Conservative Budget Cuts: An assault on single mothers

The Budget is a direct threat to all women who believe their future should not depend on the ability to catch a man.

If the Conservative Party is looking for a theme song that sums up its message for the next election, it could do worse than Beyoncé Knowles's pop smash "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)".

The Tories have already made it clear that a return to marriage as the fundamental framework of socio-economic control is the aspirational core of the party's ideology. Tuesday's emergency Budget sent an uncompromising message to women who have the temerity to divorce or to remain unmarried: single ladies will pay heavy penalties, especially if they have children.

As well as excising the health-in-pregnancy grant and other rare, precious tokens of state support for mothers, the new Budget expressly delineates welfare penalties and work sanctions for single parents, nine out of every ten of whom are women. Single mothers will now be required to find a job in today's shrivelled labour market as soon as their children are of school age, but as employers are under no obligation to pay a living wage that incorporates enough money to cover childcare, work itself will be no guarantee of a decent standard of living.

The changes to housing benefit -- justified with solemn anecdotes about chav families living in castles that sounded a little like the Chancellor had muddled his notes with a copy of the Daily Mail -- will also imperil lone-parent families, which are three times as likely to live in rented accommodation as families with two resident parents.

The charity Shelter has warned that the cuts will "push many households over the edge, triggering a spiral of debt, eviction and homelessness".

The Tories may have sidelined their plans to recognise marriage in the tax system, but the cuts announced in the new Budget are far more disastrous for women's rights than the crass symbolism of tax breaks for married couples, making it significantly more difficult for women to contemplate raising children without a man, any man, to offer the support that the new government takes moral exception at providing.

"Solutions" to poverty

Lisa Ansell, a single mother from London, explained that the new Budget may destroy her chances of building a stable home for herself and her three-year-old daughter. "I have worked all my life, and done everything right, but the VAT hike and housing benefit cuts mean I'm sitting here with a calculator wondering how I'm supposed to survive," she said.

"This attack on single mothers is directly in line with Conservative rhetoric about encouraging marriage," Ansell said. "If the only way for a poor woman to get out of poverty is a man, that has serious consequences for people like me and my daughter."

Like many lone parents, Ansell was relying on a job in the public sector to support her family, but after a freeze on recruitment in preparation for the cuts announced last week, the work she had lined up has disappeared.

"I am an intelligent woman and a good mother, but on Budget day, I woke up to find that I am society's garbage," she said. "If the new government feels that any woman who has a child with a man should be left in poverty if she separates from him, with a new sexual relationship her only route out, then it should just say so."

David Willetts MP, who is to sit on a new task force for children and families, articulates the Conservative attitude to women and the state with icy clarity in his recent book The Pinch. Lamenting the rise in divorce and praising marriage as a solution to poverty, Willetts complains: "A welfare system that was originally designed to compensate men for loss of earnings is being slowly and messily redesigned to compensate women for the loss of men."

A green paper on "the family", released in January by Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice, suggested that lone parenthood is responsible for "fracturing British society", and that governments should send a clear signal that "families matter".

Unfortunately for millions of parents, partners and children in Britain, only certain families truly matter to the Conservative Party. The entire premise of the Tory marital fetish is that "families" are not just any old riff-raff who love one other and are committed to each other's well-being: the proper form of the family in Conservative Britain is a rigid economic arrangement involving two married, cohabiting parents, preferably owning property and drawing as little state support as possible. Only 37 per cent of the population enjoy this sort of "traditional" arrangement, but Tory social policy has rarely taken the reality of working people's lives into account when imposing its diktats.

Unfeeling fetish

One does not need to be a socialist feminist to understand that the history of women's liberation has always been about economics. Indeed, after suffrage was achieved, the key victories of the women's movement in the 1970s involved the fight to allow women and children to be financially independent of men should the need arise.

The hypocrisy of the Tory family fetish, which rewards married, middle-class women for staying at home with their children while demonising poor, single women for doing the same, should remind the British left that even the most fundamental of progressive reforms can be reversed unless progressives remain vigilant. Contemporary Conservative policy on "the family" encodes a cold, reactionary moral agenda in the rhetoric of "allowing people real choice over their lives".

