Single mothers need changes in social and urban policy

Patricia Erika Aguilar-Zeleny, Georgia Straight

Patricia Erika Aguilar-Zeleny is a single mother of five children, and a volunteer and member of the coordinating collective for Vancouver Status of Women. She holds a PhD in geography from the London School of Economics and is working on her MA in women’s studies at UBC.

The budget cuts in social programs during the last several years have had impressive repercussions on the well-being of low-income families in general and single mothers indigenous and immigrant in particular. The outlook is depressing: deficient housing, poverty wages, expensive transportation, insufficient and inaccessible childcare, and inadequate health supports, particularly for low income mothers and children with disabilities.

To deal with the increasing problem of urban poverty, it is not enough for single mothers to get back to work. They are not only facing systemic barriers to access basic necessities as a result of the indifference of provincial and federal governments to their plea. They are also more vulnerable to stigmatization, discrimination, abuse/violence, and punitive child apprehensions. The system is failing them—health cuts, legal aid cuts, housing subsides cuts, cuts, cuts, cuts!

To end urban poverty and social exclusion, it is of utmost importance to support the growing number of Canadian single mothers. We need changes in social and urban policy if we are going to see any improvement in the key areas of childcare, subsidized housing, urban transportation, and education and training. We need changes to protect the future of Canada.

According to Statistics Canada’s 2005 Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report, in 2004, 58 percent of all women aged 15 and over were part of the paid work force, up from 42 percent in 1976. In contrast, the proportion of men who were employed fell during this period from 73 percent to 68 percent. As a result, women accounted for 47 percent of the employed work force in 2004, up from 37 percent in 1976. The report also showed that the proportion of women living with their spouse has declined in the past two decades, more women are living alone, and women make up the majority of the Canadian population with disabilities.

Likewise, women with young children are working in greater numbers than before. In 2004, 65 percent of all women with children under the age of three were employed, more than double the figure in 1976. Additionally, women are increasingly going back to work after childbearing: 70 percent of women whose youngest child was aged three to five worked for pay in 2004, up from 37 percent in 1976. Regarding single mothers, it is important to note dramatic increases in the share of female single parents’ employment in the last three decades, from 50 percent in 1976 to 69 percent in 2004.

The same report mentions that women make up a disproportionate share of the population in Canada with low incomes as measured by Statistics Canada’s low income cut-off on an after-tax basis. Most striking are the statistics for single mothers since they can be considered an important consequence of budget cuts in many social programs.

According to a 2010 study by P. Gurstein and S. Vilches in Gender, Place & Culture, the province of “British Columbia has the highest child poverty rate in Canada….One quarter of all Greater Vancouver families with children in the province live below the poverty line.” Many children are living in poverty with their mothers. Single mothers have to take care of their children most of the time, take them to school or to child care facilities if they work outside their homes; they must go to work, go shopping, maybe they too go to school.

Single mothers’ and their children’s lives depend profoundly on a sound social and urban policy that welcomes them to the city. For them is important to increase social housing programs, to have cheaper urban transportation, and to expand child-care facilities to enable them to live a life with dignity and self-respect.

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