Belfast Telegraph

Don't scapegoat single mums. They're not villains, but victims

By Sharon Owens

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) says society in Northern Ireland is breaking down. Apparently, we're awash with unmarried mothers, divorced and unemployed persons, depressives, drug addicts and binge drinkers.

So who is to blame? Well, let me see . . .

Let's deal with the unmarried mums first, shall we? Now, I don't like to tell tales, but some unmarried mothers are indeed in relationships, but they have to declare they are not in order to gain access to social housing.

How else would they get the keys to a brand new apartment near the shops? How else would they be allocated a nice house in the suburbs with a primary school across the road?

Frankly, I don't blame any young woman for putting her status down as 'single' and whizzing up that waiting list.

I know women in their 30s who wish they'd had the courage to do the same thing years ago.

But, instead, they worked hard to pay their own rent or mortgage and, as a result, they have no children.

I know women who have put off getting married because of the cost of a big, white wedding.

The trouble is, their boyfriends have now got used to the arrangement and see no need to spend thousands of pounds on sugared almonds and engraved champagne flutes.

So which is the smarter girl? The girl with two beautiful children and a home maintained by a landlord or Housing Association, or the girl who forks out £1,000-a-month in rent while her ovaries slide silently into retirement?

If the Government gave priority in social housing to married couples on a modest income, we'd see the end of the 'unmarried mother' almost overnight. I'd put money on it.

Young couples would line up at City Hall in their Sunday best for a quick civil ceremony followed by a buffet back home.

So don't blame resourceful young women for snapping up all the social housing; blame Government policy. And don't blame young men because all the coal mines, shipyards and car factories have closed down.

Next, our soaring divorce rates: I'm a big fan of divorce, so I'm not going to complain about that either. It's a basic human right to live with someone you love and respect. And if that love and respect is gone then divorce is the civilised thing to do. What's the alternative: to live in mutual hatred for 50 years? Yes, it's easy for me to say, because I'm happily married. But if I weren't happily married, I'd get divorced. After all, who benefits from an unhappy marriage? Certainly not the children as they tiptoe about the house dreading the next fight and the slamming doors.

And so we come to binge-drinking: I think it's a bit rich condemning heavy drinking when the supermarkets are allowed to sell alcohol that's cheaper than premium lemonade.

I think it's a bit rich condemning heavy drinking when there's usually nothing else to do on a Saturday night.

Where are the local cinemas, youth clubs, dancehalls, gyms, libraries, craft clubs, church societies, skating rinks and boxing rings? Personally, I like 'scrap-booking' on a Saturday night: collecting pictures from glossy magazines and creating fashion and interior design collages. Mind you, I doubt if there are many other keen scrap-bookers out there.

And, finally, we come to our depressives. I happen to know a few depressives and getting through the day without taking their own lives is an achievement for them.

Depression is a terrifying condition to live with. Depressives are not faking their misery to get out of working.

Again, perhaps if Government policy was designed to actively help depressives with therapy and counselling instead of repeat prescriptions for anti-depressants, there might be some signs of improvement.

One of the worst things about depression is social isolation and a lack of motivation, but no amount of medication will magic a friend into existence.

Nor will medication provide sufferers with self-motivation and a range of fulfiling hobbies and interests.

We need our old-fashioned communities back for that.

But with everybody moving around, chasing a handful of temporary jobs, that's not going to happen. So Iain Duncan Smith and the CSJ, please don't say society is breaking down; I think society is doing the best it can with ever-diminishing resources.

Maybe if people had decent jobs and stable communities and somewhere to go on a Saturday night, they wouldn't have to rely on housing benefit, sleeping tablets and cheap drink.

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