Rowling hits at lone-parent stigma
Harry Potter author JK Rowling has said her self-esteem was eroded by the stigma of being a single mother and she has hit out at the dim view society takes of lone parents.
The writer, who has become one of the wealthiest women in the UK on the back of her books, said she is prouder of the way she coped as a single parent than of any other part of her life.
Rowling, president of single-parent charity Gingerbread, called on the Government to do more to help people who find themselves in that situation to be able to get into employment.
She famously began working on her Potter books after splitting from the father of her daughter Jessica, writing with the youngster at her side. As she could not afford childcare, she took a low-paid filing job at a local church in Edinburgh, where she had settled, which allowed her to take her daughter along.
Writing for the charity, Rowling said: "My overriding memory of that time is the slowly evaporating sense of self-esteem, not because I was filing or typing - there was dignity in earning money, however I was doing it - but because it was slowly dawning on me that I was now defined, in the eyes of many, by something I had never chosen.
"I was a Single Parent, and a Single Parent On Benefits to boot. Patronage was almost as hard to bear as stigmatisation. I remember the woman who visited the church one day when I was working there who kept referring to me, in my hearing, as The Unmarried Mother. I was half annoyed, half amused."
Rowling said the stigma around single parents - including a view that they do not want to work - needs to be "challenged". "I find the language of 'skivers versus strivers' particularly offensive when it comes to single parents, who are already working around the clock to care for their children. Such rhetoric drains confidence and self-esteem from those who desperately want, as I did, to get back into the job market."
She said the Government should look at further ways of helping people into the workplace and out of poverty: "Nothing outlandish: affordable childcare, decent training, employers embracing flexible hours, and a long, hard look at low pay."
And she reassured others who have found themselves in the position in which she formerly found herself.
"I would say to any single parent currently feeling the weight of stereotype or stigmatisation that I am prouder of my years as a single mother than of any other part of my life. Yes, I got off benefits and wrote the first four Harry Potter books as a single mother, but nothing makes me prouder than what Jessica told me recently about the first five years of her life: 'I never knew we were poor. I just remember being happy'," Rowling said in a message on the Gingerbread website.