Sunday, 24 January 2010

Hail Taxpayer, full of grace

Do not be afraid.

The Independent has its entitlement-detectors turned up to eleven this week

Promiscuous scroungers or loving parents? Teenage mums fight back

They are labelled promiscuous, branded as benefit scroungers who have fallen pregnant in order to bag a council flat, cruelly nicknamed "pram faces" and mocked by everyone from their peers to politicians. But do the country's teenage mothers deserve such a bad reputation? This week a group of teenage mums will meet the Prime Minister to argue otherwise.

They are offended by what they see as the widespread negative portrayal of teenage motherhood – particularly Gordon Brown's proposal last October that teenage mums need to be placed in supported hostels and taught parenting skills.

Aside from the obvious cheap quip that being scorned by Gordon Brown should be a badge of pride, you will perhaps notice from the start something missing from this tale of woes and being misunderstood.

A handful of these young women interviewed for The Independent on Sunday say they speak for thousands of others in their belief that Britain's young mothers should be treated with more respect.

There’s not hint of irony there.

Remember ‘thousands’ here represents each week thousands of: basic Child Tax Credit at £60 per week plus another ten pounds per extra child (remember, bad luck can happen to the same ‘young woman’ more than once) plus up to £70 per week if you are fortunate enough to get a child registered as disabled. (See later for this bit of cruelty of mine.) Then there’s £20 for your eldest child and £13 for each subsequent one as Child Benefit. Thus for someone working less than £16 hours per week there’s £50 to £64 per week Income Support. Plus the whole of your Council Tax paid plus locally calculated rent for a 2 bed roomed privately rented house or flat per week. That’s a flat or house all to herself and her child(ren), and here in Castle City that’s £120. For Haringey in London it’s £230 to £350 per week.

Oh, there are odds and sods of free school meals and dental care and so on, and all the hidden costs of advisers and helpers and their pensions and phone bills and training and so on – public and ‘private’ alike - but you’re still looking at a weekly bill of £266 per week for single mother with one child in cheap and cheerful Castle City including the lowest rate of Council Tax Benefit with Single Person’s Discount of £16 per week (Castle County is relatively cheap), unless she’s lucky enough to have a disabled child, in which case there’ll be Disability Living Allowance worth up to £120 per week and other bits and pieces. £266 x 52= £13832 per year. And she doesn’t even have to pretend to look for work till her youngest child is seven.

Times thousands. That’s more than a shop assistant or call centre monkey can get at minimum wage for 40 hours per week - £9920 less National Insurance and you’d still have to find money for rent and any council tax (which any landlord will have added to the rent in a shared house.)

That’s a rent-free holiday worth £96,824 over seven years and then she’ll just have to show she’s looking for work and maybe it can go on a decade or so longer…unless she has another child, or two, or ten, and in that cases everything spirals up.

If our girl was under 25 and had no child and was unemployed, she’d get about £120 benefits in Castle City all told and have to live in a room in a house and share bathroom, kitchen, and sitting-room, and be obliged to go on training and ‘prove’ she’s actively looking for work.

Pages 14 and 16 of this will get your pulse rate up to a healthy 120 per minute.

And there aren’t merely ‘thousands.’

The country's teenage pregnancy rate is the highest in Western Europe,

I can’t imagine why.

And it’s not like the boys are all that attractive…

…with 42,900 girls under 18 becoming pregnant in England and Wales in 2007, and 4,050 in Scotland in the same year.

Plus, when you’re older you get even more help and as you don’t get called a teenager any more so the pro-baby ranching journalists can ignore you and your ‘thousands’ of sisters.

While this is frequently cited as evidence of social breakdown, many believe there is no need to despair.

When quite clearly it’s a sign of a healthy attitude to sex and marriage.

"They are much maligned. Some sections of the media whip up opinions that are extremely negative, and there are so many TV programmes that prey on the image of teen parents," says Hilary Pannack, chief executive of the sex education charity Straight Talking.

Wow, at last something I’d like to watch on the TV.

I must be missing all those soap operas and drama series showing vodka’d up girls doing it in their mums’ flats and then showing the boy (if he features at all after The Conception Scene) leaving within a week or two either side of the birth, and then showing the disgusted viewers all the form-filing and the Thursday Post Office payout of all those ten pound notes, and all the helpers saying it’s alright and have you thought of applying for X?…

Nah, I haven’t seen such unsympathetic coverage either, which is why I don’t watch much broadcast television programmes, so it’s back to the Sarah Connor Chronicles for a more positive view of single motherhood for me.

"I don't believe the majority of teenage parents are any worse than the rest of us.

And you know, I imagine most teenage parents aren’t ‘any worse’ than people who work for Straight Talking, which describes its mission thus:

One of the main aims of the Government’s Teenage Pregnancy Strategy is to halve the rate of teenage pregnancies in the UK by 2010. Progress is being made towards the targets set but is slower than anticipated and the number of teenage pregnancies in certain areas remains high. A second aim is to enable teenage parents to move forward into education and employment and reach their potential. Straight Talking, with its peer education in schools and training programme for teenage parents, responds to both Government aims.

No, I should say that pregnant teenagers are likely to be every bit as not-worse as those enlightened folks at ST.

Oh, and Hilary thinks that texting the school nurse to order the morning after pill is great idea (I think it should fit in between Intermediate Excuses and Rationalization and Climate Change Studies on a busy school day) but of course, more education is needed.

Sex education’s working fine so far, isn’t it?

And halving teenage pregnancy by 2010- that’s a lot of bedrooms and hatchback rear seats the Government will need to lurk in.

Ninety-five per cent of teenagers who come to us go on to do further education, and some of them are doing degrees and MAs."

Like, wow.

