Last month I was asked to speak on local radio about the proposal to not offer any benefits to 'teenage mums' who refuse to live at home with their parents or in supported accommodation.
The proposal is based on the outdated, simplified and ignorant myth that young girls get pregnant just to get a free council house.
The 40 Group, a coalition of the most vulnerable Conservatives, put together a set of policy proposals to win over voters and unfortunately this proposal feeds into, and appears to confirm, the anger that many voters feel towards young mothers based on the media and political representation of them as scroungers, devious, and manipulative.
Before me there were a number of callers claiming to know some girl who got pregnant to get a house, and the conservative MP, James Morris, talked about how the proposal was based on a 'belief' that this was an issues, but was unable to cite any evidence to support his claim.
So when I went on I basically just tried to bombarded the listeners with actual facts - Some of them are listed below:
- 80% single teenage parents live in other people's home anyway (usually the parents)
- In our recent consultation we asked 82 young parents why they get pregnant for the Inquiry into Teenage Pregnancy in Oct 12. The most common reason for pregnancy was contraception failure, but other reasons included thinking they couldn't get pregnant, not thinking, being drunk, feeling pressured into sex or being too embarrassed to discuss contraception: This hardly depicts young girls who are manipulative and devious?
- Ipsos Mori recently conducted a survey and found that the public think that 15% of under 16s get pregnant every year - The actual proportion is 0.6%.
- The under 18 conception rate is the lowest is has been since 1969 - the panic about rates souring is irrational
- Young people under 18 usually cannot hold a normal tenancy. It is not the case that young girls are just handed keys to flats simply because they are pregnant.
- There are two people involved in making a baby...Girls do not 'get themselves pregnant'!
- Young mothers are already stigmatised and excluded - They should be supported to achieve their goals and improve their situation, not treated like they need to be punished.
We need to crowd out the angry ignorant voices from those who think it is a constructive use of their time to phone up a radio show and complain that teen mums are scum of the earth, without actually knowing any. We need to challenge the panic that teenage pregnancy is an epidemic that can only be controlled with punishment. Instead we need to have a rational debate about how young mothers and their children can be supported... But this requires people to stop pointing fingers and instead look at themselves, and ask....'why are young mothers excluded from society'?
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