falls on people living alone 'as they have no one waiting for them at home' but that does not make their time less valuable. We simply ask that consultation takes place before these decisions are taken, with respect for everyone."

The municipality will also ensure that new housing projects will have enough space to promote social interaction, and will also aim to organise more accessible and affordable activities for people living on a single budget.

Another step that, while symbolic, could go a long way for Dejonghe, is removing the mandatory titles "Mr. and Mrs." on letters and invitations as well as allowing invitees to bring a "plus one" instead of a "partner."

"In general, it is about involving single residents in policymaking: instead of talking over their heads, we should include them and let them speak for themselves," she said. "These are small steps, but we have to start somewhere. People really need to think about being alone: one day, it will happen to everyone, whether they want it or not."

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