Challenging the single parent stereotypes
Gingerbread, the national charity working with single parents is launching a new campaign today to ‘lose the labels’ – the stereotypes and stigma still too often attached to single parenthood.
We’ve secured a pledge from Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg to challenge prejudice against single parents in the run up to the election. We’ve also written to editors of leading newspapers and broadcasters news to ask them to do the same. We’re going to be highlighting good and bad practice on our website and asking all MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates to sign up. We hope that by highlighting the continuing distortions of the debate about single parenthood we’ll also contribute to a more sensible conversation on the issues of poverty and welfare reform.
Times have moved on since Peter Lilley MP spoke in 1992 of ‘young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing list’. But our members tell us they still feel stigmatised and stereotyped today, portrayed alternately as ‘scroungers’ or ‘bad mothers’ responsible for ‘broken families’. 83% say the media portray them in a negative light.
These debates distort the public perception of who single parents are. YouGov polling this month found that the average estimate of the proportion of single parents in work was 34% – the real figure is 57%. This estimate has fallen from when we asked the same question two years ago – despite a rise in the number of single parents in work. We think that it’s likely that ‘tough’ rhetoric around welfare reform has been driving these perceptions.
Estimates of teenage pregnancy are also wildly out of line with reality – MORI in 2009 found that the average public estimate of the number of girls under 16 getting pregnant was almost thirty times the actual figure.
We’re campaigning on this because single parents are angry about the way they’re portrayed. But the stereotypes also fuel bad policy. Focusing on non working parents distracts attention from tackling the fact that a third of working lone parents are still poor. And a focus on family type won’t help with family functioning, which we know makes the most difference to children.