Boris Johnson’s view of ‘single parents’ is intolerant and ignorant – Christine Jardine

Boris Johnsons take on single mothers creates the impression that it might reflect an attitude in government. Picture: PABoris Johnsons take on single mothers creates the impression that it might reflect an attitude in government. Picture: PA
Boris Johnsons take on single mothers creates the impression that it might reflect an attitude in government. Picture: PA
I am not the child of a single parent family. But my sisters are. I was 20 when our dad died but they were just 13 and eight years old.

I have written before about my admiration for the way my mother went back out to work and made sure they had everything, every opportunity, every support that I had.

I know that every day from then until she died she was proud of her beautiful, talented, successful girls.

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Perhaps her one minor disappointment was that at least two of us hadn’t chosen to embrace the one nation conservatism in which she had placed her faith for 50 years, and she was confident was the path to a better, more liberally-minded, supportive society, even though I am as much of a believer in the strength of the UK as she was.

So imagine my anger, no actually it was hurt, this week when our current, Conservative, Prime Minister’s assessment of single parent families emerged.

And not just for mine but for every single parent family up and down the country, regardless of the reason for their circumstances.

The root of my hurt was a Spectator article in which Boris Johnson described children of single mothers as ‘ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate’.

He wrote, in 1995, that it is “outrageous that married couples should pay for ‘the single mothers’ desire to procreate independently of men”, and that the ‘blame’ was not on ‘uppity and irresponsible women’ for getting pregnant because it was their ‘natural desire’ and there was only a limited ‘pool’ of men.

Now I know many out there will dismiss my concerns or say he was not talking about women like my mother, but those on benefits or unmarried.

Others may say it was some time ago, why does it matter?

But that is not the issue.

The problem, for me, is the impression it creates and the worry that it might reflect an attitude in government which I find troubling.

The biggest single thing I learned from those years after my father died was how lucky we were and how easy it would have been for life to turn out differently. I also come across single parents regularly who are unmarried or receiving benefits and, as a rule, it is not a route they have chosen, and their children are no different from any others.

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But for me, perhaps the most difficult aspect of the comments was that they seemed in stark contrast to the beliefs our one nation Tory parents instilled in us.

Where is the tolerance and support?

As the shadow of Brexit has loomed ever larger in our public and political life it has increasingly obscured growing fissures in our society.

For too many families things are not working as they should.

Working hard and playing by the rules is not enough to guarantee a happy fulfilling and secure life for them and their children – regardless of the number of parents in the household.

Poverty is up and real earnings are still below the level they were at the time of the 2008 financial crisis.

Millions of women born in the 1950s find themselves having to cope without the state pensions they were promised and planned for throughout their working lives.

And the social security system is not working the way it was intended to, with Universal Credit pushing so many into hardship and debt rather than providing the targeted support and route into work that was its laudable aim.

It was, after all, designed to make claiming benefits simpler. A single universal credit payment paid directly into claimants’ bank accounts to cover the benefits for which they are eligible.

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But new claimants have to wait 35 days before receive their first payment – four weeks to assess the last month’s earnings, plus a further week to process the payment. It doesn’t need me to say how much of a monumental impact this five-week wait can have on people struggling to make ends meet.

That’s why the Liberal Democrats want to reduce the wait for the first payment from five weeks to five days.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has also estimated that transferring on to Universal Credit from the old system will mean a loss of at least £1,000 a year for 1.9 million adults.

And it’s those with the lowest incomes stand to lose the most.

Universal Credit also imposes a cruel, ideologically-driven child benefit cap on parents with more than two children.

It’s immoral, punitive and discriminatory, which doesn’t take into account the fact hat people’s financial circumstances can change in a heartbeat.

For two and a half years I have held out the hope that the government would recognise the system’s shortcomings, that they would listen to those of us calling for the £3bn taken from its budget to be replaced.

Most of all I have hoped that they would remember that it was supposed to have its roots in the well intentioned principles of one nation conservatism.

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Now reading the Prime Minister’s views expressed about many of those who depend upon it, I find no reassurance. I hope with all my heart that somehow he has either realised that there is another way, or those many genuine one-nation Tories will recognise that those views are not the ones they would chose.

I know they’re not the ones I heard growing up, and I do not believe that staying silent on how badly they misjudged so many would serve my parents’ memory well.

Christine Jardine is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh West