On The Wright Stuff the other morning they were discussing Ian Duncan-Smith’s latest plan, to cap Child Benefit for people who have more than two children. A lady called in saying that “single mothers are the biggest problem, they have as many children as they like, nobody caps their benefit.” The presenter asked her, why pick on single mums when their Child Benefit is not going to be making a big difference to them, and she responded “that’s not the only benefit they get, is it… they get plenty of other benefits, and they can get anything they need as single parents.”
One of the panellists, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, replied,
“I hope you’re never reduced to the point where you are a single parent, because then you’ll know… I was one, once, and I find it quite offensive that you’re talking in this voice about people who never asked for it, most of them.”
The woman responded that yes, most of them are asking for it, they go out and deliberately have children and live off the state.
Obviously this woman is bonkers and talking from her behind, but she represents what a lot of people think when they see “single mother.”
I was talking to a friend earlier this week, who was telling me about a couple she knew. The boyfriend had a son with an ex partner, who he used to have on weekends, but would usually just drop off at his parents’ house until it was time to take him back to his mother. He no longer sees this child, and doesn’t seem bothered by it. He has a new partner now and they have a daughter together who seems to get about the same amount of attention from her father as her half brother. Both parents seem more interested in going out getting drunk or stoned, and the daughter is palmed off on whichever friends or relatives will have her. And yet, to a large portion of society, a couple with a young child looks better on paper than me, a single mother with a baby.
I am lucky enough to still look fairly young, and when I walk around with S in the pushchair I am sometimes aware that people are giving me that look, that I’m one of those mothers, a pramfaced teenager who’s had a child to avoid work and live off their taxes for the rest of my days. Especially when they see me walking back towards this particular estate, which has always had a bad reputation. They don’t see that my child is clean, well dressed, happy, developing well despite having been born early, and most importantly, safe whilst being cared for by a single mother, in a council flat, receiving benefits. They don’t see that I spend 24 hours a day with her, that she is never left to cry, my money goes on buying things for her or making the house nice so that she has somewhere homely to grow up. They don’t see me spending whole afternoons sitting on my living room floor playing daft games and pulling faces, giving myself a headache from shaking my head so much because I know it makes her laugh. They see the label, they judge, and they carry on with their days.
Why do people have this opinion of single mothers?
Is it really the case that single mothers are any less capable, any more feckless, than a couple who are having children and not bothering to raise them properly? Surely the problem lies with the parent, not the situation, or how many parents are there (or not there) doing a good or bad job? Surely if a woman is a single mother, for whatever reason, we should want our taxes to go toward ensuring she is able to afford to bring her child up well, with clothes on its back and food in its belly?
I am a firm believer that all mothers should have the choice as to whether they go back to work. In my lifetime we seem to have gone from women having to leave their job and never go back if they had a child, to women getting 6 months off and then having to go back to their job, whether they want to or not. Can we not have anything between these two states? If, as a single mother, I choose not to go back to work, am I a scourge on society and a sad indictment of the way the world is going, where my married friends who have not gone back to work are wholesome stay-at-home mums raising well-rounded, happy children behind their white picket fence?
Incidentally, the panellist from the show, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, is my new role model and hero. She responded to that caller with “I am a tax payer, and I don’t mind my taxes going to the poor. I mind them going to the rich.”