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Single mums struggle for a life in dignity, say MEPs

[European Parliament, Brussels, 01 February 2011] The number of single mothers living in poverty is rapidly increasing, said MEP Barbara MATERA (EPP, IT), stressing that the statistics were alarming. We have "to act immediately", she continued and practical solutions and best practises should be offered.

On 31 January, the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee organised a public hearing on the situation of single mothers addressing the challenges single mother households face and the question of how to help them. Its input will be included in a report to be drafted by Mrs Matera.

Definition and measurement problems

Mrs Rossana TRIFILETTI, Professor of Sociology of the Family and Social Policies at Florence University, Italy, pointed to the problematic definition of single mother or parent to be seen in the context of the different statistics and cultures. Mrs Laura ALIPRANTI, Research Director for the National Centre for social research (EKKE) Attiki, Greece, mentioned that, as a general rule, a lone-parent family consists of a household of one-parent (adult) and at least one dependent minor child.

Referring to Eurostat statistics, dependent children are considered either aged under 16 years or 16-24 years, stated Mrs Alipranti. Mrs Trifiletti added that de jure and de facto single parenthood have to be distinguished. There are more lone parenthoods within traditional families in terms of their day-to-day workings, whereas in official lone parenthoods there can be cohabiting fathers. Furthermore, there are many differences in registering lone parenthoods in different Member States, said Mrs Trifiletti.

Family patterns

Eva-Britt SVENSSON (GUE/NGL, SE) pointed out that societies were changing and subsequently family setups too. While being a single parent was not always a problem as such, however, some needed support, added Mrs. Svensson and while, she said, there were always single mothers for various reasons, the rate continues to increase.

Teenage mothers and extra-marital birth are ’phenomenons’ whose rates are increasing, said Mrs ALIPRANTI, adding that in 2009, about 37% of European children were born out of wedlock. With the European average of 91% women being lone parents, most mothers are aged between 30-39 years, whereas single mothers in UK, Ireland and Malta are younger.

All experts agreed on single parenthoods being a transition period in life, not a stable condition. In addition, experts as well as MEPs reiterated that more and in-depth research was needed due to the complexity of this issue.

Marina Yannakoudakis (ECR, UK) pointed to the increasing number of men being single parents, adding that different situations should result in different approaches.

Mrs Peggy LIEBISCH, Director of Verband alleinerziehender Mütter und Väter, Bundesverband e.V. (VAMV), Berlin, Germany, indicated that in order to improve single mothers’ situation, the causes have to be analysed which are unemployment, part time jobs, low wages and high taxes, lack of childcare facilities and insufficient child support. According to studies, equality - in terms of education, health and childcare, career and gender - is one of the main elements of families’ wellbeing.

Poverty and children

According to EU-SILC data (2005), Mrs Alipranti stated that the average of EU-25 poverty risk rate was 65% in jobless lone parent households, whereas in full-time households only 15%. With regard to child poverty, Mrs Trifiletti pointed out that, for example, in France one out of three children living in lone parenthoods face a greater risk of poverty than children in traditional families. In the UK, it is one out of two children. Another issue highlighted was the fathers’ failure in contributing to the welfare of their children living with their mothers.

Britta Thomsen (S&D, DK) called for a European legislation to obligate fathers to pay child support.

Zita Gurma (S&D, HU) stressed that single parent households needed quality childcare facilities and more family friendly workplaces to better reconcile work life balance.

Mrs Caroline BOMBASSEI de VETTOR, Secretary General of MMMEurope (Make Mothers Matter) said that for 94% of mothers who took part in MMMEurope’s survey in 2010, it was very important to have a choice of whether to care for the child herself or to have public childcare of high quality. 99% of mothers responded that they favoured having sufficient time with their family and reconciling work and family life harmoniously. Family care work should be recognized and valued as a vital and irreplaceable investment in the future of society, Mrs Bombassei de Vettor continued.

Astrid Lulling (EPP, LU) wanted to know how to quantify unpaid work as regards to the demand of recognizing mothers’ investment in family life.

Concerning child poverty, Commission’s position is that all children should benefit from universal allowance and specific targeting would be done for those who need most, said the Commission representative.

Minimum income

Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL, PT) called for a minimum income for there is an enormous number of women or lone mothers living in poverty. Commission should take action to establish minimum income for all to allow people living in dignity, said the Commission representative, adding that this exists in most EU member states but in Greece, Hungary and Italy, however on a very low level.

In the chair: Barbara MATERA (EPP, IT)

Photo: Barbara Matera

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