IN HIS keynote speech at the recent Labour Party conference Gordon Brown made out that young single parents are a significant 'problem'. "From now on", he said, "all 16 and 17 year old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes" and "learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly." "It cannot be right for a girl of 16 to get pregnant," he continued, "be given the keys to a council flat, and be left on her own."
This is a false picture of young parents and young mothers in particular, adding to the already negative way in which they and the majority of single parents are portrayed. Brown thought it wrong that young pregnant mothers should be "given the keys to a council flat" when in fact young people under the age of 18 are not permitted to hold a tenancy.
The reality is that only 3% of all births are to mothers under 18 and teenagers make up just 2% of single parents. Most of these live at their parents' home and those 16 and 17 year old parents who are homeless should already be offered "supported accommodation" by their local authorities but these are not being properly resourced.
With huge spending cuts being prepared for after the election there is little chance of these "supervised homes" being adequately resourced anyway. It was a crude attempt to divert people's anger towards young mothers who need more support and away from the bankers and corrupt politicians.
This is obviously the season for all major parties to attack those on benefits so as to justify cuts to their income and link their (reduced) benefits to strict conditions. The workhouses of the Victorian era come to mind.
All parents need help in bringing up a child, particularly young parents. But with cuts to health visitors and huge workloads for social workers a lot of support has already been cut back.
Many young parents would prefer to continue their education or get a job but lack of affordable childcare and the lower rates of pay that women in general suffer means that this is very difficult. There is discrimination against pregnant women, many of whom are sacked well before they reach maternity leave. Many women are forced to work part-time because of childcare problems.
Some young parents may choose to live in well resourced, supported accommodation but there should be no compulsion.
Young women are more likely to reveal they are pregnant much later than older women as they are sometimes too frightened and worried to tell anyone. By then they may have gone over the time limit to have an abortion. Countries where sex education starts young and is openly discussed have lower rates of pregnancy among young women.
More resources also need to be put into family planning services (which have been cut back) and sex education in schools.
Public money was poured into the banks to save capitalism, resulting in a huge government deficit. Whoever wins the next election will aim to claw back benefits and support from the most vulnerable in society.