As families and family life gets more diverse across Europe a Hearing on Monday (31 January) with MEPs and academics debated the situation of single mothers and the challenges they face. About 1 in 3 children in the European Union are born out of wedlock and 9 out of 10 of single parents are women. A wide group of MEPs and academics discussed the complexity of the situation. A recent survey of women called for more flexible working hours and easier access to childcare.
Italian MEP Barbara Matera (EPP) who will draft Parliament's report on the subject spoke of the "exponentially growing number of mothers in poverty". She underlined importance of ending gender discrimination, ensuring responsibility of fathers and conditions for conciliating family and working life.
The Chair of the Women's rights Committee, Swedish MEP Eva-Britt Svensson (GUE/NGL) said “societies and family set-ups are changing, so we need to take into account new family situations. My father died when I was a child and my mother succeeded in bringing us all up – 6 children – to the citizens that we have now become”.
"Marriage and parenting are becoming disconnected"
Rossana Trifiletti (Florence University, Italy) underlined the fact that the picture of lonely parenthood is very complex as people are often divorced, separated, non-married or widows. “Lone parenthood is still seen as a deviation from the regarding classic model” she said "but if the potential of single parents is not used social and cultural capital is wasted".
Laura Alipranti, from the Centre for Social Research (EKKE), in Greece provided evidence that "marriage and parenting are becoming increasingly disconnected". She pointed out those extramarital births now account for 37% of the total in the European Union and in some Nordic countries that figure is nearly 50%.
Father's should also be involved
British MEP Marina Yannakoudakis (ECR) stressed that although 91% of single parents in EU are women, we should still use the notion of "lone parents". Laura Alipranti underlined that in Sweden 26% of single parents are men whilst Rossana Trifiletti told the Hearing that single fathers are also poorer than natural families.
If the potential of single parents is not used social and cultural capital is wastedRossana Trifiletti
Danish Socialist MEP Britta Thomsen (S&D) urged European legislation on child support (as in Denmark), so that the State pays the mother and the father pays the State so mothers are not financially vulnerable after divorce.
Italian Socialist MEP Silvia Costa (S&D) asked for greater statistical convergence and in-depth statistics to look at impact of welfare policies. Both MEPs underlined the importance of contraception and sexual education to prevent teenage pregnancies.
What do women want?
A recent survey of over 11,000 mothers across Europe was presented by Anne-Claire de Liedekerke. She divided the findings into three categories. Firstly, women with children wanted more flexible working times and easier access to crèches and more flexible school hours. In addition they wanted recognition from society of the role that mothers play and finally they want more time to take care of and educate their children. Many participants stressed the importance of empowerment and that simple cash transfers from the State do not necessarily helps.
Anne-Claire de Liedekerke called for childcare products to have lower VAT and for the pensions system to reflect the contribution on mothers to GDP.
Peggy Liebisch, for the Federal association of single parents in Germany (VAMV) called for a reform of income tax and the setting of quotas for women.
Hungarian Socialist Zita Gurmai, (S&D) said that, on the other side, also in order to help these mothers to better reconcile their work and family life, we should encourage all programs, tax cuts and employer benefits that help to create and maintain decent and family-friendly workplaces for these women.
The issue of whether a minimum level of income should be introduced also came up in the discussion. Portuguese MEP Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL) called for a minimum greatened level of incomes whilst Luxembourg MEP Astrid Lulling (EPP) called an EU minimum wage "utopian".