Monday 28 June 2010

The Tories' war on independent women.

If the Conservative party is looking for a theme song that really sums up its message for the next election, it could do worse than Beyonce Knowles' pop smash 'Single Ladies: Put a Ring On It.’ The Tories have already made it clear that a return to marriage as the fundamental framework of socio-economic control is the aspirational core of the party’s ideology, and Tuesday’s emergency budget sent an uncompromising message to women who have the temerity to divorce or to remain unmarried: single ladies will pay heavy penalties, especially if they have children.

As well as excising the health in pregnancy grant and other rare, precious tokens of state support for mothers, the new budget expressly delineates welfare penalties and work sanctions for single parents, nine out of ten of whom are women. Single mothers will now be required to find a job in today’s shrivelled labour market as soon as their children are of school age, but as employers are under no obligation to pay a living wage that incorporates enough money to cover childcare, work itself will be no guarantee of a decent standard of living.

The changes to housing benefit - justified with solemn anecdotes about chav families living in castles that sounded a little like the chancellor had muddled his notes with a copy of the Daily Mail - will also imperil lone parent families, who are three times as likely to live in rented accommodation as families with two resident parents. The charity Shelter has warned that the cuts will "push many households over the edge, triggering a spiral of debt, eviction and homelessness."

The Tories may have sidelined their plans to recognise marriage in the tax system, but the cuts announced in the new budget are far more disastrous for women’s rights than the crass symbolism of tax breaks for married couples, making it significantly more difficult for women to contemplate raising children without a man, any man, to offer the support that the new government takes moral exception at providing.

Lisa Ansell, a single mother from London , explained that the new budget may destroy her chances of building a stable home for herself and her three-year-old daughter. “I have worked all my life, and done everything right, but the VAT hike and housing benefit cuts man I'm sitting here with a calculator wondering how I'm supposed to survive,” she said.

“This attack on single mothers is directly in line with Conservative rhetoric about encouraging marriage. If the only way for a poor woman to get out of poverty is a man, that has serious consequences for people like me and my daughter.”

Like many lone parents , Ansell was relying on a job in the public sector to support her family but after a freeze on recruitment in preparation for the cuts announced last week, the work she had lined up has disappeared. “I am an intelligent woman and a good mother, but on budget day, I woke up to find that I am society's garbage, ” she said. “If the new government feels that any woman who has a child with a man should be left in poverty if she separates from him, with a new sexual relationship her only route out, then it should just say so.”

David Willetts MP, who is to sit on a new taskforce for children and families, articulates the Conservative attitude to women and the state with icy clarity in his recent book The Pinch. Lamenting the rise in divorce and praising marriage as a solution to poverty, Willetts complains that "a welfare system that was originally designed to compensate men for loss of earnings is being slowly and messily redesigned to compensate women for the loss of men.” A Green Paper on “the Family” released in January by Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice suggested that lone parenthood is responsible for “fracturing British society,” and that governments should send a clear signal that “families matter”.

Unfortunately for millions of parents, partners and children in Britain, only certain families truly matter to the Conservative party. The entire premise of the Tory marital fetish is that ‘families’ are not just any old riff-raff who love one other and are committed to each other’s wellbeing: the proper form of the family in Conservative Britain is a rigid economic arrangement involving two married, cohabiting parents, preferably owning property and drawing as little state support as possible. Only 37% of the population enjoy this sort of ‘traditional’ arrangement, but Tory social policy has rarely taken the reality of working people’s lives into account when imposing its dictats.

One does not need to be a socialist feminist to understand that the history of women’s liberation has always been about economics. Indeed, after suffrage was achieved, the key victories of the women’s movement in the 1970s involved the fight to allow women and children to be financially independent of men should the need arise.

The hypocrisy of the Tory family fetish, which rewards married, middle-class women for staying at home with their children whilst demonising poor, single women for doing the same, should remind the British left that even the most fundamental of progressive reforms can be reversed unless progressives remain vigilant. Contemporary Conservative policy on ‘The Family’ encodes a cold, reactionary moral agenda in the rhetoric of “allowing people real choice over their lives”, but this budget threatens women's hard-won freedom to make important choices for themselves and their families: the choice to leave an unsuitable or violent partner without facing financial ruin; the choice to remain unmarried; the choice to live a dignified life independent of men, whether or not we have children. These choices are fundamental to women's rights. They are not optional extras that can be trimmed from the budget whenever the nation feels the piece; they are core provisions for female security in an unjust patriarchal world, and they are priceless.

