FISCAL CRISIS AND THE WELFARE STATE
By mid-1993, the lone mother was being assessed in terms of her economic as well as her moral and social costs to the nation. The Sunday Times (11 July 1993) again led the way for the media with a special pull-out with the following headlines across four pages: ‘Wedded to Welfare’; ‘Do they want to marry a man or the state?’; ‘Once illegitimacy was punished—now it is rewarded’. Murray was once again provided with space to argue that there is ‘no point fiddling with welfare at the margin’, and that ‘only marriage and the principle of legitimacy will preserve a liberal society.’ The cartoon that accompanied this special pull-out—a faceless male social security officer with a pregnant bride on his arm and three children emerging from beneath her dress, a beer swilling man/father just in the background—hardly corresponded with any liberal values of tolerance. Likewise, leader comments in the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express (15 July 1993) echoed Welsh Secretary John Redwood’s condemnation (2 July 1993) of women who had children ‘with no apparent intention of even trying marriage or a stable relationship with the father of the child’ (quoted in Blackie 1994:18).
The simple equation that was propagated was as follows: public spending is out of control, a major reason for the increase in public spending is the number of mothers on benefit, they reproduce the values of welfare dependency in their children, an underclass of such people is forming, therefore a downward spiral of moral decline and an upward spiral of welfare costs is the future that Britain faces.
Lone mothers were not the only group relying on public welfare to be the target of critical comments, but they were seen as one of the ‘softer’ political targets.4 As the debate within the Conservative Party over how to tackle the public debt intensified, attention that had already that year been focused on lone mothers as the producers of the underclass was harnessed in their direction once more. Speeches in July 1993 about the economic burden of never-married mothers occurred shortly after a seminar organized by the Institute of Economic Affairs, which attracted some of those who were subsequently so vocal on the topic.
Apart from the work of Murray, whose research consisted of little more than a trawl through some existing secondary sources and a few conversations with interesting ‘characters’, the media were not interested in existing research. While Murray was held up as a beacon of academic integrity and Halsey as someone who had seen the light, and Phillips lambasted social scientists for failing to research the problems, there was no interest in work that contradicted Murray. No one quoted Macnicol (1987), who has pointed out that in the past it was common for observers to discuss ‘the dangerous classes’, the ‘residuum’ and their ‘culture of poverty’, but that these notions have been discredited in recent years. Likewise, and despite the fact that the United States was so often the ‘nightmare’ haunting Britain, no one thought it worth quoting William Prosser, Senior Policy Advisor to President Bush, who dismissed the underclass idea as little more than a reworking of older, discredited, concepts like the culture of poverty (Prosser 1990; Mann 1992). More recent empirical work, such as that of Dean and Taylor-Gooby, which shows that lone parents hold views that ‘adhere to the mainstream values of work and family ethics’ (Dean and Taylor-Gooby 1992:5), were never mentioned. Rather, the press used ‘common sense’ to ride roughshod over complex social issues and changes. The facts that the average duration of lone parenthood for never-married mothers is only 35 months (Ermisch 1986), that many lone mothers may live in fear of the child’s father, and that the majority of lone mothers are not ‘single’ but divorced or separated (Brown 1989) were rarely reflected in the press.