Households in England with just one adult will be able to form a bubble with one other household from Saturday, in which they will be able to disregard social distancing. It means that single parent families acting as the sole carer for their children will be able to see another adult, and will mean that some single people will be able to get together and raise the R rate of that disease we call “life”.
It’s true to say that it’s a rule that creates a number of sharp edges. If you live in a house of multiple occupation then you still won’t be able to visit your partner if they live elsewhere (though, bluntly, in practice, this rule could never really be enforced: what’s the difference between two people having a dirty weekend and two people “testing the strength of their relationship” in Jennifer Harries’ phrase? Good luck making that distinction stick in court.)
If you are a divorced couple raising children together while living apart, your bubble will remain limited to you and your ex-partner: meaning that the childcare and mental health difficulties of raising a child alone in the era of social distancing will still very much remain in place. It’s tough, too, for people living in house-shares with strangers.
The reality is that you can’t unblock those problems without – longtime readers can join in with the chorus here – a proper system to test, trace and isolate new infections and a lockdown that has succeeded in reducing the number of infections to the low single digits, neither of which the government has managed to bring about.
But this small change will make a big difference for people who live alone, and a big difference, too, to the many more people with friends and relatives who live alone. And while, rightly, the government’s overall failures should be criticised, we should, when we look at this particular policy, acknowledge that at least.