Good Enough Mothering? Feminist Perspectives on Lone Motherhood

By Elizabeth Bortolaia Silva | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

Mothers, workers, wives

Comparing policy approaches to supporting lone mothers

Jane Millar

It has been just over twenty years since the Finer report on lone-parent families in the UK was published (Finer 1974). The report was the first attempt to consider in detail the policy implications of changing family structure and remains the most detailed and comprehensive account of the circumstances of lone parents. However, it had only a very limited impact on policy. Few of the recommendations were put into practice and the approach adopted by Finer—that the growth in lone parenthood reflected a welcome liberalization of the institution of marriage and that the most pressing issue was the poverty experienced by lone mothers and their children—seems very far indeed from the official view today. In fact, for most of the twenty years following the Finer report, policy towards lone parents has changed very little. The most tangible change has been the targeting of some additional help towards these families within existing benefit provisions: one-parent benefit as a small supplement to child benefit, less stringent means tests for family income supplement (later family credit) and housing benefit, more recently the lone-parent premium in the income support scheme (Millar 1994a).

But following this long period when policy has been relatively static, the early 1990s have seen some significant changes, which, if successful, will create a very different structure of support for lone-parent families in the future. Central to the thinking that provided the framework for these policy changes was the argument that lone parenthood was imposing an unacceptably high cost on society as a whole, both directly and indirectly. The direct costs include the rising social security bill for lone parents, which tripled in real terms during the 1980s, as the proportion of lone mothers receiving supplementary benefit or income support rose from about half to over three-quarters, while the proportion of lone parents employed fell to below four in

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