- Katriona O’Sullivan, Trinity College lecturer
- Heather O’Neill, my fave ever author
- Naomi Thompson, lecturer at Goldsmiths
- Karon Monaghan QC
Four years ago Gingerbread and The Children’s Society released briefings here outlining expected impacts of the Government’s welfare reform following an updated impact assessment in December 2012.
The introduction of Universal Credit in October 2013 was designed to replace the current in work and out of work benefits and “radically simplify the [welfare] system to make work pay and combat worklessness and poverty”.
However, the analysis in this briefing showed that more single parents will lose than gain after the implementation and the two groups that will lose out substantially could perhaps be considered the most vulnerable: single parents aged under 25 and those who are disabled.
“Under universal credit single parents under the age of 25 will no longer be entitled to receive the higher rate of personal allowance. Instead, they will receive the same rate of allowance as an under-25-year-old without any children. This means that out-of-work single parents between the ages of 18 and 25 will receive £15 per week less than they would under the current system (£780 per year in total).“
This £15 a week reduction in personal allowance for parents under 25 also affects working single parents who would otherwise receive Working Tax Credits, meaning that in total approximately 240,000 single parent families under 25 will be affected by this change.
The briefing pointed out that “the Government has acknowledged that changes to personal allowances for under-25s in universal credit will push 100,000 more people into poverty than would otherwise have been the case” yet there seems to be a real lack of awareness or publicity that this is the case.
At that time I asked young mums what this change will actually mean to them.
Many young mums said that living on benefits was like being in a constant state of “trying to catch up” and, therefore, vulnerability and stress.
They feel the changes will make them unable to prepare for a crisis or unexpected bill and said they will now always be dependent on the next payment.
At the same time, they feel judged by others who assume they have an easy life and no aspirations to move off benefits.
For some young mums, a lack of money for transport means they will be left isolated and lonely.
When asked how a reduction of £15 a week would affect them, they struggled to identify where they could make £15 reductions in spending, as every penny already was accounted for.
Some felt it would simply lead to unavoidable build-up of debts. The Government’s logic, that a parent under 25 would need less to live on than a parent over 25, made no sense to the young mothers I spoke to, and some even suggested that, if anything, younger parents required more money to live on, as they were often less “set up” for supporting a family than their older counterparts.
Others said that the number of nappies, the amount of food, the requirement for warmth, etc, were the same for families, so it made no sense that their families should get a lower rate, simply because they were younger.
Ultimately, the mothers I spoke to felt that a difference in entitlement based on an arbitrary age came down to simple discrimination and stigmatisation of younger mothers.
Some young parents had already been affected by other cuts, such as cuts in service provision and reductions in housing benefits, meaning that, in areas where rents are higher than average and there are no cheaper alternatives, they were having to pay the shortfall out of limited benefits.
These were young mums who were working and studying yet their disposable incomes were getting less and less.
Many young mums felt they were being punished because, as a group, it can be difficult for young parents to make enough noise to get listened to, especially when the general public already has them written off as scroungers.
Shouting about access to benefits will never make us popular, many said, but that shouldn’t mean the Government can get away with caring less about the children of young parents.
All young mums want is equal fair treatment. It’s important that myths, often perpetuated by the media, about young girls getting pregnant on purpose in order to spend a lifetime on benefits are dispelled to ensure that others also understand the unfairness of these changes affecting parents under 25.
Young mums want others to have high expectations of them, rather than writing them off. Support to move into education and work is vital, and this is what we want to be shouting about, but punishing young mums when they are most vulnerable, by reducing benefits, is not the answer and will only add to risks of isolation, depression and disengagement.
Four years later and nothing has changed. We are still shouting about this, and still being ignored. Sign our petition now to reverse these cuts for parents under 25 before it’s too late.
2016 has been an interesting year for young mums.
In May there was the high profile campaign; Power to the Bump. Laura and Sophie did some great work with the Young Women’s Trust, doing media interviews and such to highlight the issues for young mums. It’s great that this campaign was founded on strong research highlighting the discrimination young mums face, and was then made real by young mums talking about their own experiences. We need both education providers and employers to support young mums to ensure that they are not adding addition barriers or stress to young mums at a time when they need the most support!
In June Public Health England and LGA published a framework for supporting young parents – there was some good practice highlighted but still the pathways didn’t quite show a full understanding for young parents’ journeys and contexts. The responsibility to provide flexible support to young mums in education is also left to each individual LA, risking LAs being able to provide support that meets *their* needs, rather than the young parents.
