The lack of support for lone parents is turning life into a constant struggle, writes CHARLOTTE HUGHES
THE subject of lone parents is rarely out of the media.
TV programmes such as Benefits Street and Benefits Britain frequently portray them as lazy scroungers, epitome of everything wrong with British society.
But what is life as a lone parent really like? This is a question that I often ask lone parents.
In 2016, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), there were a total of 2.9 million lone parents living in the UK. Of these, 86 per cent were women.
There are many reasons as to why a person becomes a lone parent, and they vary from a partner abandoning them, a partner dying or a person choosing to parent on their own for whatever reason.
Anne is a lone parent and has been for five years. She avoids using the words “single mother” because, on occasion, she has been met with prejudice.
Her experience, like many of the women that I speak to, hasn’t been positive.
She stated to me that being a lone parent is very isolating, a common theme throughout my interviews.
Anne feels isolated for many reasons, her low income prevents her from socialising with her children and her friends as much as she would like.
She worries about becoming ill as there is no-one to fall back on for support.
When she has previously been ill, she says that she just “did her best to manage.” Quite a task when on your own.
Anne told me that she feels like she is on a constant treadmill, her struggle never ends and as a result, she feels exhausted.
The lack of support for others in her situation is very apparent.
If the absent parent decides that they no longer want to help parent their child and there is no family support locally, then life can be very lonely indeed.
For Anne, money is a constant source of worry and the persistent demand from the jobcentre to find more work is overwhelming.
Why are lone parents put under such pressure from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to find work when absent parents aren’t pursued to support their children, she asks?
Indeed, the new child support system requests a fee from the lone parent for requesting their help in asking the absent parent to provide for their child. This system is blantantly unfair and needs changing, she says.
Even the subject of child maintenance is a taboo. No-one wants to talk about it she says, and even when it is, it’s often met with prejudice from the public and silence from politicians.
This does not detract from the absent parents that do contribute to their children’s upbringing and life. A
ll the women I spoke to agreed that they do not feel like they are being treated equally compared to their male counterparts.
Male lone parents are treated like heroes, praised for their every action.
Their female counterparts, however, are asked questions such as: “Why did you have children if you couldn’t afford them?” and “It’s your fault, you can’t expect the state to provide for your kids.”
Lone parents have always had a tough deal when it comes to accessing help, social security and basic necessities. Along with the disabled community, they have faced cut after cut to their social security entitlements.
When the government introduced the benefit cap, it directly targeted lone parents.
The GMB union described this as “a monstrous new assault on 40,000 single mothers, which risks shattering the life choices of children up and down the country.”
Gingerbread, a charity providing advice and support for single parents, says: “Single parents with a child under five will be hit by the benefit cap.”
The DWP’s response is to say that this is designed to strengthen work incentives and create fairness between those in work and those out of work.
However I disagree. It has clearly not been created to create fairness. It has created a deeply divided society, the likes of which we haven’t seen in many lifetimes.
We see child poverty rates at a record high. Recent government figures state that there are four million children living in poverty.
But has the plight of the lone parent improved, compared to that of a lone parent 20 years ago? Sadly no.
There are at least two million lone parents struggling to survive, living day to day, never knowing what to expect or what cut will be forced upon them in the future.
For every child living in poverty, there is a parent going without a meal and the basic necessities just to ensure that their child has a decent quality of life.
The division that is noted between the public’s perception of a male single parent and a female single parent needs addressing. The prejudice is still there and can be very damaging.
The lone parent community feels left behind. They don’t see anyone in Westminster campaigning actively on their behalf. With a series of governmental attacks on them, many are asking when this will end.
One thing I am certain of, it does need to end. We all need to say enough is enough. How much more are our lone parents and their children going to have to suffer?
This amount of suffering is unacceptable and this in itself needs challenging. One person suffering like this is one person too many.