Mothering through austerity: Exploring the role of intersectionality and the impact of welfare reform within the lives of young mothers in the UK.

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The purpose of this thesis is to explore the lives of young lone mothers in the UK within a context of austerity and welfare reform. Since 2010, a range of welfare reform related policies including freezes to certain social security benefits, reforms to the Social Fund and the introduction of universal credit have severely disadvantaged many low-income families. Furthermore, extensive restructuring and retrenchments of state funded services have led to reductions in public services such as children’s centres. Wider changes to the labour market have negatively affected women, and lone mothers in particular, by making secure and adequately paid employment harder to access. Changes in education such as the withdrawal of the Education Maintenance Allowance have reduced the options available to low-income young people. Taken together, recent welfare reforms introduced under the auspices of austerity have created a ‘perfect storm’ for young lone mothers, an already disadvantaged group of women.

My thesis seeks to understand the lived experiences of young lone mothers living in an era of austerity. To do so, I use intersectionality theory to focus on the dynamics of four key social statuses: age, gender, lone motherhood and social class. Additionally, I explore identity construction amongst this group of women using Irving Goffman’s approach to stigma and performance management. Drawing on individual interviews and focus group discussions with young mothers as well as interviews with front line practitioners, I analyse how statuses intersect to create distinct stigmatised identities for young lone mothers. I also consider how changes in both local and national related austerity policy and welfare reform impact on the lives of young lone mothers as a group.

The thesis argues that age, gender, lone motherhood and social class all contribute to the stigmatisation of young lone mothers. In turn, young lone mothers respond in three main ways, namely: i) by adopting certain behaviours they feel are consistent with cultural perceptions of ‘good’ motherhood, ii) by rejecting traditional images of the ‘good’ motherhood, and iii) by highlighting the advantages of being young, lone and non-working mothers. Welfare reforms, introduced in the wake of austerity measures, have rendered young lone mothers ‘invisible’ in policy terms. The same reforms fail to engage with the complexity and specific challenges of the everyday lives, struggles, and ambitions of young lone mothers. Drawing on primary data, my thesis sets out to highlight some of this complexity and to develop policy relevant recommendations that will improve the life chances of young lone mothers.
In short: it seeks to give voice to one of the groups that have suffered most under austerity reforms.
Date of Award16 Jun 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council
SupervisorJoe Devine (Supervisor) & Tess Ridge (Supervisor)


  • Young Mothers
  • Teenage Mothers
  • Lone Mothers
  • Austerity
  • Welfare Reform
  • Local Service Provision
  • Intersectionality
  • Stigma
  • Teenage Pregnancy Strategy
  • Poverty

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