Professor Robert Dingwall, of Nottingham Trent University, and one of the UK’s leading sociologists, is currently part of two advisory groups supporting the Government in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

He said: “My first question would be whether this is due to some quirk of the sampling or the question design. The wording does suggest that the ONS itself is not completely confident about this, with its reference to the introduction of new questions. 

“It could be, for example, that houses occupied by groups of young people, each living more or less independently, are being classified as several single-person households on the ONS definition, but constitute a single disease pool on a public health definition.

“However, it could also be that it is just more difficult for single-person households to maintain a degree of social isolation in terms of both practical and mental health issues. It may be harder to make up adequate grocery or meal deliveries, and the households may lack storage for larger volumes.

“Single people may also be more challenged in terms of preserving mental health than two-person households. We don’t keep prisoners in solitary confinement for long periods because of the psychological damage that this inflicts on them.”

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