Welfare policies should support and protect single mothers
Nearly 30 years ago, J.K. Rowling, best-selling author of the Harry Potter series, found herself in wintry Edinburgh as a single parent. Up until that moment, life had been capricious and Rowling had been dealt some hard blows in life. Her mother had passed away from multiple sclerosis when she was 25, her relationship with her father had deteriorated over the years, and her first marriage broke down. Despite those challenges, Rowling wanted to give her daughter a happy childhood. However, finding a job was proving difficult because state-funded childcare was available for at-risk children only. This made going for a full-time job impossible as there was no one available to care for her young daughter.
As a result, Rowling lived on welfare benefits for years, whilst also working a few hours at a local church to make ends meet. During this time, Rowling suffered from clinical depression, feeling the pangs of failure, fear, and poverty gnawing at her. Yet, she pursued her childhood dream and channelled her energy into completing the first manuscript for her book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Rowling is now the world’s highest-paid author, a well-deserved accolade for a truly inspiring writer. Today, she is married with three children, yet she fondly remembers that period, stating in her own words, “I am prouder of my years as a single mother than of any other part of my life”.
Single mums more likely to fall into poverty
Single mothers face an increased risk of poverty due to a number of reasons. High costs of living — particularly housing, childcare, and health care — have contributed to their lack of financial security. Welfare benefits in a lot of countries cover a fraction of the overall costs of caring for a child. A 2019 study published by the Child Poverty Action Group in the UK revealed that Child Benefits covered only 15.7 per cent of the total cost of caring for a child in single-parent families.
Caring for a family single-handedly can be challenging for single mothers. Recovering from a divorce or bereavement can take a toll on the mental health and well-being of both single mothers and children. Also, some single mothers find themselves having to care for a child with a chronic illness or disability, with little financial or emotional support. On top of that, single-parent families face social stigma and ostracisation, sometimes from loved ones, the general public, or the media.
Mothers have an indelible influence on their children’s well-being. It is essential that we safeguard their well-being and support them so that they can perform this noble duty with as much tenderness.
Published in Gulf News.