This budget is not merely a repulsive moral assault on single mothers: it is a direct threat to all women who believe that our futures should not depend on the ability to catch and keep a man. The Coalition has claimed that the cuts annonced on Tuesday are 'unavoidable', but the new budget looks anything but reactive: it looks, amongst other things, like a concerted attack on women's hard-won freedoms, an attack based, in Harriet Harman's words, on ideology rather than economics.


  1. I'd like to be all sunshiny and say you're wrong to be so pessimistic ... but I can't. And why is that particular Beyoncé song so popular? The tune isn't bad and the dance moves seem popular, but the message???????????????????

  2. "which rewards married, middle-class women for staying at home with their children whilst demonising poor, single women for doing the same,"


    and what no one is talking about is that if there are lots of single mothers it is because there are lots of single fathers who bugger off and take the child support cheques with them.

    they interviewed a woman on C4 news the other day who was a single mother of 5, living in Islington, working but on the minimum wage, claiming housing benefit. her kids went to school in islington, but with a cap on housing benefit she wouldn't be able to afford to live in her house.
    when they interviewed the tory minister afterwards, he a) could NOT get his head around the fact that she had a job but, because minimum wage is so shit, she still needed benefit and b) kept saying 'well she doesn't need to live in islington.

    hear that folks? if you are on housing benefit you do not deserve to live in a nice place. you have to go live in wherever it is in london that charges £400 pcm for a four bedroom house. if you have more than 4 kids, tough, they can share a room. leave islington to the rich folk, go to the ghetto.

    when i lived in london, in 2006, my rent for a 1 bed flat was £433 pcm.

    and as you say. if you are married mother then you will be rewarded for quitting work. but if you are a single mother, you will be punished.

    marriage isn't the answer. respect is.

  3. Hi again! I like the point above about Islington. Much more relevant than the tiny thing I am rant about. One of my CRB things has just been returned because the organisation took the "Surname at Birth (If Different)" section at face value!

    What they mean is "Surname at Birth (If Different) Or You Have the Temerity to Use 'Ms'". They assume that users of "Mr" must be using their birth surnames, which is not always true!

  4. Ah yes, well known fact that you can't fill in your CRB form as "Ms".

    Married mothers at home with their children aren't always middle-class, by the way.

  5. Hi there, great post, can I just point out that as I know her, Lisa is not from London, she lives in Yorkshire. Minor error.


    This sort of contradicts your entire article.

  7. Hi! :) Well, one technically can fill it in as "Ms", but not without being asked to defy logic. They could get round it so easily either by saying "Surname at birth (if different, or if you put Mr or Ms)", or they could just literally MEAN the words "if different".

  8. Another excellent, excellent article.

    I don't understand why it is that the Tories so viciously attack and make life difficult for the person who has actually taken responsibility for looking after the child(ren).

    Surely if children have only one parent as their main carer, that means that parent should be given support to have time with their families, to help bring them up if they need it, not to have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet.

  9. Reliance on the state to provide does not make you "independent", it makes you dependent.

  10. I don't see how this affects single women who are not mothers.

    Also, I can't see how the Tory family fetish "rewards married, middle-class women for staying at home with their children". Are the Tories planning on paying married, middle-class women for staying at home with their children?

  11. War on independent women ? Don't you mean women dependent on the state ?

    "the Tory family fetish, which rewards married, middle-class women for staying at home with their children whilst demonising poor, single women for doing the same"

    First, they're not rewarded for staying at home. A couple with a joint income of 40k pay far less tax if they both work than if one raises children and the other works (of course any woman worth her salt goes out to work and pays some other, poorer woman to look after her children). Not only that, but this notional one-earner 40k family would be financially better off if they split.

    And the difference between the two families ? One is a co-operative venture, a socialist commonwealth in action - from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs (which for children includes their need for both parents). (No socialist commonwealth is perfect, mind, some are run by Nyeres, a few by Stalins.)

    The other family is, in many though by no means all cases (ok Mum ?), not capable of financal survival without state intervention - not a sustainable model.

    Got it now ?

  12. You wrote: 'the choice to remain unmarried; the choice to live a dignified life independent of men, whether or not we have children. These choices are fundamental to women's rights.'

