Austerity measures, based on the belief that people
can work themselves out of poverty, are harming both mothers and the future
generations they are raising
Children being made homeless, rising child
poverty, sanctions imposed against mothers on benefits and mothers cutting back
on their meals so their children can have food are some of the ways in which
mothers are suffering.
The greatest price that
mothers pay, while finding the means to survive, has to be the emotional toll
that results from the hardship of surviving poverty. The cuts are justified by
people in power through phrases such as “We cannot burden future generations”
or “Our children will ask us why we did not do anything?
The counter-question has to
be, who are these mythical children whom we are paying the price for and what
about children here and now?
According to the book
The Rise of Mass Poverty’ by Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack, 20 million people are living in poverty and
the costs of poverty are “poorer health, lower levels of educational
achievement and fractured social cohesions” and that “aspirations have been
capped and life chances eroded”.
The reality is that our
hopes and dreams for our children are blighted by austerity-driven poverty.
Poverty is not only a
personal problem. It is a structural problem to do with the economy and the way
work, wages and benefits are structured. The great lie told is that poverty is
an individual’s fault and that if people worked harder they would be able to
rise out of it. The fact that many people are hard-working but are in low-paid work and, therefore, still need benefits to get by is conveniently ignored.
The greatest lie told,
however, is that if children work hard at school the world could be their
oyster. As all children do not start off in life on a level playing field,
‘working hard’ becomes a subjective effort. A child living in a hostel in one
room with the rest of the family may be working hard but is likely to suffer
from constant interruptions. Compare this child’s predicament with another who
has their own bedroom and adequate props like a computer, stationery and
The personal anecdotes of mothers
on benefits are vast and bear testimony to their inability to ensure that their
children will thrive. I know of a mother with three children who was living in
where rents are cheaper. The price she paid for this was to remove her two
elder children from school where they were settled and to involuntarily leave
her network of supportive family members and her partner who did not move for
fear that he would not find another job easily.
The Independent newspaper
has published a case story of a mother of three who was moved by a
into a hostel while accommodation was found for her. The children did not have
the space to do their homework. As a result, the mother suffered from
depression and anxiety.
According to ‘Breadline
Britain’, there is nothing ‘inevitable’ about condemning people to a life with
few opportunities and low incomes and puts it down to political choices made by
the powers that be. These choices impact negatively on many mothers.
Choices that mothers should
be free to make such as staying at home in the early years are only given
respect if these choices are made by women with financial means. Mothers who go
on benefits to look after small children are vilified, even though they might
be saving the state money through
lessening the need for childcare places. Ironically, children are the future foot
soldiers of Capitalism and, accordingly, giving them the the best start is an
The never-ending debate on
whether ‘mothers can have it all’ is a symptom of the class structure that
exists in the Western world. Having it all is something that middle-class women
think about. For those mothers stuck in low paid jobs the ‘having it all’
argument takes on an irrelevancy because the choice whether to work or
not is, in fact, an illusion. These
mothers probably have to work and will have few options to choose from if they
are in jobs where they have little autonomy or are even on zero hours
Feminist mothering is about
mothers being able to have choices in how we mother and access services. It
is about recognising those choices that are illusory and those that are real.
Feminism in the context of a capitalist state is about jobs, social care, the
workplace and welfare benefits. Mothers and children have become victims of
austerity cuts through policies that fail to acknowledge both the cost and the
importance of mothering.
This article was originally published on the FWord website when I was the guest blogger for March 2016. I have since made some amendments to the version published above.