Single mothers have been branded a "burden on society" and as such, single women in South East London have been banned from accessing funding for IVF. The NHS regional body cites a 2011 document, which, alongside the popular trope about women being a burden on society, also states that children of single parents are at a "known disadvantage".
At this point, one might pause to wonder just who these children are at a disadvantage as compared to. The children of TWO parents in an unhealthy relationship, who grow up in households filled with anger and fear? The children of TWO parents living through affairs, heartbreak and unhappiness? Or just the media pedalled nuclear family who 'have it all'?
These women, doing the job of two, thriving against the odds, deserve the support and respect of the state.
Before we address the injustice being done to single women with policies like these, let us first address the offensive, outdated and thoughtless language being used to describe single mothers and the children of single mothers. These policies affect would-be single mothers by choice, but do not underestimate the impact these harmful (and completely false) statements have on existing single mums. Single parent households make up one in four families in the UK with 90 per cent of these headed by a woman. Many of these did not choose to be a single mother. Many of them escaped situations of abuse. Many were abandoned by the father of their children. Many were left widowed following the death of a partner. These women, doing the job of two people, thriving against the odds, deserve the support and respect of the state, not to be stigmatised, alienated and blamed for society’s ills. Their children deserve to be included, represented and respected, rather than pitied, underestimated and insulted.
When I shared this story with my single mother WhatsApp group (a truly glorious place), several of the mums asked that the powers that be referred to their tax returns before labelling them a "burden on society". Indeed, the notion that single mothers are anything of the sort is just downright wrong. The latest statistics indicate that just over two thirds of single mothers are in work, the same figure as single women with no children or grown-up children.
And so to the ruling itself, and the single women who deserve no access to NHS funding because of the burden they will place on society and whose longed-for children would start life at such a disadvantage. This child, with one parent who wanted them so desperately, who loves them more than anything else in the world. With a mother who carefully planned their arrival with love and hope (not to mention precision budgeting, planning and saving), who works harder than she has ever worked before, to keep her child safe and well. Does this child sound like he or she is at a disadvantage?
So much of these issues are exemplified by the story of a single mum friend of mine called Freya, whose name has been changed for the purpose of this story. Freya tragically lost her first child in infancy and was not eligible for IVF on the NHS. "I was deep in grieving when I began thinking of trying and I think doctors and GPs were more inclined to just help rather than fight a grieving parent," she told me. "Single mums should absolutely be given access to fertility treatments as much as any other medical service. If weight loss can be given on the NHS, why not this? It's an issue that contributes heavily to mental health problems.
"In terms of the claims the single mothers are a burden on society, there are so many single mothers out there in different financial positions," she continued. "From personal experience, a multitude of barriers and obstacles are put in your way, from government officials encouraging loans, to there being no systems in place for affordable childcare. The true burdens on society are those who tread on those in need – single mothers need help as cost of living far surpasses wage inflation, the cost of supporting two even more so. I don't know anybody as adept as a single mother; emotionally, physically, in terms of budgeting, organisation, timekeeping."
"Everything. I don't know anybody as adept as a single mother, emotionally or physically"
This ruling proves, yet again, that single mothers have a long way to go before they are accepted as equal in society and treated with the respect they deserve. As Harriet Harman tweeted, "Denying single women IVF discriminates & sends terrible message to lone parents & children of lone parents." This careless stereotyping is used to mask budgeting issues with a stretched NHS, using single mothers as an all-too-predictable scapegoat. The answer? Fight back. Make noise. Connect the thriving, inspiring and welcoming community of solo mothers by choice on social media. Check out @ellemental_mama on Instagram, as well as @earlymenopauseandme, who was diagnosed with POI at 31 and had to become a self-taught expert in fertility rights (or lack thereof).
Arm yourself with information because knowledge is power, and no knowledge is more powerful than knowing that as a single mother you are, and will be, enough. More than enough.
From Harper's BAZAAR U.K