    Sure if people want to live this way then they can. Nothing is stopping them. But why should other people have to pay for a woman's housing and benefit? Let's be truthful here, some women have children so that they can obtain a council flat. It's a well known way to jump the housing queue. Why are you supporting this?

    And while we are on benefits why are so many people (2.3 million) on disability pensions? 1.2 million are on them for depression and stress! Do you think that some people are abusing the system or do you think they are all genuine?

    Yes the government does need to look carefully at what it is spending other people's taxes/money on.

  13. Tim Johnston wrote, 'Reliance on the state to provide does not make you "independent", it makes you dependent'.

    Unless Tim is living on some kind of desert island, he is dependent on a whole lot of other people. I don't know what his job is, but he is probably reliant on others to supply his water, electricity, food, etc, to ensure his computer works so he can use it to rant at single mothers.

    He is making the assumption that people with jobs are making a more useful contribution to society than people without them. Is a sleazy, lying tabloid journalist really more useful than a devoted mother? Or a blood donor who takes care of the environment without pay?

  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. Reliance on the state to provide does not make you "independent", it makes you dependent.

    Then fuck off to Somalia, set up your own courts, pave your own roads and contract your own police and fire services, you fucking parasite.


  17. Macy Tracy: indeed the tories are planning on paying married, middle-class women - at least for getting married.

    thank you for writing this Laurie, its bleak and terrifying but thats what the next 4 years & 10 months are going to be...

  18. "contract your own police".

    That's what we will be doing when Ken Clarke's bright ideas kick in ...

  19. > they can share a room. leave islington to the rich folk, go to the ghetto.

    That's what most professionals in London do. A lot of people I've worked with are on +1 hour commutes. A friend is starting a business and lives in a hostel between contracting gigs.

    £40k pa [just on the edge of top 10% salary] gives you a £2,460 monthly take home. A 4 bedroom house in Islington rents at £525pw or £2100 a month at the low-end.

    Christ, her housing benefit alone is almost bigger than my salary :-S If I live there it'll be in my late-40s and doing well.

    Vanilla Rose is right about Laban, but I too 'make the assumption that people with jobs are making a more useful contribution to society than people without them'.

    Anon of Not Searched

  20. Oh my god, Dunc, SO well said.

  21. Actually, if she moved to Wood Green - a mere 30 minutes via Kings X - her rent would drop to £370pw.

    George Osborne is forcing her to to move 30 minutes north. It would be pain. I don't envy her the hassle of moving. But let's be realistic about what this means.

    If we took the media family income of £32k, divided by the 1/3 most families spend on housing - she'd have £205pw. Which would get her a house in Didcot if she'd cut herself to 3 bedrooms.

    I'm coasting into my late-20s, so the people I grew up with are uprooting their lives and moving hours out of town to breed. It's not an easy choice for them, but they get on with it. We can't all live in Chiswick :-(

    (Now, the evil bit might turn out to be CPI indexation, which looks odd as RPI is more representative of living costs. Possibly someone at the Treasury's expecting big changes in relative prices this parliament...)

    Anon of Not Searched

  22. While I think there is a desperate need to support lone parents, I can't help thinking that much of it is not so much a system to help people who are vulnerable get through difficulties such as suitable accomodation or childcare as a wholesale system to facilitate the mass walk-out of fathers who wish to evade paying for their children. To some extent the system is already compromised by its own inability to force absent fathers to pay their fair share. Those who do are unfairly penalised (as are the mothers as their benefits are often greatly reduced) while many manage to escape paying up. To a large extent this is as much as "moral judgment" - i.e. that men really shouldn't have to be responsibile for the consequences of their actions. I do think that the current system facilitates this and indeed tacitly rewards women who opt out of trying to seek support from fathers, instead choosing the state support system as an easier alternative.

    I do think this is also the reason why the CSA failed so spectacularly - its because its so ingrained in our culture that men shouldn't have to pay the consequences for their behaviour, while women should be demonised for ever more. How quaintly Victorian.

  23. Vanilla Rose, you are hilarious. So, because the government runs things like electricity, water and food (which it DOESN'T), then it must provide houses, bicycles and underpants too? Is that your logic?
    You've derived a whole lot of meaning from one small sentence. You can twist the meanings of words all you like, but dependence on the government is not, by any definition, "independence".

