Last month, just as the country was preparing for the annual celebration of a poor young woman giving birth to a son, the City of London coroner reported on the death of a young mother who had been given neither shelter nor support when she needed it. Christelle Pardo had been turned away not by a hardhearted innkeeper but by the state.Really? Let's take an in-depth look, shall we?
Christelle fitted no stereotype. She was a 32-year-old Frenchwoman living in Hackney who had lived in Britain since she and her sister moved here in 1997. In May 2008 she graduated from London's Metropolitan University with a degree in philosophy.I’d argue that she did, indeed, fit a stereotype.
She fitted the stereotype of someone who'd decided that responsibility and consequences were nothing she needed to trouble herself with. Also the stereotype of someone who has swallowed the concept of 'life long learning' to the point where it seemed only reasonable to study for philosophy; after all, what the world needs is more philosophers, right?
At about the same time she discovered she was pregnant.Came as a surprise, did it? Perhaps she should have studied biology...
She looked for work while claiming jobseeker's allowance and housing benefit. Then in December 2008, the advisers at the jobcentre told her she no longer qualified for jobseeker's allowance. According to the Department for Work and Pensions the fact that she was within 11 weeks of giving birth disqualified her from being an active jobseeker. She was told to apply for income support instead.You know what there's no mention of? A father.
Perhaps there wasn't one, and that's why Jenni is drawing this parallel?
What no one warned her was that European nationals who claim income support must provide more proof of residence than jobseekers have to.Hmm, let’s think. Why might that be, then, Jenni?
Christelle had an eight-month period in 2003 when she said she had been working in a cafe but had no employment records to prove it. Her claim was turned down.She had no employment records? But surely she was paying tax and insurance. Wasn't she?
Once that happened, the welfare state stopped operating. Her housing benefit was automatically withdrawn. The state, having decreed she was not in a fit condition to look for work, took no further interest in how the penniless mother of a new baby was going to survive.
And I suppose returning to her country of origin was out of the question?
Once she was dead, officialdom showed a little concern. The City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Board announced that it would be conducting a serious case review, which is due to be published this month. It is hard not to be struck by the contrast between the state's reluctance to spend money on keeping Christelle alive, and its readiness to spend money on inquiring into her death.No, that's merely the state having to spend resources on covering its backside when columnists begin weeping and rending their garments over the life-choices of society's inadequates...
The trap in which Christelle found herself is not unique. In the week before Christmas the Hackney Gazette gave another glimpse of this hidden problem when it reported that a Lithuanian woman with a newborn baby was among those who had been thrown out of a squat by police. She asked for emergency housing from Hackney and Walthamstow and was refused all help on exactly the same basis as Christelle; that without a solid five-year record she had no claim on the state.She doesn't have any claim on the state. Why should she?
These cases raise hard questions about who should be supported by our collective generosity. The understandable logic behind the existing rules is that if someone cannot demonstrate that they have contributed to this society then the society has no reciprocal obligation to them.Precisely. Particularly if that class is growing and growing and growing. Something has to give.
I don't believe this is a stance a civilised society can justify. It pitches foreign-born mothers back into a Victorian-style existence in which pregnancy may mean destitution and disgrace.Forgive me, Jenni, but hasn’t something else changed since Victorian times? Such as the availability and efficacy of contraception?
But my reaction may be a minority one. On websites there is a striking lack of sympathy for the Christelles of this world, and a marked resentment about the number of people demanding our collective help.Well, yes, and you'll find no relief here either.
After all, this was the week we learned that 'the state' was more than happy to grub up council tax monies yet leave the basics of survival to the individual. When basic services for UK residents paying through the nose are no longer carried out. When the law of the land is laughed at by those who treat it with the contempt it surely deserves.
So it's a bit rich to ask us to look with charity on someone who came here to take out what she never seems to have put in, and to expect the state to care more for her than she apparently cared for herself and her child, isn't it?