I read a post recently on a Labour blog (I would reference it if I could remember where I read it) arguing that it is too easy to just be cynical about government policy, and we should therefore take the time to partake in a more considered and intelligent debate. Therefore, in the spirit of constructive debate I refer again to John Hutton’s move to oblige women legally to name the father of their child on its birth certificate.
Let’s not be coy here. Hutton’s targets are unmarried mothers who claim benefits and his motivation is to reduce the burden that these children place on the state.
For some time I have facilitated development groups for young, lone mothers who claim benefits and who live in socially excluded communities in inner cities. SureStart commission the work and their aim is to both build community capacity and to facilitate a more stable and secure environment for pre-school children in these communities. I work closely with these women and get to know them well. I can think of a number of reasons why they would choose not to name the father of their child on the birth certificate, none of which Hutton would consider a suitable reason for exemption. Primarily, they would not want to be forced into an economic relationship with the man who has already refused to take responsibility for his actions and has usually behaved in a humiliating and cavalier way towards them. These women don’t have much, but at least the benefits system allows them a measure of independence and freedom of choice to be or not to be in a relationship with the father of their child.
The devil is in the detail. Hutton will have no idea of the difficulties women on benefits face when their ex-partners cease their CSA payments because of a change in circumstances (and these men are often very chaotic which means their payments stop and start like a game of musical statues.) In addition, enforcing a relationship with the father of their child, however tangential that relationship, will only serve to foster further acrimony and hostility and that is VERY BAD for the child. (Particularly if he has insisted on a paternity test, which no doubt most of these absent fathers will do.)
There are many, many reasons why women choose not to name the father on the birth certificate but it is never because she just couldn’t be arsed to include him.
I agree, by the way, that men should be encouraged to take responsibility for the offspring that they randomly sire. I agree that young women should be far more discriminating about whom they choose to have children with, and should not see having children at 16 as a career choice. I agree that children (and parents, for that matter) are better off in families with 2 parents and that all parents should take their job very seriously indeed. I agree that the welfare of the child should come first. I hate the fact that these young women feel so abandoned by wider society that they have children in order to raise their own self-esteem, and then have absolutely no idea how to parent them successfully. I agree that we as a society have a problem here, and I know it is not a popular thing to say in liberal company.
However, attempting a solution through legislation is oppressive and divisive, and, trust me, these women don’t need reminding that they are on the margins of society. We need good, old-fashioned, empowering and respectful community work such as that provided by SureStart. So why is the government reducing its funding?