Alternative constructions of ‘the problem’ and policy failures
Discussions of lone motherhood often fit a normalized absence/ pathologized presence couplet (Phoenix 1987), where those lone mothers and their children who are faring well are not discussed while those who are considered problematic make headlines. Negative discourses are bolstered by the few pieces of research that provide them with support. For example, a great deal of media attention has been given to Dennis and Erdos’s (1992) report of a positive correlation between ‘absent fatherhood’ and levels of crime. There is, however, little evidence that lone mothers make inadequate, irresponsible parents. For example, a study by Kinsey (1993) directly contradicted the Dennis and Erdos (1992) findings. Kinsey found that children from lone-parent households, dependent on welfare, actually committed far fewer crimes than those from lone-parent households in employment.
The solutions proposed by the government to the problems they identify have been both contradictory and unsuccessful. Contradictions are demonstrated by the fact that, in May 1994, one minister, Baroness Cumberlege, advocated the provision of condoms to 12-year-olds in order to help meet the government Health of the Nation targets of reducing births to the under-twenties. In the same week, another minister, John Patten, advocated the tightening up of school sex education so that ‘innocent’/ignorant children are protected from knowledge and not given sexually explicit information. Similarly, policies designed to reduce the entitlement to council housing of lone mothers run counter to ideologies of child protection and children’s
rights to be adequately provided for. The controversies generated by the operation of the Child Support Agency (which did have crossparty support) is a case of government lack of preparedness for problems that had been brought to their attention by pressure groups. The potential benefits of the Act for lone mothers have, according to Sue Slipman (1993), then director of the National Council for One Parent Families (NCOPF), not been realized because of inept implementation.
While government policies on lone mothers have been demonstrably unsuccessful, there has been, in recent years, an increase in research, the findings of which take issue with dominant notions that lone motherhood is, in itself, a problem. Work by Millar (1989,1995), Bradshaw and Millar (1991), Hardey and Crow (1991) and Burghes (1993) indicate that, far from living in luxury on welfare payments, lone mothers are struggling in poverty. The policy options that these researchers suggest are based on research findings and aim to reduce the dependence of lone mothers on state benefits (something that many lone mothers themselves would welcome) while increasing their incomes.