In November Teen Mom UK aired and while the reaction was mixed there was a good deal of positive support for the girls and overall the experience for them seems to have been positive. The show highlighting the complicated relationships young mums often have to negotiate alongside being a mum but it was clear throughout that being a good mum was always the primary focus.
A glimmer of hope in a depressing year of politics has been seeing Angela Rayner‘s rise to Shadow Secretary for Education. She was a teen mum at 16 with no qualifications yet she credits the support she had a young mum and is fighting against cuts to such support. She’s also not afraid of being herself and saying it how it is. In November, former teen Mum, Teresa Pearce MP, also wrote about the crisis in social care and the importance of investing in people, as she was supported as a young mum. Notice any theme here?
In other news there was some great positive publicity for the Young Motherhood Project this year with articles on Buzzfeed and huffington post, Maddy wrote an actual book (which is a great resource for young mums and anyone who might ever meet a young mum!) and I was asked to talk on the radio 4 show ‘The Pregnant Teen Vanishes‘ where, instead of getting into why the rate has decreased (meh), I talked about the impact of stigma on how young mums feel about themselves and how we should value young mums more!
Young Women’s Trust released a report on young women who are economical inactive. In total, 274,000 women age 18-24 are ‘economically inactive’ – 61% of these are caring for family. This term is a truly unrepresentative way to describe young mums caring for their children and potentially others too! While there is more to do in understanding opportunities to develop careers around families, we first we need to really value the job young mums are doing of bringing up their children. They are not ‘inactive’ and they are probably doing the most important job they will ever be doing! And yet by marginalising young mums at this time we risk de-valuing it and therefore not providing the support that anyone needs when caring for another human being. All mums should be supported in their choices but often it’s even harder for young mums to say this because we are made to feel that we don’t deserve to have that voice or to have any demands of society. We should be demanding a society that cares for those who are caring for others. But this requires a change in how society thinks and supports people.
We should be proud of what we are doing, but we also need to demand that we are cared for too, because that’s the kinda society we should want to live in! Here’s to 2017 – a long way to go but our voices are getting louder! And that is only ever a good thing!!
“Are you motivated, inspiring, outspoken and unashamed?”
We saw MTV’s adverts appealing for for teen mums in the UK to apply.
Tweets read ‘Are you a young mum with attitude? Want to show the world how it’s done?’
When I get contacted for teen mums I usually say “sorry, they are not a commodity to be used for your own agenda”, and then if I’m convinced to continue the conversation I will at least say “Just don’t touch the vulnerable ones”. I don’t share the details for fear it will only tempt them, but I mean the ones under 16, the ones with PND, the ones experiencing DV without realising it, the shy ones, the ones with no support. At least spare them the intrusion and false hope that someone wants to give them a voice, when the only voice they are given is that of the producers.
So I’m glad these Teen Moms have attitude – they will need it – I hope they have enough. I hope they get their voices heard and I hope the public love them. If not I’ll be defending each one of them. See, my attitude didn’t develop till I’d long left my teens… So I’m making up for lost time, for the years when I kept my head down, and didn’t listen to my own voice enough to challenge those around me.
We may not like teenage motherhood being pushed as ‘entertainment’ but teenage pregnancy has long been a ‘public concern’ – Whether we like it or not we are out there to be commented on.
And unfortunately young mums are affected by public attitudes:
When people say teen mums get pregnant to get houses, no one challenges government policy making it more difficult for those who are homeless .
When people say teen mums are lazy, no one cares that government cuts to welfare leave young mums even worse off.
When people say teen mums are slags the conversation about contraception comes before ‘Are you OK?’.
Sometimes putting positive stories out there and inviting even more judgement feels futile – as if we think just one more story will change people’s minds! And then when it doesn’t we wonder whether it just wasn’t positive enough. I should have got a 1st in my degree (maybe I could explain why), or I should be happily married (I should say that this is my own choice). Sometimes I wonder if we should just keep quiet and stay off people’s radar – it’s probably a more successful strategy. People may even think the whole Teen Pregnancy Prevention thing was so successful that we now cease to exist! But then there will be others speaking on our behalf, there will be numbers instead of faces, there will be girls finding out they are pregnant and thinking their lives are over, and no one has ever been where they are, thinking the same thing.
