An Historian

historical stuff by Gareth Millward


Unfit Mothers

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But we won’t improve children’s life chances on paper – real change comes through reforming the whole culture of government interventions…

… getting to the root causes of problems early, instead of waiting to manage the symptoms.

That’s why we’re investing in the Pupil Premium, ensuring that pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have fair access to a decent education.

It’s why we’re providing relationship support, ensuring that the most vulnerable families receive the support they need to provide a stable home life for their children.

Family breakdown is too often the scourge of the poorest in society. Children from broken homes… underperforming at school… and mothers unable to ‘cope’.

Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, The Abbey Centre, Westminster, Thursday 14 June 2012

I was alerted to this speech by Sue Marsh’s twitter feed. Sue is a disability campaigner who if you’re not following I would urge you to do so. You should especially be reading her blog on disability social security.

Anyway, it reminds of Sir Keith Joseph, who made a speech about unfit mothers and how certain groups of people shouldn’t have children. At the time his comments caused outrage, particularly as they didn’t seem that far removed from Social Darwinism.

This idea that somehow the poor don’t know how to behave has been around for a very long time. This is how Charles McCabe in the Toledo Blade responded.

‘Unfit Mother’ Expression Should Be Out Of Language

If there is any phrase in our language which drives me up the wall, it is the expletive “unfit mother.” You would think this odious usage would long since have been placed in the cemetery of our language together with the use of the word degenerate to describe anyone who had sex outside marriage or “the sin that dares not cry its name” for homosexuality.

The clamor following the speech was immediate and great. It quite possibly wrecked Sir Keith’s chances of taking over the leadership of the Conservative party from Edward Heath.

It did. Joseph was one of the most able and intelligent members of the Conservative Party at the time, and during his period at the Department of Health and Social Security from 1970-74 he increased expenditure in a number of areas, including disability benefits. The flip side to this was that he increased the reliance on the hated “means test” to ensure benefits only went to those “most in need”. It didn’t really work, as expenditure grew everywhere, not just for means-tested benefits. Regardless, he was, until this point, rather well-respected by the centre-right of British politics. Instead, Heath was replaced by Margaret Thatcher.

Anyway, I digress…

Quite rightly, the deduction was made that Sir Keith holds that the poor are less fit to bear children than the well-to-do. Aside from being a far from tenable theory, such words are just about as politically inept as could be spoken to the people of Great Britain.

The two great no-no’s of British campaigning are sex and class. The politician’s words violently offended on both counts.

We always have had people like Sir Keith Joseph, and always will, though they will not be so foolish and so headlong.

Oh, Chuck. Would that I had your faith in humanity.

The dining rooms of suburbia rattle with the anger of people who know just who should and who should not propogate. That nobody, but nobody, has this right, seems to me the very moral basis of our civilization. The right to have a child is as inalienable as the duty not to murder.

But there is about all this kind of talk the old matter of carts and horses. What needs elimination is not unfit mothers but ghettos. A child is born into the part of society as asigned to him by the whole of society. The child is not to blame for this assignment.

The believers in the unfit mother concept insist on casting the poor in the role of villains who are undermining society.

The poor-as-scapegoat talk has reached alarming proportions among those in the population control movement. The mere fact that such a scapegoat should be needed is proof more of the emotional insecurities of our middle class than it is of anything else.

Well said, Mr McCabe.

By the way, this article was published in 1974. That over 35 years later it still needs to be said speaks volumes about how ingrained this hatred of the poor is in Anglo-Saxon societies.

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2 thoughts on “Unfit Mothers”

  1. hindleA says:

    Just found this blog-I am glad I did.

  2. Bill Kruse says:

    You only hate what you fear.

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