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7 January 2010 Edition

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THE JULIA CARNEY COLUMN

MELANIE stared pensively at her two children playing in her sumptuous heated, indoor, 50-metre swimming pool for some time and tried to resist chewing on fingernails that only yesterday had been treated to a €300 manicure. Before Christmas, things had seemed so bright.
Tomás had been accepted to the Presentation Brothers in Cork City, one of the most prestigious fee-paying schools in the country. Jessica was thriving at the pony club and her instructor was talking seriously about her contesting at under-12 level next year. The only challenge facing Melanie was to decide whether to spend January in the Greek islands or the Seychelles.
In short, theirs was the typical lifestyle of a lone-parent family, one of the wealthiest sections of Irish society, with incomes in the top one per cent of the population. But now it was all at risk. Over the break, Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin had suggested cutting the Lone Parents’ Allowance. And as if to twist the knife, the story appeared in the papers only a couple of days before the New Year’s Eve party. Melanie just wasn’t able to enjoy herself with this hanging over her. The ‘58 Bollinger champagne tasted like ash and she retired to her 750-square-foot Executive Suite in the Hayfield Manor (in her opinion, Cork’s finest five-star hotel) soon after midnight. She just wasn’t in the mood.
If Hanafin followed through on her threat, Melanie would have to put off buying a 2010 reg car and cut short the January holiday by a couple of weeks to pay for Tomás’s fees and Jessica’s new saddle. Melanie’s face went rigid at the thought of driving down to the yacht club in an 09 reg car. The shame of knowing everyone at the club would be talking about you behind your back, wondering whether a woman who drove last year’s car was fit to raise two children.
Who would have thought, a bewildered Melanie asked herself, that the recession would one day impact on lone parents?



TRUST ME, there’s people out there who think lone parents are having the life of Reilly instead of trying to survive from week to week.
And if there’s a vulnerable group in Irish society, then Brenda Power cannot be far behind, ready to administer a swift kick to its prostrate body.
The Lone Parents’ Allowance, she wrote in The Sunday Times, gives “impoverished and uneducated young women... an incentive to become single mothers. It gave them an income and a status in their community that they wouldn’t otherwise enjoy, without the need to seek work, training or education.”
It gets better.
“The fashion for pyjamas and slippers as daywear among inner-city girls was almost certainly a homage to the social eminence of young women who had no need to get dressed and go out to work, unlike their childless peers.”
A homage, no less. And we’ve not even got to the point where she accuses single parents of “seeing themselves as martyrs”.
In 2007, the poverty line for a lone parent with one child was approximately €280 per week; the maximum social welfare entitlement for this family at the time was €258 per week. According to the Central Statistics Office, lone parent households have the highest at-risk-of-poverty rate, the highest level of deprivation and the highest rate of consistent poverty of any other kind of family.
That’s some incentive. I’m tempted to run out into the street and find myself a man to get me pregnant so I can enjoy me some of that ‘status in my community’ that I’m entitled to.
And far from it just being young girls whose heads are turned by the glamour of being a single mum, less than 2% of people claiming the One-Parent Family Payment in 2006 were under 20 and the majority were aged 30 and upwards. One-parent families are also smaller than other families, which doesn’t make a lot of sense when you’re only having kids for the money. Twice as many couples have families of three or more children as lone parents.
Power says that there is nothing to stop lone parents getting a job. Well, first off, there’s a lot of things to stop anyone getting a job these days, with unemployment continuing to rise. But lone parents face huge problems around accessing childcare. The authorities tend to frown on a young woman chaining her child to a radiator while going off to put in a double shift waitressing.
Ah, yes, first they came for the public sector workers and I did not speak, for I was not a public sector worker. Then they came for the single mothers and I did not speak, for I was not a single mother. You know how the rest of it goes.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

Buy An Phoblacht magazine here

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