I may no longer be a teen mum but people can still do the maths; “Oh, you were/are THAT kinda girl’? Or “Wow – you’ve done so well considering” – I get both these. I’ve spent enough time in paid employment to receive a patronising “well done” yet I’m not quite demure enough to shake off the promiscuous identify associated with the fact I ‘shudda kept my legs crossed’. Together we are all exceptions to the rule and yet part of a group that needs to stick together. The ‘teen mum stereotype’ won’t go away by us checking out the group, it just gets pointed on someone else. If we share the stigma out equally we can just about cope, with our less than perfect lives.
We may not agree with MTVs approach but the ‘teen moms’ on the screen next week are real people – and teen mums and former teen mums watching are real people too.
When people say these teen mums on TV are promoting teen pregnancy by being so brash and proud, the quiet young mum remembers never to speak out.
When people say “You’re different to ‘those teen mums'” the judgement from others becomes the only way to validate our stories, and invalidate others.
To create safety in numbers we can’t just abandon the Teen Mum label when we reach 20. We may not all be ‘motivated, inspiring, outspoken and unashamed’ all the time, but we will forever be the Teen Mum Alumni.
Young Mums and Maternity Rights
Last Thursday the Equality and Human Rights Commission launched #PowertotheBump, a digital campaign to help young expectant and new mothers know their rights at work and have the confidence to stand up for them.
They highlighted research that showed young mothers are significantly more likely to experience pregnancy and maternity discrimination, with six times as many under 25 year olds than average reporting being dismissed from their jobs after they tell their employer they are pregnant.
Young mums under 25 are also more likely than older mums to be verbally harassed because of their pregnancy and are more likely to be discouraged from attending antenatal appointments. This could be due to a number of reasons: Women under 25 are more likely to be in unstable, low paid work or in more junior positions. They may feel less confident to ask for time off and they may feel judged for making a choice to be a parent at a ‘socially unacceptable’ time in their lives, or for not having made that conscious choice at all, making the working environment uncomfortable – Indeed the EHRC state that ‘the insight and feedback shows that young women had lower awareness of their rights, were typically in less stable employment situations and were worried or lacked confidence to talk to their manager about things that were troubling them – and so felt under pressure to hand in their notice or leave their job than raise issues.’
Many (particularly large) employers are great at providing support to pregnant employees. As I’ve progressed in my career I’ve seen older women announce with confidence their pregnancies at work, and it saddens me to know that younger mums rarely have this luxury. Young mums don’t tend to hear ‘congratulations’, any sense of pride is often viewed as a ‘disgrace’ – they are taught to keep their heads down and be invisible.
Therefore this isn’t about just asking all employers to do more or providing more generous conditions, but understanding why young mums are so much more likely to experience this avoidable stress during their pregnancy than older mums, and then addressing those specific issues. Pregnancy and Maternity is a protected characteristic. It’s recognised as discrimination if they are treated less favourably. This is progress. However, the only way to ensure young mums receive the right support is to apply those rights to the individual young pregnant woman regardless of the situation; whether she’s working full time, studying full time, combining part time work and study, etc.
I was at college studying A-levels when I found out I was pregnant. I only told my tutor so early because I thought I’d have to leave. Instead she looked at what I could do, how I could stay on and then how I could come back in a capacity that suited my situation. I was 16. I was scared. I wasn’t living at home. I had a lot going on. My tutor became my informal advocate and supported me throughout my time at college. But this wasn’t her role – it wasn’t policy. I was just lucky. Even now, 20 years on, there is no clear pathway for young mum’s rights regarding education and employment.
Public Health England recently published a ‘A framework for supporting
teenage mothers and young fathers‘. However, in their well developed ‘joined up care pathways’ education or employment is not mentioned at all during pregnancy and education only appears after ‘Help with choosing postnatal contraception’ and referrals to ‘on-going support services, health visitors, teenage parent support service, and children’s centres’. Employment is never mentioned, even though many young mums want to work to financially support their families. Raising the Participation Age (RPA) means than young people are expected to stay on in education until they are 18, yet there is no legal requirement on the length of maternity leave and Local Authorities are just advised to ‘tailor maternity leave to the individual’. The danger is that this gives them scope to tailor it to the individual education provider, rather than the young parent. Barnardo’s research in 201o (Not the End of the Story: supporting teenage mothers back into education) cited young mums recalling being unofficially excluded for ‘pregnancy-related reasons’. Bullying and, more generally, the stigma associated with being pregnant while at school was also highlighted. There is no evidence that this has improved.
