I’ve never been a single mother, I wasn’t raised by one and all being well, with my children now aged 9 and 12 I won’t ever be one. So Tory London Mayoral Candidate Shaun Bailey’s comments on single mothers have no real reason to impact on me, except that they do irritate me.
I am tired of this judgemental attitude to family life.
In a research paper published in 2005, Shaun Bailey said a two-parent household – “should be the norm”, as opposed to single mothers, and that good-looking girls tend to “have been around”.
It reminds me very much of the ‘Back to Basics’ rhetoric popularised by the Major Government of the 1990s. During 1993, Britain was going through what has been characterised as a mora panic on the issue of single mothers. Government ministers regularly made speeches on the issue, such as John Redwood’s condemnation of “young women [who] have babies with no apparent intention of even trying marriage or a stable relationship with the father of the child” from July 1993, and Peter Lilley’s characterisation of single mothers as “benefit-driven” and “undeserving” from the same year.
The Back to Basics campaign is probably now better remembered now for the humiliation it bought on the tory party as soon afterwards various ministers (too many to mention here) had to resign after various sex scandals, including some, such as Tim Yeo fathering children through affairs, and John Major later being found to have had an affair with Edwina Currie during the same period.
However, for people growing up in the 1990s such as myself, this discourse formed the backdrop of our youth.
Newspaper stories on single parents were always accompanied by a teen pushing a double buggy. Even as a teenager, it struck me as being unfair and caused me to wonder why the demonisation of absent fathers was missing from the attacks.
Now, having raised my two children through synchronised diaries and teamwork with my husband I cannot say how much I admire my friends who are single parents.
I imagine knowing there is no one to pick you up if you fall is very lonely, not having anyone to share the joy and worry with must be very isolating. But they persist.
What I really hate is this constant pitting of one type of family as better than another – the idea we should judge other people by their circumstances.
Where does it get us?
Our culture seems to be transforming into one where we find someone different to us and look down on them. But then, I suppose this is no different to our Victorian past, where being illegitimate caused a stigma a person could never escape from.
I believe this stigmatisation is not something we should accept today.
It certainly does not serve to prevent or solve the poverty many single parents find themselves in, or help them solve the childcare problems that make work so hard for so many.
There are 2 million single parents in the UK, less than 2% of which are teenagers and 67% of whom are in work, yet 47% are in poverty.
Imagine that; working hard, managing school pick up times, dealing with all the adventures and difficulties parenting throw at you and still not being able to make ends meet, living with the fear of not knowing what will happen if you don’t deal with every problem life gives you.
Rather than condemnation I suggest the tories look at why so many children of working parents can possibly be growing up in poverty and get on with doing something about it!