Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Postscript: Go Go Hutton...

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?


That's so pants said...

They have really lost the plot and it's showing. It pains me to say it but I worked in community development under both the Major and Blair governments and the programmes of the early nineties were rocket science compared to what we have today. It's one of the reasons I just can't do it any more - it's a stupid con. This government can't stick to anything which is bizarre because everyone knows the one thing that is needed is consistency. They even had a great model for Sure Start - the US Headstart programme. They knew that worked because it lasted a long time. The reason they're ditching Sure Start is they think that it's only benefiting middle class parents. I've worked with Sure Starts too in the most deprived areas where there were no middle class people. They make a difference. What will they do with all the Children's Centres they've built when there's no money to run them?

Ms Melancholy said...

I hadn't heard the 'it only benefits middle class parents' bit before. It astounds me! Which programme did they visit for that bit of evidence-based policy making - Royal Tunbridge Wells Sure Start? I fear we are once again on the 'back to family values' campaign trail and my heart sinks.

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