While some young mums plan their pregnancies, for many, early pregnancy wasn’t part of their life plan. The last thing they need is an employer or education provider adding to that sense of insecurity. I know if I hadn’t had support and flexible options during pregnancy I wouldn’t be where I am now. So, whatever the young mums’ situation, those ‘joined-up pathways’ need to include early support in education or employment. Young mums need to know what their rights are as soon as they start making those often difficult choices. And they need the confidence to stand up for those rights by knowing they will be listened to rather than judged. We know that for young mums, it’s becoming a mum that leads them to care more about their future. Wouldn’t it be great if others cared about those futures too, right from the very start?
Join us a 9pm tonight to discuss #powertothebump
So, I thought about maybe not writing a round up of the year for 2015 – I’ve neglected prymface terribly this year and I think we only managed one and a half #youngmumschats! But then I started to think about what a round up might include ….
January 2015 was a pretty big deal with an event at the House of Commons, where young mothers came together to put their views forward about young motherhood – I can’t thank Jendella enough for organising this. It was such a positive atmosphere, and it was amazing to hear Teresa Pearce MP speak about her personal experiences of being a young mum.
We started a faceboook group to improve communication between our little-but-ever-growing-community of young mums and if you’re ever in need of some motivation you just need to scroll down and read the introductions again because it feels like world domination isn’t far off given some of their achievements so far!
In March I somehow found Prymface being mentioned on The Wright Stuff! Some of my past quotes were read out and got a round of applause – you read that right – no booing or tutting, an actually round of applause – I recorded it all with my phone on catch up as evidence! The lovely Rebecca Fergurson was on the panel too proving my point that young mums aren’t scum!
Sophie K and Laura joined the Young Women’s Trust advisory panel – and have done more than I could ever have imagined to raise the voices of young mums. Sophie was interviewed on the telly re childcare. Laura interviewed a best selling author/young mum. Sophie also attended a meeting with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and highlighted the barriers for young parents, particularly around employment and maternity rights. So so proud of you both! 🙂
In the Summer, Baby Faced Mums aired on Five* – We were all ready for the public moral outrage – except that it never happened. Instead each week viewers seems more and more understanding and even admiring of these ‘baby faced mums’ as they exhibited maturity and motivation not normally associated with TV ratings. We recruited as many as we could to our facebook group…They blogged here and here for us and shared their positivity and wisdom. Maddy was also interviewed on Radio 5 about the best age to become a mum and proved that age is just a number (despite the older mum still assuming it was a competition!).
There were positive articles about young parents in Vice magazine, the guardian and the Telegraph, and personal testimonies were posted by Danny Dyer and Barack Obama! Our Elle also had an article published in the telegraph about why it’s wrong to judge teen mums – Reading her story, no one could argue with that!
Eventually people started to notice discrepancies with the tax credits narrative as young parents under 25 were set to lose out not only from the cuts but they were also deemed unworthy of the increase in minimum wage, so would effectively be worse off than any other age group. This discrimination got attention from Family Rights Group and two MPs, Jess Phillips and Angela Rayner, both former young mums.
In October an evaluation came out of FNP, a scheme set up to support young mums from pregnancy for 2 years. Despite previous evaluations suggesting that results for both mothers and their children were positive, the RCT found that results were not significantly any better than for a similar group of young mothers who did not receive the targeted intervention. This came as a surprise and there were a number of different explanations for this. One that caught me eye was that perhaps ‘teenage’ was not a reliable proxy for ‘disadvantaged’…..
In November Sophie K won a Charity Award for Inspiring Communicator. She is described here as a ‘dedicated champion of young mothers, the unemployed and those who have suffered cultural stereotyping and discrimination – having experienced all these things herself.’ – A worthy winner by anyone’s account!
And so the year ends on a high, with young mothers being recognised as the experts that they are….Not disadvantaged by their age, but with a unique insight and wisdom and motivation, challenging negativity and barriers head on with admirable positivity and confidence way beyond their years. I literally could not be prouder!
So maybe you guys didn’t need me after all!
I can’t wait to see what 2016 holds!
I recently scored what I thought was a victory for the name of young parents everywhere. After having my daughter at the age of nineteen and halfway through university, I found out I would be graduating on time, with no less than a first class honours degree. I thought it was another step of progress; another step towards people realising that young mums don’t fit the stereotype they’ve diligently believed for all these years.