    @Dunc -
    Who do you think pays for those things? magic pixies??

  24. Yeah. Did you not understand my cryptic message about not publishing my comments?

    I did NOT appreciate that. Although the problems Mr D caused me are a matter of record, I was not intending to give the matter further publicity. That's the last time I give you a heads-up.

    This I do want you to publish.

  25. Sorry VR - I didn't mean to publish that comment, it was late and I was moderating on autopilot. Have deleted.

    Divine: watch yourself. No attacks on Vanilla Rose here, please, she's a valued member of this community.

  26. I agree with all of this. Cutting benefits is never any fun, especially when the targeting is so clearly off. I don't like Ian Duncan Smith, and I am also not a fan the Tory "fetish" for marriage.


    The budget deficit and government debt is so insanely high that someone has to stand up and say, enough! Even Gordon Brown realised this was needed at the end. While I would prefer the government to cut Trident and the ridiculous war in Afghanistan* ahead of welfare benefits, I would also like to have a functioning government, not a bankrupt banana state.

    * where our allies are so corrupt that they take all of our aid money, add in their cuts from the drug trade, and fly everything out of the country to add to their retirement funds - ready to be cashed in when the Americans leave and the inevitable civil war breaks out

  27. Okay, Penny. I will put it down to the heat.

    Anonymous said...
    "Actually, if she moved to Wood Green - a mere 30 minutes via Kings X - her rent would drop to £370pw.

    "George Osborne is forcing her to to move 30 minutes north. It would be pain. I don't envy her the hassle of moving."

    Moving house is in itself usually expensive, as well as very stressful and time-consuming. And that is not taking into consideration any ties she might have with neighbours or friends and relatives who live near her.

    Plus, 30 minutes a day commute is 5 whole hours per week. And it is more than that if the train is delayed. Oh, and the travel costs would probably rise.

  28. Lone parents who work would be entitled to child tax credit, which includes a childcare component of up to £175 a week per child, or £300 for two or more children, providing they earned under a certain amount. Most lone parents who haven't worked for a while, especially those on Income Support, would also get £60 a week for a year (the In Work Credit).

  29. I just read the following on a blog by some prick calling himself Old Holborn.

    "I'm hoping that, after George Osborne's welfare cuts really begin to bite in a couple of years, to be able to enjoy some tight top quality teenage snatch at bargain basement prices when the young single mothers start having to whore themselves on the streets to feed their children.

    Pity I'm going to have to pay more VAT on condoms, but you can't have everything I suppose!

    Fuck but I find that depressing even if it is supposed to be satirical and/or alternatively comedic.

  30. I remembered this topic when I was reading a paper examining welfare in the OECD. It turns out that in 2003 (at the height of New Labour's reign) single parents were already being discriminated against by the transfer system.

    The specific UK figures are a little out of context, but they essentially outline the situation of working low-income single parents and low-income couples where one parent works. Compared to the average weekly wage, single parents who are entitled to welfare benefits get a net result of 58% APW, while couples get a net result of 66% of APW, even though the second parent is assumed to earn no income.

    According to the OECD calculator (,3343,en_2649_34637_39717906_1_1_1_1,00.html) things had improved by 2008. A single parent earning 65% of the average weekly wage got a net benefit of 4.4% of APW, while a married couple where the sole earner has a wage that is 65% of the average gets a net benefit of 5.1% of APW.

    I suspect that some of this has to do with the fact that women are still paid less than men, and that industries dominated by women are generally financially undervalued (e.g. nurses & teachers), but I imagine that there is also a public policy component.

  31. >Plus, 30 minutes a day commute is 5 whole hours per week. And it is more than that if the train is delayed. Oh, and the travel costs would probably rise.
    That's how almost every single working parent in London already lives.

    > Moving house is in itself usually expensive, as well as very stressful and time-consuming. And that is not taking into consideration any ties she might have with neighbours or friends and relatives who live near her.
    Yes, most people who have to move out of London (actually often the entire SE) because they chose to have a family have found that.

    Could they all get a subsidy worth over £21k a year too? Is this a sane way to spend public money? Is it worth the wage of a nurse in Hull to keep a London family in a house most private sector workers could never conceivably afford?

    (Yes, the housing market's broken. But until we can make it politically acceptable to reign in mortgage lending and raise interest rates, we're stuck with the economy we have.)

