Young parents living on the edge

A young mum married at 20, has her first child at 22, the second before she’s 25. She ends up divorced at 30 then is tragically killed along with her new partner when she is just 36. Think you can imagine this woman and her life?

The woman being described was Princess Diana and she was being used to illustrate society’s preconceived ideas about young parents and the value put on young parenthood.  

Jabeer Butt, from the Race Equality Foundation, who used the illuminating Diana example, was one of a number of experts talking at the launch of new research into the lives of young parents living in London, Young Parents in London: Living with Precariousness.

The young princess Di would, I imagine, not have had to worry about where she was going to live, how she was going to pay the rent or afford childcare but as research from 4in10 and Partnership for Young London shows these are the top of concerns for young parents under 24 living in London.

The report highlighted how young parents living in London are more affected by poverty and social exclusion than other young parents in the UK.

As the report says, the pressure on any new parent is high but for young parents, who are starting families, the challenge is even greater, especially in London where there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing and childcare.

Sian Elliot from 4in10 told the audience “This isn’t just about age. It’s about circumstance, location and a complex web of things working against some young parents in the capital.”

Of course not all young parents will live in poverty. Many will have support networks and families who can help them.

But as Sian explained, “There are many that if we don’t see them, if we marginalise them we risk overlooking their needs and leaving them to face multiple, complex and intersecting challenges alone.”

Every day at St Michael’s Fellowship we are working with young parents struggling with poverty, social exclusion and sometimes other issues such as domestic abuse and mental health. Our teams work hard to help them lift themselves out of these situations. But the challenges raised at this conference, such as affordable housing and childcare, cuts to services and problems accessing mental health support are making our team’s job much harder.

It was good to hear Professor Sue Maguire from Bath University tell the audience that one of their key findings was the positive impact of a young woman establishing and sustaining a sympathetic relationship with a trusted professional.

This made me think about a couple of conversations I had with a young mother who described our outreach team as her ‘guardian angels.’ And another woman who, 10 years after she last visited our young parents group as a young mum herself, dropped in to offer to volunteer because she wanted to give something back. It had made such a difference to her life.  (She’s now at University studying for a Psychology degree.)

It was clear that the young parents who took part in the research had high aspirations. They wanted to work and improve the lives of their children but they are faced with so many barriers. This report gave a great insight to the life experiences of young parents in the capital and we hope it can contribute to challenging government and key decision makers into making policy that supports young parents, pulling them out of poverty.

As Sharon Long from Partnership for Young London told the audience “There needs to be a vision for young Londoners - they may just be 25% of the population but they are 100% the future.”

If you would like to read and share this comprehensive research and read it recommendations you can download it here.  

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