But apparently, I’m ‘the exception to the rule’. My achievement means nothing in the grand scheme of things, because I will always be a young mum, and young mums will always be incapable of achieving.
I don’t know what the ‘rule’ is, but I think it goes something like this – young woman, no matter how clever, ambitious and ‘normal’ (although in the majority of cases they must be uneducated and perceived as promiscuous) gets pregnant and must immediately conform to society’s idea of what a young mum is – a layabout with no intention of working, who claims benefits and spends it on alcohol and cigarettes, before having several more children with different fathers. The young woman must follow this formula to keep society happy. Society then criticises the woman for scrounging, for being a ‘slut’, for wanting kids for the free council house (excuse me while I wet myself laughing; they don’t hand out keys to a three-bed semi in your Bounty Pack, you know…).
When a young woman defies or breaks free of that cycle, as so very many of us have done and continue to do so, it’s too difficult for society to wrap its pretty little head around the idea that maybe, just maybe, they got things wrong. Each and every successful young mum is an ‘exception to the rule’.
It’s easy to read this and think nah, she’s just perceiving herself as being seen this way, but people have told me as much. It’s clear that they think I have broken some kind of ‘Young Mum Commandment’ in continuing with my education (FYI, we don’t have commandments. Or a club, or some kind of chat page where we rub our hands with glee at all the money we get and all the men we sleep with. Sorry to burst your bubbles).
The honest truth is that I’m not an exception to the rule, because there’s no rules in the first place. Young mums and young parents are exceeding expectations every day. Take the general perception that young mums can’t parent properly – their children are neglected, or the grandparents do all the work. My partner and I have lived away from our parents for the last two years; we raise our daughter alone – we are doing that every single day, and I know that we are far from alone in that.
When a young parent makes the decision to have another child, I consider that a victory for young parents too. It is a young person making the conscious decision to have the family they want, at the time they want, without bowing to these pressures put on us. To have one child young is considered careless, to have another at a young age is more often described with words that aren’t suitable for a post like this. But there’s nothing reckless or stupid about it – I have so much respect for the young parents out there who are confident and make the decision to expand their families, putting what is right for them ahead of what society thinks they should do.
The same goes for young parents who continue with their education. I know I’m biased, as I did that myself, but it took so much gritting my teeth and forcing myself through it when all I wanted to do was get out of a lecture and run to the nursery, pick up my five month old daughter and cuddle her, but I did it, and it is one of my proudest achievements, and is paying off now that I am working and bringing in money for her.
And for those who choose to leave education – that’s a victory too. It is young people, the young people society makes out to be so reckless and irresponsible as to get pregnant and have children young, making responsible decisions that work for their family. These are victories, each and every one, because we are young parents, not waiting around for life to throw our next opportunity at us, but going out and finding it ourselves, each in our own way.
And do you know what? Being a young person is tough. Being a parent is tough. We’re combining the two and dealing with a whole barrage of ‘tough’ – and if we stumble, we’re failing, exactly what everyone expects us to do. If we succeed, it means nothing – we’re not like those ‘other’ young mums. What they don’t realise is that these ‘other’ young mums don’t exist. They’re fictional caricatures.
The reality of being a young parent? Trying to write an essay while your toddler taps the + key incessantly to add unwanted symbols to your critical analysis of Ibsen and Ayckbourn. Juggling a baby and a toddler in the supermarket and trying to avoid the dirty looks all around you. Trying somehow to please everyone, when your friends want you to be ‘the old you’, and your baby needs ‘the new you’.
We do this all and more.
We aren’t exceptions to the fictional rule. We smash the rule each and every day. To voice your pride is taboo; you aren’t supposed to be proud of being a young parent. It’s supposed to be taboo; something you suffix with ‘ – but I stayed in education’, or ‘ – but the father and I are still together’, in order to convince people that you’re not one of those usual teenage mums – you’re an exception to that rule.
I think we’ve had just about enough of that. We should be standing up and saying no; actually, there is no rule. Each and every one of us isn’t ‘the good kind’ of young parent – we’re all young parents, and we’re all pretty damn excellent at what we do. It’s about time we stood up and took pride in what we’ve achieved – proving that anything other people can do, we can do it, have done it, and continue to do it every day, whilst simultaneously raising pretty awesome tiny human beings. That’s pretty exceptional, and makes me pretty damn proud to call myself a young parent.
Maddy tweets at @maddyleigh1994