    Anon of Not Searched

  32. @rob: Yes I agree with you that the government should focus their cuts on defence. It is such a waste that people's money is being spent on trident missiles.

    But the government does as you say need to cut down on expenditure in order to reduce the 156 billion pounds annual deficit. It is important to recognise that so many people are claiming disability pensions when in fact they are not really too disabled to work. For many people it is much easier to become one of the 'disabled' than it is to work in badly paid unrewarding jobs or go through the trouble of signing on. It's a dilemma because some people are genuinely too disabled to work but at the same time there are many that are able at least to do some part-time work. The solution is to have more flexibility in the work place and the disability pension scheme which would enable 'disabled' people to do say 6-8 hours a week work without affecting their pension.

  33. “All he’s asking her to do is move 30 minutes north.”

    Ok, let us examine that a bit. Now – I’m not on benefits but in order to move I have to:

    A: find a suitable house that is available
    B: have enough money for a deposit
    C: have enough money to afford the van to move; time off work to move etc.

    Now if someone’s on benefits – how the hell are they going to save up enough money for a deposit? If someone’s on benefits then they have to find a landlord willing to accept someone on benefits. If someone’s on benefits who moves from one area to another then they also have to close one claim and submit a second which can mean that they won’t have benefits for months. That’s assuming the second claim is accepted and they’re not suddenly in the situation that they have no money at all. I can completely understand why she isn’t moving right now – the system is completely set up to make it totally impossible.

    I’ve not yet met anyone on benefits – be they housing, JSA or disability who wants to be on benefits; who doesn’t want to work instead. However there are times when you can’t work; for whatever reason – be it health, job availability or other circumstances. Single parents rarely become single parents by choice. Do the Tories seriously think that a single parent who’s become a widow(er); or someone who’s fled an abusive partner is the demon of society?

    The other thing that Penny hasn’t pointed out is that whilst yes, this is an issue which will mainly effect women; it’s also going to effect men both directly and as a knock-on effect – and the effects aren’t going to be positive.

  34. > A: find a suitable house that is available
    Wood Green isn't difficult to rent in. I know this.

    > B: have enough money for a deposit
    I think the DSS will cover you for this. (And I presume want it back again at the end.) If not, that is a flaw in the system, and ought to be fixed independently of a cap.

    > C: have enough money to afford the van to move; time off work to move etc.
    A removal would be £400-500 or so. Again, if the DSS is making her move, they ought at least lend her the cash.

    Is anyone willing to state that money is better spend on keeping a tiny number of claimants in nice houses in expensive area, than on education or healhcare? If you're not, then we're just down to arguing about practicalities.

    Anon of Not Searched

  35. Mr Divine - as an individual claiming support because of stress, yes, I need it. Leaving the house fills me with fear, doing complex tasks with responsibility leaves me exhausted for days. I sleep two or three as much as I used to, and I'm hoping the new pills work. If I had to go out and look for a job now, I'd be in a puddle of tears by the end of the day, and I'd need to sleep for a week. A four hour shift as a cashier would take me a few days to get over. I need to rest and recover, rather than be caught in an awful cycle of illness if I don't depend on the government now to pull through and survive, becoming an employed benefit to society later.

  36. Hi Emma;
    I just said that some people who are claiming disabled pensions are not really 100% disabled and I think the welfare system will not allow this situation to continue. And yet I understand why people act as they do ... both claiming benefits and others disputing the right of other people to claim them. If you are genuine then you are genuine. Only you really know.

    You say you are but how can I believe you? So many people have lied to me that I can't tell who is telling the truth. And I mean many people have lied to me. You've got no idea how many people I've met and I know have lied to me. I'm not saying you are one of them, I'm saying I know that many people have lied to me and can't tell who is lying and who is not. I have also seen that many people who are poor in Third World counties, much much poorer than in the West, and I want them to be my first priority.

    Maybe you are not richer than those in the Surrey stockbroker belt but you are much richer than those people I have met in India and Nepal. It is these people who first command my charity. I've seen so many people in India and Nepal who need my help more than you that I can not forsake them.

    Emma I think if you had to work you would do so. If you were stuck in a Third World country you would do so to survive. You wouldn't need to rest and recover for 'stress'. There is a fight in us all.

    Why do you think I know this?

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