Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Sharon Owens: Why do those feckless single parents get so many benefits?

In 1979 there were 1.4m families in the UK headed by a lone parent, usually the mother. By 2003 this figure had risen to 3.2m. Nowadays, it's considered on a par with heresy to say a woman on her own cannot possibly raise a child or children well. But sadly the statistics tell us otherwise.

The children of single parents (in 90% of cases it's a single mother) are 60% more likely to die in infancy, and 100 times more likely to be killed (by a step-parent as opposed to a natural parent). Some 18% of children from single-parent homes have mental health issues (compared with 8% of the children of married parents), and 72% of them live in poverty.

Children from single parent homes are more likely to suffer from depression and they are more likely to turn to drugs, alcohol and underage sex, which in turn affects their schoolwork. Which of course makes them more likely to drop out of school, and so the cycle of poverty continues.

Boys and girls are equally affected, or so it seems. Teenage girls living in poverty know they will receive more money in benefits than they could ever earn, for example, in the catering industry or in hairdressing. So they are quite often determined to get pregnant as soon as they can, but they will choose not to live with the father of their child or children, as that might reduce the benefits they will be entitled to.

Teenage boys from low income backgrounds are far more likely to join gangs, take drugs and go to prison. And with primary schools, secondary schools and even Young Offender facilities mostly staffed by women, it is only in prison that many young men get to spend time and bond socially with other males. What a sad situation...

I'm not rushing to judge either single parents or, indeed, the children of single parents. My own parents split up when I was still in primary school, and even today, almost 30 years later, I still remember how embarrassed I felt. I began to suffer from panic attacks around that time, and I still have the odd 'wobble' whenever I feel overwhelmed or very tired.

And I do recall how stigmatised I felt, as if everyone was talking about my family behind my back. But I had two good parents, four devoted grandparents, I went to an excellent school, and I didn't have to pay to go to university, so I managed to achieve my goal of attending Art College.

However, if you take a child whose mother got pregnant deliberately to access benefits, and then realised too late that it isn't all that much fun watching the Jeremy Vile/Kyle Show in a freezing cold council flat - what hope have they got?

No strong role models for the boys and not many role models for the girls either, beyond following a well-beaten path down to the Housing Executive, and you can see how the situation is getting completely out of hand.

Who do I blame? I blame government policy over the last 20 years, fair and square.

They took away the vast majority of blue-collar jobs. They told young people to train for white-collar jobs and then they failed to provide those either.

They told young women that they didn't need husbands, or hands-on fathers for their children. They built great ugly housing estates where people became mere statistics. They allowed schools to become almost exclusively staffed by females so that even there the boys had no role models.

Finally they allowed, indeed they encouraged, a sense of personal pride to fade away - and be replaced with a sort of mass panic over state benefits, and how to gain access to them.

It's obvious now, in hindsight, that if hundreds of thousands of teenage girls are hoping to move into social housing by the age of 16, then literally millions of new homes are needed urgently. And don't forget the hundreds of thousands of teenage boys who are neither in relationships nor employment - they will also require a roof over their heads. But where is the land going to come from? And who is going to pay for these millions of new houses?

Certainly not Mr and Mrs Taxpayer who are already livid at the cost of putting their own children through university - with fees possibly set to rise to as much as £5k per year. Not to mention the cost of keeping their elderly parents in a private nursing home!

It's hard enough to bring up a child when you're happily married, in gainful employment, and own a nice little house with central heating. God only knows how these so-called "benefit scroungers" cope with only loose change in their pockets, and nobody to help them when a baby is ill or behaving badly at school.

Is it time to announce an end to automatic housing benefits for teenage mums? Indeed, is it time to inform all NEETS (Not in Employment, Education or Training) that they'll be joining the army now, whether they like it or not?

At least it might make some teenagers stop and think before they hurl themselves onto the conveyor belt of a wasted life of poverty and crime. There's no point in coming over all socialist and shouting "Power to the people!" Too many of the "People" are sitting in dreary council flats, smoking cigarettes and drinking cider to blot out the misery.

It's the babies I feel sorry for.

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