There has been an interestingly muted response to Gordon Brown’s proposal of hostels for teenage mothers aged 16 and 17. Simon Hoggart in the Guardian referred to
a weird Victorian notion of an institution for fallen women – a barracks for single teenage mothers
and his colleague Polly Toybee said,
Sheltered housing with support is a good idea for the youngest teenage mums without families. But why make good schemes sound like sending them to a Victorian nunnery for punishment?
If a Tory government had suggested such a thing it is sure that there would have been shriek of outrage that unfortunate women were being ‘victimised’.
If the Tories run with the idea or anything like it when/if they form the next government, the Left and people on Question Time and the BBC will be sure to turn on it with fury.
Here, then, is a reminder of why action of some sort has become desirable. It comes from Dynamic Benefit: towards welfare that works recently published by the Centre for Social Justice. It includes a graph showing that Britain is the unmarried parenting capital of Europe. The only country that is anywhere close to us is Ireland. The rest have a far lower incidence of unmarried mothers.
These are the proportions of households headed by an unmarried mother (figures from Eurostat, read off as best I can from the graph on page 117 of the report):
The reason we are the European capital for unmarried parenting is that we give higher benefits – in cash and housing – compared to money available from low-paid jobs than the other countries. Italy gives virtually nothing and unmarried parenting there is rare. It is not that the cash encourages young women to have children out of wedlock. It is rather that government, by giving – relatively speaking – so much money has ended the situation that has previously existed in Britain and still exists elsewhere: that it is a disaster for a young woman to have a child outside wedlock so she does all she can to avoid it.
To those who say that giving less money is harsh and that this is a humanitarian issue I will agree on this: it is indeed a humanitarian issue. A government which changes the natural order of things so that more children are produced by unmarried mothers without any means of support other than the state is creating a deluge of misery for the children that are created.
There are many kinds of evidence that the children are likely to do less well at school and turn to delinquency causing unhappiness to themselves and others, too. Here are just two figures from the same report (p120):
- 70% of young offenders are from lone parent families
- children from lone parent families are than 70% more likely to fail at school.
It is indeed a humanitarian issue and we should think of and speak for the children who are created by the policies that remove the natural disincentive to have children out of wedlock.