The violence of silence is a phrase we could use to open a discussion on any number of grotesque realities that as a nation we have yet to face up to.
Forcing women and children to live in abusive economic situations, denying them dignity and respect is another thing we should not keep silent about.
Given our history, such shocking numbers of children living in consistent poverty should be abhorrent to our morality, as deeply offensive to our humanity as that septic tank still festering in our collective conscience.
As should the notion that fallen women need a firm hand, need to be economically shackled, austerity nomads on a housing list that is little more than a sick joke.
Ireland in 2016, where heat is a luxury item and solace can’t even be found in tea. And when your child is seven, you lose your lone parent support. Rear themselves at that age.
One path of redemption under our new market-based morality: paid employment. We all know who it’s designed for right? The ones who rear themselves at that age.
Of course, as the recent case in which an au pair was rightly paid for her hard work shows, it’s considered employment if you are in a position to pay somebody else to do it. Otherwise, you probably need to get a job, you lazy layabout, chilling on your leather sofa surrounded by scratchcards and abject poverty.
Da Gull is one of the 11 percent of single mothers in Ireland with three children, and someone I have the privilege of calling a friend. Initially, I was going to spend the day with her and write about it.
However, even in researching this column, I noticed entirely new aspects of the savage economic attacks –and they are attacks, in case that isn’t already conventional wisdom: you kill with economics.
When I found that even visiting a friend takes more than a week’s budgeting, the effects began to stand out more than usual. Then her kids came down with measles.
I could have visited Dolly instead. Although she is more than €20 away, and we both had the austeri-teas. That’s when you don’t have one or more of the essential ingredients for tea over an extended period of time.
Geographic isolation, which was once a deliberate tactic of social segregation, is now an implication of austerity. Increasing rents mean single parents are being forced further and further away from their support structures. They must become “austerity nomads”, to quote Dolly.
The fact that 58 percent of the heads of lone parent families are in the labour force might surprise some people. That would be that “real” work, not the trivial matter of raising children in the chaotic environment of poverty while maintaining your own health and well-being. Some 59 percent of one-parent families experience deprivation.
Lone-parent families headed by females are among the most likely to fall into poverty, with male single parents making up the bulk of those employed in “real work”. Of course, the women are probably to blame; any other conclusion would require some unpleasant epiphanies.
“With the child qualification age change, working parents were worst affected by the welfare reform. Some loosing up to €110 a week. The justification for the changes was to motivate parents into the workplace, yet the very people who lost out were working lone parents, ” said Samantha Smallhorne, a Phd student and member of SPARK.
Poverty is not a problem that will be solved by simply reversing austerity cuts. Although, at this point, with over a third of children in deprivation, it would do as one emergency measure.
When I was a child, we didn’t call it food poverty, and there really isn’t enough space in this column to describe the effects of even going to school with a hungry stomach and not much to look forward to in your lunchbox, when we had sandwiches and didn’t have to rely on the cheese and half-inch of butter sandwiches from the Department of Social Protection. An 80s version of “school lunch”, where the sandwiches arrived in black sacks.
From not being able to concentrate to holding onto your pride and not asking someone for a crisp or sweet, the effects, like the causes, are varied and complex. As are the effects on women who are all too aware of the quality of lunch in the boxes, and try to find ways to keep up with inflation and price increases.
Now those days are back and I’m having to watch children in my area – my friends’ children and relatives – go through this experience. Perhaps it’s time to stop pandering to middle-class sensibilities and lay out the reality of poverty.
Without money to blow on things, Generation Austerity is signalling with creativity, intelligence and experience via social media.
The reason I wanted to visit these particular women was that we all met online, during the water protests and we all support and help each other through the “chaotic uncertainties of our day-to-day lives” (to quote Dolly again).
Outspoken women tend to find each other, and now that the economic shock therapy is wearing off, a lot of economically powerless women are finding incredibly powerful voices.
Da Gull has an incredibly powerful and hilarious voice, and the strength to find humour in the relentless attacks of poverty on your sense of self, and the never-ending stress involved in keeping your children alive in twenty-first -century Ireland.
And post Mother’s Day: “What day is it? Yup I’m hanging up yesterday’s Mother’s Day apron. Today I’m just Da Gull. Da Gull with the 3 kids that still need feeding #stillsinglelads.”
Note: Thank you to all the brilliant women who helped with this piece, and to Karen Kiernan from One Family, a group that has helped reverse cuts and offers support to women out there. You can reach their helpline at 1890-66-22-12 or find them at www.onefamily.ie or www.facebook.com/OneFamilyIreland. Thanks also to Samantha Smallhorne from SPARK, who outlined in incredible detail the scope of the cuts to lone-parent families. Which is a piece or two in itself.