Tom – going in.
Tomasina writes in as she’s been instructed, to check if everything’s going to be alright.
She’s twentyish and has been living off statutory maternity pay (90% of her former part-time minimum wage job) and Housing Benefit at the shared accommodation rate – being under 25, the government holds that she ought to be living in cheaper shared accommodation than in a dearer place of her own that a full adult is held to ‘need.’
But a miracle of personal and international relations has occurred and Tomasina gave birth to a daughter, Maisy, a month ago. Her birthplace is here in
He does not appear on any of her records. He doesn’t live with her, and officially probably never will. If he has no wage [and you’d be amazed how many non-EU immigrants can live off nothing for months whilst waiting to be entitled to British benefits which may never be paid, but you’ll never hear of such a chap starving once he’s formally refused public funding], then he doesn’t have to pay her a penny. The CSA will oblige him to pay 15% of any net wage to Tomasina, or he may be even more generous if he can afford it, but that income will not be taken into account when calculating all Tomasina’s benefits.
Which is nice.
She will get: Income Support until Maisy’s 10 years old (which confers immunity to even having to think about looking for work) and: Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit. Oh, and The Housing will pay all her Council Tax bill, and help with rent for the two bed roomed house or flat that she now ‘needs,’ thanks to the tender attentions of the stork.
And these; free early education, money to pay for childcare, money to pay for transport, free school uniforms, free dental care, free prescriptions, free school meals and milk. Plus earnings for up to 16 hours’ work per week if she can be bothered.
Not too shabby
Dick – trying to stay out.
Sally is: thirty; cute as a button; a nurse; clever; hardworking, and as dumped as last year’s sofa. Dick had given her two children in the past three years of cohabitation, married her as recently as a year ago, and traded her in last month for a newer model.
She does not want to sign on for benefits, is ardently chasing full-time work, and never wants to see me or my colleagues ever again once she finds that work.
She needs a temporary safety net, hates applying for it, and will hand it back the second the NHS gives her 35 hours or more.
She’ll probably be about the same financially as Tomasina or even slightly better off if she stays on all the benefits she could get and will be only slightly better off than that as and when she gets her job.
Her self-respect, however, is bigger even than your wallet dear reader and I do not think that she will give a word of complaint when her household budget drops somewhat if she gets that job within the next week or so. If that’s the case and my people do their jobs, she’ll have been entitled to benefits for two months, tops.
Harriet – getting out and hating it.
Harriet is enraged. She’s a lifelong Miss. She’s forty-something and for the first time in twenty years she’s an independent adult. Prior to that, she’s been a single mum (aww) and her three children have grown to maturity on the public purse and on whatever recent part-time work that Harriet could find worthwhile to do, which is not much. Her youngest child now has recently twenty and is a student and a non-dependant. All of a sudden, all child-related benefits, credits, premiums and disregards are gone. She’s down to her wages and a weeny amount of help with the rent from The Housing.
She’s no longer a State-registered mum and doing only 20 hours or so shelf-stacking at Wilkinson’s or granny-herding at The Meadow Lea isn’t making financial sense. Her three gormless children still live with her, but don’t seem to consider themselves obliged in any way to help pay her rent and Council Tax. Why should they – their nameless father(s) never did. She’s had twenty years of someone else’s earnings keeping her in a house that she can no longer afford and has only been obliged to work even part-time for the last 4 years. Under the old systems mums got job seeking immunity until the youngest child was 16. It has never made financial sense to work full time until now.
She’s not getting at me personally, she assures me, but she’d be better off on the dole than working. If you’re on the dole you get everything, but if you work, you get nothing. This is not so: she’s still getting a little help with her rent, and if she went on Jobseeker’s Allowance (eventually after a short break for quitting her job) she’d even get slightly less money on benefits altogether than working.
Just barely less. The system overall is quite mad but in many cases it doesn’t actually have a basement full of ice hockey masks, night vision glasses and surgical cutting instruments. It is fixed that single people are better off working than claiming.
If she’s not fussed about foreign holidays and running a car, then it may still be barely worth her while to sign on. Harriet has been where Tomasina is presently heading for two whole decades, and she may well have got used to daytime TV and hanging out with her mates for coffee and celebrity gossip, and so shifting more ready-to-hang curtains into the Soft Furnishings Section or bathing even more batty retired process workers at The Meadow Lea maybe won’t look too tempting.
Harriet happens to be a manual worker; unskilled thanks to whatever nature and nurture and state education have lumbered her with, but her middle-class counterparts are just as likely to fight for every penny and to delay the dread day of having to put in a full week’s work to make ends meet, but are more likely to hold me and my colleagues bitterly and personally responsible for their woes and the indignity of having to earn a living to make ends meet. They’ll use posher words than Harriet to blame me and my colleagues for their ex-husbands’ or former partners' uselessness.
Now I’m one of the villains of this piece. This is not only because I do the bidding of the Department for Hurt and Awful Nuisances, but because I’m also an absent father. I pay for my child’s support and save for her future and I do so willingly - which is a rare thing in my professional experience in both personal finance and benefits, but still.
The gooseberry bush and the cabbage patch are innocent of all this single motherhood lark. Men aren’t innocent; not lustful, fertile men who run or slink away from, or never intend to stand by, their parental responsibilities.
Not every girlfriend or wife can be a frigid, work-shy, spendthrift, manic-depressive self-centred obsessive: women seem to be nicer company and better neighbours and colleagues than men at a ratio of about 4 to 1 in my experience to date. Divorce can be – and often is – convenient when the end comes, though my fellow social conservatives will tell me it’s too easy and perhaps they are right. So it is easy to fly the coop and like any easy, cheap thing this particular freedom is abused big-style. Child-making has always been very easy, and what the permissive society and the Welfare State have done is to achieve a treble whammy: they’ve taken away the stigma of bastardy and single parenthood via divorce reform and liberal attitudes to sex; then they have encouraged casual child-rearing by providing welfare benefits for single mothers; and finally they have prolonged the situation of state dependence by making those benefits long-term and almost unconditional.
Who needs men? I’m not cracking on about my virtue here (you may see none, considering), but I am saying that this is where we are – this is what it looks like from the baby shower desk of the Welfare State.
Politicians (many of whom are metaphorically if not literally fatherless) are not likely to put divorce back on the country’s list of difficult things to do, but we should consider that they tend to be rich and therefore able to afford generous child support themselves. So it may be possible for the principled politicians to convince the lazy, greedy ones to make child abandonment expensive for absent fathers and life not too comfortable for would-be single mothers – many of whom never intended to keep their children’s father around in the first place.
Marriages have always been capable of breaking down. Love affairs that produce children have always been at risk of turning into something else – which is why dreams of handsome princes and dashing suitors have long featured in fairy tales and other fiction, because men is what women need to become and to remain happy mothers.
Single mothers still get men to support them of course; it’s just that they haven’t met most of them. Nor will these men know that their names or addresses as the fairy godmother here is Her Majesty’s Government, bringing princesses into palaces and pretty clothes without the need for Prince Charming to, um, come onto the scene at all.
They get women to support them, too. Dignified and abandoned Sally will soon (I hope) be doing her 35 or 37 or 40 hours, and losing out compared to being on benefits and part of her day; part of every working day of bending to pick things up and cleaning sick and silly patients and stressing to organise child care for evening and weekend shifts – part of all that labour and sweat and yucky medical stuff will go to substitute for the missing pride of our mysterious lord of the Hindu Kush and the never-seen prince consorts of the unhappy Harriet’s replacements.
Sally is Harriet’s wife.
Not so cool.