Except, if you’d seen as many scrawled and barely legible handwriting of single-mother students asking for advice about benefits as I had, you’d wonder what these degrees and MAs were in.

Somehow, however, I don’t think that the teenage mothers who bother to visit a ‘charity’ and who seek further education are the real problem.

Although the Government has failed to meet its 1998 pledge to halve teen pregnancy by 2010, teen pregnancy rates have fallen by 12.6 per cent during that time.

While some may be optimistic about the achievements of young mothers,

It’s comedy hour…

"I was just about to do my GCSEs when I found out I was pregnant. A lot of my mum's friends gave me disapproving looks when I said I was pregnant, but I decided that I was going to keep the baby. I felt that I'd got myself into the situation and thought that I should just deal with it. I took a year out and now I'm in college full time, studying health and social care. I'm planning to be a nursery teacher, so I'll be studying for a few years more.

It’s an educational opportunity as well as a career move.

My life completely changed when I had Dontaye, but it didn't change for my boyfriend. That is one of the reasons we split up; he just wanted to carry on living his life like before.

The ghost at the feast is father dearest, but no biggie. Mum’s got you to look after her and make a childcare baby professional of her after her stint as a ‘Mum.’.

If I didn't have Dontaye I don't think I'd be at college at all. I didn't have any focus before he was born; he guides me.

Gone are those old-fashioned notions of parents guiding their children. In the Third Millennium, the child is parent to the mum.

"I am training to be a peer educator with a teenage pregnancy charity.

I swear on my mother’s grave I didn’t make any of this up.

I want to show young people what it is really like to be a teenage mum. In schools they tell you how not to have a baby,

So the condom fitting lessons obviously work just fine…

…but they don't tell you why not to.

Do you know, once up a time, I think they probably did tell you why not to. I’m also sure that Hilary Pannack would be way against any of those old-fashioned reasons for not getting pregnant while unmarried being taught again in schools. Might be judgemental or negative or something.

People think you get a council flat and lots of benefits, but that is just not true. I still live with my family, but as it is a small house the baby's crying wakes everyone up. So I'm planning to move into a supervised hostel for young women in March.

Which means tax-supported housing and lots of benefits.

"I'd like to go on to university and be a teaching assistant.

It’s an educational opportunity as well as a career move.

There are lots of young women who give up their whole lives when they have a baby. Tomorrow I'm going out for a friend's birthday and it'll be the first time I've been out since my daughter Justyna was born, four months ago. There is a lot of stereotyping that goes on. People who see a pregnant teenage girl think it is a one-night stand, but lots of girls are in relationships."

Before I mock the afflicted; the halt and the lame some more, I’d like to point out that The Independent’s writer is so far up her, well, dependency culture back passage that she doesn’t see any of this.

She just can’t see it. Everything’s just fine. The Exhibit Unfortunates whom this ‘charity’ has wheeled out are there because Ms Shields really believes in the feminist myth of women doing it for themselves and the amoral nature of sex and the general okayness of oceans of cash going to replace the (admittedly useless) ‘fathers’ of these children. As long as some girls are going on to work for the Local Education Authority or fake charities as examples of ‘Why schoolgirl pregnancy is wrong, and here I am to show you that you can still get a tax-funded career and a wage out of it’, then the underclass breeding cycle is just a profitable and job-creating adjunct to middle class liberal lifestyle, and everyone else can just shut up and jolly well pay for it.

Now for some real reality, from my life. Here are three heavily-disguised examples from one busy week at work: last week, as it happens.

The lifelong single mother on benefits in a Housing Association flat who calls into the office upset as the payment of some of her benefits have been suspended because The Housing wants to know when her teenage daughter moved out and when her Child Benefit ended for her (both of which will effect the help she gets with rent and Council Tax).

She can’t be bothered to write in to The Housing with this information or to give my office a number to phone her back on when mobile has limited credits on it and cuts out mid conversation, but it’s probably going to be okay because little Epiphany (aged 17, who is moving out to be with Mum’s forty-odd year old former partner’ who’d been staying with her and Mum in their publicly funded house) is, we will be delighted to hear, in a blessed state.

The likewise ten years (and counting) publicly funded single mother who wonders what help her doubly-disabled daughter living at home will do to the household welfare in autumn. This thirty-something ‘mum’ has been receiving two lots of Disability Living Allowance for 17-year-old Rachelle-Danni. But their prayers have been answered (one assumes by Immaculate Conception) for above Castle City’s most husband-free suburb a star will shine in September. No mention needs to be made of Rachelle-Danni’s qualifying disabilities at this point because something’s obviously working just fine.

The cheerful older mother who rings me up and asks what help her young Tracy will get if she rents a private three bed roomed house and can we persuade The Housing to pay the housing benefit directly to the landlord (contrary to government policy which is to encourage tenants to keep hold of the money until slum-lords fix leaking roofs or unsafe heaters) beause 'She's useless with money.'

‘Poor little thing, she’s pregnant again and she's already got two. She needs your help and she’s only 17.’

Not a council house in sight, you’ll notice, but then it’s us Right-wingers who invent myths of welfare dependency and stereotyping and all that jazz..’


James Higham said...

It's all about entitlement, isn't it, instead of I produced it so keep your thieving hands of it?

Weekend Yachtsman said...


Oh dear I think I just had all my worst prejudices confirmed.

These girls are not stupid at all, of course, they are just responding very rationally to the incentives we've set them.

Change the incentives, and the behaviour will change too. Why is this so hard for the Left to understand? said...

James, Oh yeah - the idea of duty's long extinct.

WY - it's so simple. Half a dozen clauses to amend benefits and tax credit legislation and the government could stop this orever: just say ; 'Not apenny, eve, fo rthird kids or later, and youve got to work from 9.30 to 3 PM as soon as the younger kid goest to school.' 1/2 generation and it's gone.


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