There is a myth propagated by the likes of the Daily Mail and the infamous Claire Khaw (of whom more another time ) that single mothers get pregnant deliberately to milk the system and maximise the benefits available to them. Even when single mothers are not reviled openly, they are viewed with disapproval by a surprisingly wide variety of people, maybe not quite social pariahs but contributors to the downfall of social cohesion. The right suck their teeth and talk pompously about the decline of the family, as if these women are personally responsible, though of course it should be noted that there are plenty of male single parents too – in fact, there has been a well-publicised campaign conducted by the group Fathers 4 Justice to draw attention to inequities in the law that discriminate against single fathers.
Strangely enough, I have known quite a number of single parents. The essential fact about every single of them is that they never had any intention of becoming single parents, it was simply force of circumstances – mostly the break-up of relationships. And it will not come as any surprise that the primary cause of the break-ups were the men they were with at the time. Many have not received a penny from the respective fathers, let alone time or assistance, and the attempts of the CSA to recover money have frequently been counterproductive.
The quality particular to all these ladies is a dignity, almost a nobility. It would not be fair to name any of them, but in some cases they have been treated very harshly indeed, but have fought back with a courage and persistence that truly deserves a medal, kept going by the desire to give their children the very best start in life they could in the circumstances. Men in their position would complain and demand support, but for the most part single mothers carry on stoically and bring up their kids – often wonderfully well. You hear about the bad cases, but most children brought up in this way go on to be happy, healthy and, each in their own way, successful. Don’t believe the myths peddled by the Daily Mail and others.
The life I have seen them lead is anything but easy, and not one anybody would choose. These ladies are proud: those that do would not choose to claim benefits, but the odds stacked against them to work and find childcare, especially if they have no family close by or available to help all week. But even if they try, finding employers willing to take them on with the restrictions of being there when children need them is a very uphill struggle. The best many single mum’s can hope for is mutual self-help with other mums.
Perfect they are not, but neither do these women deserve the opprobrium they receive. Society is not geared up to help them, and those that do find ways of escaping the poverty trap do so at the cost of reduced quality time with their children. Put simply, there is no simple answer to their plight.