I have thought carefully about writing a political post here but this is a blog about the realities of single parenting and politics are intrinsically linked to those realities.
I’ve never read a Harry Potter book, but a couple of weeks ago, I read this article by J. K. Rowling. Every time I voice to my mother my fears that I might never own a home or pay off my debt, she tells me to think of Rowling.
“She was a single mum,” she says, “She wrote those books in a cafe with her baby in a buggy at her side.”
I would be lying if I said that I was raised in poverty. I am certainly not from a wealthy family but I know that there are lone parents far worse off than me. For as long as I have been able to vote, I have been Liberal. I’m disillusioned about the Iraq war and the national debt, but I am pretty sure those things would have happened whoever was in charge. I almost voted Liberal again this time, but I began to think about how things have changed under Labour for millions of single parent families like mine. Rowling might be inconceivably loaded now, but she hasn’t forgotten how things used to be and she won’t vote Tory.
Despite popular opinion, just over half of lone parents work (according to Rowling, 56.3 per cent.) I have mentored on projects to help single parents on to the career ladder and it isn’t easy, but one of the things that makes it possible is the Childcare Tax Credit system. Then there’s Sure Start (both were introduced by the current government.)
I probably wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but Sure Start played a massive part in keeping me going through the surreality of being a new mother. When breastfeeding turned out not to be serene and easy but an exhausting battle, I was able to sit in a comfortable armchair and speak to an expert who totally understood. I sat in that same chair and spoke to wonderful counsellor too (yes, I needed counselling.) When I needed to get out of the house, I took Tom to play sessions and creches, we could even borrow toys from the Toy Library. The Sure Start centre is a place where all the confusing, separate agencies that help with the different dilemmas of early parenthood are almagamated and easily accessible.
The Tory Government want to financially reward couples who are married (although I can’t see how £150 a year is sufficient incentive to make people flog the dead horse that is a loveless marriage.) Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all meet our life partners, marry them and live happily ever after? If it was that simple, surely we’d all be doing it. The fact is that things often aren’t perfect and marriage tax breaks would only reward the lucky. As Gordon Brown puts it in this unusually passionate speech, “Good fortune must help more than just those who are fortunate.”
David Cameron has spoken many times of ‘broken Britain.’ The vilification of lone parents (as Rowling points out, more often mothers than fathers) is nothing new. It would be naive of anyone to think that there aren’t single parents who live completely off benefits, but they do not represent us all. Many of us want to be employed, to do the best for our children and ourselves. We are only able to do it with help though, because we play the role of two parents: not just financially but practically and emotionally.
The Conservatives may think that Britain is broken and in many ways it is but for working single parents, the system is robust. It ain’t broke and I won’t be trying to fix it.
(Now I can go back to dreaming about a seven-figure book deal. Maybe I should read a Harry Potter book.)