But this Budget threatens women's hard-won freedom to make important choices for themselves and their families: the choice to leave an unsuitable or violent partner without facing financial ruin; the choice to remain unmarried; the choice to live a dignified life independent of men, whether or not we have children. These choices are fundamental to women's rights. They are not optional extras that can be trimmed from the Budget whenever the nation feels the pinch; they are core provisions for female security in an unjust, patriarchal world, and they are priceless.

This Budget is not merely a repulsive moral assault on single mothers. It is a direct threat to all women who believe that our futures should not depend on the ability to catch and keep a man. The coalition has claimed that the cuts announced on Tuesday are "unavoidable", but the new Budget looks anything but reactive: it looks, among other things, like a concerted attack on women's hard-won freedoms, an attack based, in Harriet Harman's words, on ideology rather than economics.

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Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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Daniel Hannan harks back to the days of empire - the Angevin Empire

Did the benign rule of some 12th century English kings make western France vote Macron over Le Pen?

I know a fair amount about British politics; I know a passable amount about American politics, too. But, as with so many of my fellow Britons, in the world beyond that, I’m lost.

So how are we, the monolingual Anglophone opinionators of the world, meant to interpret a presidential election in a country where everyone is rude enough to conduct all their politics in French?

Luckily, here’s Daniel Hannan to help us:

I suppose we always knew Dan still got a bit misty eyed at the notion of the empire. I just always thought it was the British Empire, not the Angevin one, that tugged his heartstrings so.

So what exactly are we to make of this po-faced, historically illiterate, geographically illiterate, quite fantastically stupid, most Hannan-y Hannan tweet of all time?

One possibility is that this was meant as a serious observation. Dan is genuinely saying that the parts of western France ruled by Henry II and sons in the 12th century – Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Aquitaine – remain more moderate than those to the east, which were never graced with the touch of English greatness. This, he is suggesting, is why they generally voted for Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen.

There are a number of problems with this theory. The first is that it’s bollocks. Western France was never part of England – it remained, indeed, a part of a weakened kingdom of France. In some ways it would be more accurate to say that what really happened in 1154 was that some mid-ranking French nobles happened to inherit the English Crown.

Even if you buy the idea that England is the source of all ancient liberties (no), western France is unlikely to share its political culture, because it was never a part of the same polity: the two lands just happened to share a landlord for a while.

As it happens, they didn’t even share it for very long. By 1215, Henry’s youngest son John had done a pretty good job of losing all his territories in France, so that was the end of the Angevins. The English crown reconquered  various bits of France over the next couple of centuries, but, as you may have noticed, it hasn’t been much of a force there for some time now.

At any rate: while I know very little of French politics, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the similarities between yesterday's electoral map and the Angevin Empire were a coincidence. I'm fairly confident that there have been other factors which have probably done more to shape the French political map than a personal empire that survived for the length of one not particularly long human life time 800 years ago. Some wars. Industrialisation. The odd revolution. You know the sort of thing.

If Daniel Hannan sucks at history, though, he also sucks at geography, since chunks of territory which owed fealty to the English crown actually voted Le Pen. These include western Normandy; they also include Calais, which remained English territory for much longer than any other part of France. This seems rather to knacker Hannan’s thesis.

So: that’s one possibility, that all this was an attempt to make serious point; but, Hannan being Hannan, it just happened to be a quite fantastically stupid one.

The other possibility is that he’s taking the piss. It’s genuinely difficult to know.

Either way, he instantly deleted the tweet. Because he realised we didn’t get the joke? Because he got two words the wrong way round? Because he realised he didn’t know where Calais was?

We’ll never know for sure. I’d ask him but, y’know, blocked.

UPDATE: Breaking news from the frontline of the internet: 

It. Was. A. Joke.

My god. He jokes. He makes light. He has a sense of fun.

This changes everything. I need to rethink my entire world view. What if... what if I've been wrong, all this time? What if Daniel Hannan is in fact one of the great, unappreciated comic voices of our time? What if I'm simply not in on the joke?

What if... what if Brexit is actually... good?

Daniel, if you're reading this – and let's be honest, you are definitely reading this – I am so sorry. I've been misunderstanding you all this time.

I owe you a pint (568.26 millilitres).

Serious offer, by the way.

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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