A former Government minister has spoken out about Britain’s “national catastrophe” – its “army” of teenage mothers living on benefits.
Writing on his internet blog, Tom Harris MP also accused the Government of lacking moral leadership.
Mr Harris anticipated his readers’ shock at a Labour MP speaking so forthrightly on a topic considered largely taboo within the party.
“But”, he wrote, “I can no longer pretend that the army of teenage mothers living off the state is anything other than a national catastrophe.”
The Glasgow South MP identified a lack of moral leadership from the Government as the key reason why so many young girls get pregnant and succumb to benefit dependency, very often following the example set in their own families.
Mr Harris said that effective Government policies were needed, but that “policies are one thing; winning the argument about why they’re needed is another.
“And we have to start by making it clear what we believe is right and wrong. How can we expect parents to teach that to their kids if our political leaders aren’t prepared to say the same?”
He also wrote: “There is right and wrong and it is wrong for anyone to choose to have a child without knowing what’s involved in its upbringing, without being prepared to sacrifice your own lifestyle for it.”
He continued: “People shouldn’t be ashamed of their circumstances, but neither should we avoid making value judgments about others’ choices, especially when those choices result in a greater burden on the state, and lead to the continuation of the underclass.
“Teenage girls shouldn’t be having underage sex. Why? Because it’s wrong.
“Teenage girls shouldn’t choose to have babies as an alternative to getting an education and a career. Why? Because it’s wrong.
“Parents shouldn’t teach their children that a lifetime on benefits is attractive or even acceptable. Why? Because it’s wrong.
“(Please assume all the usual caveats: some people have no choice but to claim benefits, lots of single parents do a great job, etc.)”
Aware of the criticism he would face from liberal commentators and some in his own party, Mr Harris wrote: “Being accused of accepting the current appalling state of affairs, of pretending that the concepts of right and wrong are meaningless – that is far worse than being accused of pandering to the right.”
Mr Harris’s comments attracted support from some of his party’s political opponents, including Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith.
Well known for his extensive research into the causes of Britain’s “broken society”, Mr Duncan Smith said: “We are into the third and fourth generation of lone teenage mothers and the Government has done nothing to end it because they refuse to say whether this is right or wrong.”
Recent figures showing an increase in teenage conceptions prompted Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes to speak out about young people’s need for moral guidance.
She said: “This is not just about the mechanics of sex, it is about relationships, moral values and about making clear what is right and wrong and what you expect from young people, but it is doing that in a way that enables them to take part in the dialogue.”
And many social commentators greeted Gordon Brown’s recent call for a return to “traditional” financial policies with a demand for traditional social policies as well.
Columnist Janet Daley wrote of “the great cultural shift” embodied by the Labour Government, a shift which included “the celebration of personal fulfilment and self-realisation at any cost.”
She said this was the case “even if that involved breaking up a marriage or having a child outside a stable family”.
But Mr Harris insisted that he was not initiating a “back to basics” crusade: “I’m not sounding the rallying cry for Christian or religious morality. But when the actions of others has such a debilitating effect on the rest of society, it’s time to stop being polite.
“It’s time to stop worrying about how people’s feelings might be hurt if we question the choices they’ve made. Because very often, those choices are wrong. And it’s about time we said so.”