Why the fairer sex are still the poorer
Regeneration & Renewal
It annoys me when people talk about feminism in the past tense, as if the issues it raised and the battles it waged were all dealt with back in the 1980s.
A complacent mindset has arisen that assumes that parity has been achieved and policy matters can be safely discussed in gender neutral terms.
Not so, as a recent report by the Women’s Budget Group attests: women in the UK are still disproportionately poor. Despite more men taking on domestic chores, and even becoming house husbands, among those on the lowest incomes, it is women who bear traditional responsibilities.
They remain ‘shock absorbers’ for poverty, managing households where the father may have long departed, attempting to shield their children from the deprivation, trauma and stigma that comes from poverty: precarious life on violent sink estates, lack of access to consumer goods that advertising tells us are now mandatory. The knock-on effects all of this has on women’s own physical and mental well-being are inevitable, weakening their capacity to manage still further, often meaning that their children are at risk of being taken into care. As one woman interviewed for the report laments: ‘Being poor is hard work.’
The obstacles to addressing these issues are a mixture of political correctness and a latent Victorian contempt. The word ‘mother’ has vanished from the language of policy-making in favour of ‘parenting’. Much as we would like men to take a bigger role in bringing up children, the idea that parenting duties are equally shared is a pretence. Similarly, the Government’s strategy to eliminate child poverty is shy about acknowledging that the only way to lift children out of poverty is by empowering their parents economically – and that usually means their mothers. However, while hearts are melted by talk of poor children, the idea of assisting single mothers evokes a less sentimental response. Why should these women, living in sin, be cosseted by the state?
Such nonsensical, lingering, misogynist thinking accounts for harrowing tales in the Women’s Budget Group report of mothers trying to raise children in the face of subconsciously punitive indifference from councils, of anomalies such as the disparity between the benefits received by 17- and 19-year-old mothers – as if nappies come at reduced rates for junior mothers.
Let’s not be coy or obscure the issue. To reduce poverty we must target those who still shoulder its burden and are most vulnerable to it: mothers.
We’ve heard a lot from aggrieved fathers lately, but it is mothers who must urgently be restored to the top of the policy agenda.
Sukhvinder Stubbs is chief executive of the Barrow Cadbury Trust. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org