Hollie Richardson looks at what Channel 4’s Dispatches Growing Up Poor: Britain’s Breadline Kids documentary teaches us about poverty being a burden that females continue to carry.
“That’s why we need to come off social services, and for you to have a boyfriend.”
“Hold on, why would you want me to have a boyfriend?”
“So we’d have a daddy… that would be better. Wouldn’t you think so?
“Men are so much hassle.”
“No but if you’re ill, at least he could take us.”
This was the interaction between eight-year-old Courtney and her mum (whose name is not revealed) on this week’s Dispatches Growing Up Poor: Britain’s Breadline Kids. They live in a three-bedroom flat in Cambridge that they were housed in after fleeing domestic abuse seven months ago.
(It’s worth saying at this point that Cambridge is one of the wealthiest cities in the UK. It is also home to eight of the 2000 food banks that have been set up across the UK in the last decade to alleviate hunger.)
Because of delays in the universal credit process, the family had to wait over a month before getting their first payment. During that time, Courtney’s mum had to take out a £635 loan because she only had £5 child benefit a day to feed, clothe and take care of her two young children. And because of mental health problems, she also lives with the threat of social services taking her children away.
Despite the fact that Courtney has good friends and enjoys going to her school, the family needs to move to Hull to find cheaper accommodation. It’s not fair. It’s heart-breaking. It’s infuriating. And it’s a completely normal scenario for the 4.1 million children growing up in poverty in the UK today.
But perhaps the most poignant message from the above conversation between mother and daughter, is that it highlights the fact the poverty is very much still a woman’s burden to carry in 2019.
Because these are the cold hard facts that Courtney’s words so perfectly illustrate:
In fact, single-parent families are twice as likely to be in poverty than those with two parents.
10% of mothers have mental health problems at any given time, compared to 6% of fathers.
22% of people at food banks are single parents, the majority of which are women.
And one in seven of all women in poverty have experienced domestic violence and abuse.
Don’t get me wrong, of course there are many, many men and boys seriously affected by poverty. But the fact that a little girl is suggesting to her mum that having a man in the house will solve their financial problems in 2019 is telling. It’s little wonder that she thinks this. The facts are there.
And what makes Courtney’s words even more pressing is the recent news that our prime minister, Boris Johnson, once called single-mums “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate”.
We cannot live a society that continues to accept this as the way things are.
Because here’s the thing.
Mothers don’t want to cry in front of their children about money.
Mothers don’t want to explain the threat of social services to their daughters.
Mothers don’t want their sons to worry about having a home to come back to after school.
But, right now, an increasing number of mothers have to.
The Resolution Foundation, an independent thinktank, predicts that child poverty will continue to grow for at least the next four years, hitting record levels by 2023. If that projection is correct one million more children will be growing up in poverty.
And eight-year-old girls like Courtney will no-doubt continue the cycle by taking on the burden of poverty.
Yes, there are ways we can help alleviate poverty for families. Donating to food banks and reaching out to neighbours is a start. But the problem is much bigger than that.
Considering that the use of food banks is at a record high, while under a Conservative government, Courtney’s story is an essential one to remember when voting in the general election later this month.
She should not have to rely on the help of a man to escape a life of poverty – so why the hell isn’t our government proving this to her?
Images: Channel 4