Tista' taqra bil- Malti.
Single mothers, especially those living on social assistance, are vilified and there haven’t been efforts to change that discourse, Dr Andreana Dibben, Chairperson of the Woman’s Rights Foundation tells Newsbook.com.mt.
Speaking about the issues of poverty and the standard of living in Malta, Dr Dibben despaired at the ongoing level of vilification that Maltese single mothers have received from the public, the media, politicians and governmental institutions like the Department for social security.
She explained that this societal group has struggled to cast off the negative assertions about their character and behaviour and there haven’t been any efforts made to change them.
‘They are seen as frauds’
In one instance, Dr Dibben explains that there are stories of single mothers receiving early morning knocks at the door from inspectors, intent on checking their accommodation to see if they are cheating the system.
‘They are checking to see if you have two toothbrushes or if there is a man living in the house. They are seen as frauds trying to milk the system.’
While she acknowledges the government’s introduction of in-work benefits and child-friendly policies, the ‘labour market still does not offer enough flexibility and understanding for single mothers to hold a job and to be fully responsible for children.’
‘When your child gets sick, you have to take care of them. It means you struggle to work. For employers, this can be a mitigating factor that they might not employ you,’ she said.
Raising children is not considered work
During the interview, Dr Dibben referenced how although wider society and culture has led to an increase of single parent households, there has been the opposite reaction that single parents or in this case lone mothers in Malta, should be employed and contributing to the economy.
‘There are those who feel these people should not be helped. They should be working.’
This is something that has been perpetuated by the state and institutions that even lone mothers should contribute and become self-sufficient. ‘Let’s reward industriousness, one previous budget slogan promoted. It’s a fallacy,’ she explains.
‘It is assuming that we punish people who don’t contribute to the economy. It assumes that the only way to contribute to society is to be employed.’
She adds that in the current context, raising future generations and future citizens, is not considered work.
‘This does not recognise the care work women do, especially female headed households. Most are lone-parents and that is not considered to be work. Even if it’s caring for 3 or 4 children, it’s not work. It’s not industrious, its lazy. You’re not working outside the home.’
According to the National Statistics Office’s latest European Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) survey, the number of single parent households with one or more dependent children, that are at risk of poverty, has risen from 42.9% to 48.6% (8,651).
Likewise, those At Risk of Poverty and Social Exclusion (AROPE) had risen from 47.7% to 51.0% in 2018 (8,981).
Stigma of poverty
When asked about the discussion of poverty and exposing the problems publicly, Dr Dibben explained that people in poverty go to extreme lengths to disguise it.
Citing a study by clinical psychologist Dr Angele Abela and sociologist Rev. Dr Tabone, the Chairperson for Women’s Rights Foundation explained that there is considerable stigma and shame attached to being seen to be in poverty.
The academics had explained that those experiencing poverty don’t wish to be associated with being poor and will thus ‘wear expensive clothes and present themselves as affluent, all in an effort to hide the fact that their family is in financial difficulties.’
Representativeness of EUSILC figures
When asked about the representativeness of the latest European Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), Dr Dibben explained that the current statistics on poverty and those at risk, only cover households.
This proves problematic when trying to understand the true individual poverty of people within them.
‘We live in a patriarchal society where women’s share and access to the household income is in some cases, limited. We assume that they have equal access to that income of the household but many are not in employment and from those who are, they might not have access to the full income of the household.’
She explains that there could be women within these households who experience poverty even though the household income does not reflect this, ‘because of the power inequalities in the family.’
Added to this, there are also the underrepresentation of women who live outside the household within a domestic violence shelter or in other institutions. . ‘These people are outside the statistics.’