26 May 16
“When I became a mum I remember thinking, ‘This is an amazing job and I finally understand what my mum went through.’ ...And then you become a single mum and you just think, ‘Oh my God, I’m gonna have to find superpowers here ‘cause there’s just not enough hours in the day.’” - Myleene Klass
In this new documentary for ITV, airing Tuesday 31st May 2016 at 9pm, Myleene investigates the truth about single mums who receive benefits and asks whether it really is a life of Riley, or a life on the breadline. Myleene, who is never far from the public eye as a TV presenter and performer, considers being one of Britain’s two million single parents to be her most important job.
Raising her two girls Ava and Hero alone was never her plan, and she struggles with a stigma she feels is still attached to her single mother status. She meets a teenage mother and compares notes with a group of single dads. She interviews an older mum who chose to have her children alone, and has an emotional meeting with a single father who had no choice after tragically losing his wife.
In this programme, she hopes to uncover why single mums feel like they get such a hard time. She says: “When I read the headlines about single mums on benefits, living the high life, refusing to work, it makes me, like everyone else, furious. These stories do nothing to help the image of single parents everywhere, leaving [us] all feeling tarred with the same brush. So I want to find out the truth behind the headlines and meet the mums that some say are giving us all a bad name.”
Myleene starts her journey by speaking to self-proclaimed ‘Welfare Queen’ Marie Buchan, an unemployed single mother of eight children who caused outrage when she publicly declared her £26,000 benefits weren’t enough. Marie says getting the benefits is a simple process: “You obviously have a baby, you send off the application form, birth certificate, they assess it and then you’ve got your money in your account. It is very easy - it is - and then to obviously go in the property as well which a lot of people have said, ‘Oh she’s only had all them kids to get a big house.’”
In Margate, Myleene meets teen mum Becky and her son, together with 26-year-old Kate who became a single parent at 18 and says she understands the judgement young mums can face. Kate says: “I was 17 when I first fell pregnant and 18 when I had her, I just felt alone, a lot of my friends weren’t bothered, they just didn’t want to know to be honest. But I feel like I did get frowned upon by the elderly, they used to look at me like I shouldn’t be pregnant, they used to tut and roll their eyes, bit judgemental, but hey that’s life isn’t it.”
Becky talks about her experiences as a teenage single mum. She says: “I got quite a lot of negative comments from everyone, people in the street. They just called me dirty, disgusting. There was one incident where someone actually followed me home and were shouting and swearing at me, so I was running with the buggy because I don’t really want to get beaten up with my son. The thing is you can’t legally claim benefits until you’re 18 and so it’s like, ‘How would I do it for the money if I’m 14 because I can’t get any money?’”
Myleene heads to North Wales to stay with 43-year-old single mother Rhiannon, who is struggling to make ends meet on benefits and is crippled by the isolation of being a lone parent to three children aged from seven to 17. Rhiannon relies on state benefits after being made redundant and losing the family home shortly after her marriage broke down, and now looks after her trio of children and her grandmother in a rented house. She says: “It’s a bridge for now. You almost feel like it’s a failure. The children are growing up - I don't own my home any more and I’m not working any more and to a degree you get a little bit embarrassed about it.”
The family is so poor that Rhiannon’s daughter says she doesn’t have her own birthday parties. Rhiannon says: “She hasn’t because I found it hard taking her to other birthday parties knowing I couldn’t give it her, so I’d make excuses why we couldn’t go, so I’d take her to the beach or somewhere that didn’t cost money.”
Myleene takes Rhiannon to meet a group of single mothers called Single With Kids in the Delamere Forest. Rhiannon describes her experiences with the group as, ‘Like an epiphany.’ She says: “I’ve gone through that walk and come back and it’s like, ‘Yeah we’re single mums, and look what we do.’”
Myleene meets 36-year-old single dad Ben, who lives in London with his son Jackson , and brings him up alone after his wife Desreen was killed when she was hit by a car during a family day out. He says his life changed gradually, to the point where he turned to the Internet for advice, and finding limited resources, started up a blog for men who have been widowed. He says: “There’s loads of resources for mums if you look at Mumsnet and all of these different things, there seems to be a lot of that. It’s very different really being a guy, because sometimes you just want really practical advice and sometimes you just wanna get stuff off your chest and sometimes you might just want a laugh.”
There are 200,000 single dads raising their kids in Britain, and many of them on rely on benefits. With that in mind, Myleene visits Dad’s House, a charity where fathers get the chance to talk to other single dads. One father, Luke, tells her: “I hated myself for having to go to the job centre. I worked for fifteen years but all my savings had been depleted, we had nothing, we were penniless. And then people ask you, ‘How do you get your money?’ When I say income support, ‘Oh, dole dosser scum.’ I don’t want to claim but I have no choice.”
Myleene goes to Essex to meet 38-year-old transport consultant Catherine, who chose to become a single mother. She spent her twenties travelling and building a successful career in the capital, at that time any thoughts of having children were a long way off. Catherine’s fertility results meant that conceiving naturally was very unlikely. If she was to have a baby she would need IVF. She made a bold decision to go it alone using donor sperm from a private clinic - and her twin girls Phoebe and May arrived in February 2015. Despite her parents’ reservations, she says she is content as a working mum, despite the perceived stigma against single parents. She says: “I did have to come to terms with the fact that I would be a single mum statistic. There is a judgement, there is negativity, something to look down upon a little bit I suppose. There’s always that you’ve done something wrong because I was voluntarily putting myself in that situation.”
Having met a range of individuals across the spectrum of single parenthood, Myleene says: ”I can hand on my heart say I have re-assessed how I feel about being a single mum, I used to be afraid of the term ‘single mum’, I felt like I had failed my children and now I feel like I have ownership of the words single mum and I’m really proud of it.”
Airs Tuesday 31st May on ITV at 9pm