WHEN Carolyn was in hospital, having just delivered us of wee Reggie, a very young girl in the bed opposite was also celebrating the arrival of her newborn. As was her proud father, who made great play to anyone who might have been listening (me) of how proud he was of his daughter. She was, I guess, about 16.
I don’t think he should have been ashamed. And it’s great that this young girl had such a loving dad to support her.
But proud? Proud that his teenage daughter was not only sexually active but was now a mother? Proud that any chance of a decent education, followed by a decent job, was now remote at best? Proud that she was, in all likelihood, about to embark on a lifetime of depending on benefit handouts for her and her child?
I’m a Labour MP, so some will undoubtedly be surprised, and shocked that I’m writing this. But I can no longer pretend that the army of teenage mothers living off the state is anything other than a national catastrophe.
A previous commenter on this site got it spot on: many (though not all) teenage girls do not become pregnant accidentally because of ignorance, because of a lack of understanding of how their bodies work. They become pregnant because they have absolutely no ambition for themselves. They have been indoctrinated with the lie that they’ll never amount to anything, and have fulfilled that prophesy by making no effort to achieve any qualification. Very often they live with parents (or a parent) who have no jobs themselves, who are setting the example of benefit dependency for all their offspring.
Such young women see parenthood as one way of achieving a level of independence and self-worth. And they’re right, because that’s more or less what they get: a flat and therefore some privacy, an income for the first time in their lives. And in fact, many of them make a decent job of parenthood despite the awful circumstances. But even they are nevertheless rearing the next generation in an environment where the main adult isn’t working, but claiming.
I was lucky. I was brought up in a relatively poor household, but both my parents worked for most of the time I was growing up. When my dad was out of work in the early ’80s, he was depressed because he felt a responsibility to earn money to provide for his family. And so he started up his own business and got back on his feet. That’s the example I and my brothers and sister were lucky enough to have set for us.
A few years back I was shopping for CDs in Tower Records in Glasgow of a Saturday evening. It must have been about ten at night. Outside there were two very young girls, about 15, all dressed up for a night out. Apart from the fact that wherever they intended to go, they were clearly too young to drink, there was only one problem: one of them was pushing a pram. The child inside was a few weeks old.
This horrified me. It was wrong. There is right and wrong and it is wrong for anyone to choose to have a child without knowing what’s involved in its upbringing, without being prepared to sacrifice your own lifestyle for it.
That father in the maternity ward was telling the world about his love for his daughter and his new grandchild, and I’ve no doubt his pride was genuine.
People shouldn’t be ashamed of their circumstanmces, but neither should we avoid making value judgments about others’ choices, especially when those choices result in greater burden on the state, and lead to the continuation of the underclass.
Teenage girls shouldn’t be having underage sex. Why? Because it’s wrong.
Teenage girls shouldn’t choose to have babies as an alternative to getting an education and a career. Why? Because it’s wrong.
Parents shouldn’t teach their children that a lifetime on benefits is attractive or even acceptable. Why? Because it’s wrong.
(Please assume all the usual caveats: some people have no choice but to claim benefits, lots of single parents do a great job, etc.)
So what’s next, I hear you ask. What am I going to do about all this? What’s the government going to do?
This post isn’t about policy, yet. I’m going to take up a previous commenter’s suggestion that I have a coffee with the estimable Frank Field to discuss ideas for reform.
But policies are one thing; winning the argument about why they’re needed is another. And we have to start by making it clear what we believe is right and wrong. How can we expect parents to teach that to their kids if our political leaders aren’t prepared to say the same?
Being accused of agreeing with the Daily Mail’s agenda is not the worst thing my critics can say about me. Being accused of accepting the current appalling state of affairs, of pretending that the concepts of right and wrong are meaningless - that is far worse than being accused of pandering to the right.
And, of course, it is a complete load of bollocks to suggest that the ordinary working class people of Glasgow South and in hundreds of other constituencies throughout the country don’t agree with me. The most vociferous critics of the dependancy culture and of deliberate worklessness have always been those who live in the same communities, those who resent paying their taxes to help other people waste their lives.
Don’t interpret this as any kind of “back to basics” crusade; I’m not remotely interested in what adults do in the privacy of their own homes, and I’m not sounding the rallying cry for Christian or religious morality. But when the actions of others has such a debilitating effect on the rest of society, it’s time to stop being polite. It’s time to stop worrying about how people’s feelings might be hurt if we question the choices they’ve made.
Because very often, those choices are wrong. And it’s about time we said so.
Too right, matey! It is time to say something before the unproductive breed their way into majority status, before the lunatics take over the asylum, before the British become fit for nothing else but the White Slave Trade ....