A vicious circle of silent exclusion : Family homelessness and poverty in Sweden from a single mother perspective

Sammanfattning: Within the confines of the receding Swedish welfare state, family homelessness and poverty are on the rise among one-parent families, in particular those headed by a single migrant mother. This development follows a trend that is noticeable across advanced welfare states, where female-headed households are facing an increased risk of being locked into vicious circles of low-paid work, inadequate income protection schemes and poor housing options. Contextualized against a wider global political-economic backdrop of rising inequalities and structural changes that take localized forms, this thesis investigates family homelessness and poverty in Sweden through what is referred to as a ‘singlemother perspective’. This is an approach where welfare policy and politicalinstitutional arrangements are analysed through the lens of everyday experiences and struggles conveyed by marginalized single mothers. By placing the ideas and experiences of single mothers at the centre of the analysis, the intention is to invoke a different epistemology concerning what type of knowledge is represented and recognised in public. Drawing on insights from critical social theory and feminist ethnographic research, the study uses an approach to the development of new poverty knowledge, found at the junction between lived experience, activism, empirical research and social theory. The thesis departs from the experiences of homelessness and poverty as articulated by the research participants rather than from official definitions and categories. The findings suggest that unwarranted pain and suffering are caused by insufficient incomes, inadequate housing options, and a failure of public authorities to recognise the degree to which policies in the areas of housing, social security, employment, migration and child welfare intersect in complex ways in the lives of disadvantaged single mothers. The narratives shared by the informants further put into question the image of Sweden as an inclusive ‘women- and child-friendly’ welfare state that protects vulnerable citizens from destitution. Instead, the study concludes that the misrecognition and misrepresentation of the living conditions and hardships facing vulnerable mothers and children, combined with a maldistribution of resources, contribute to a vicious circle of silent exclusion. Finally, the study suggests that although it is the women and children who bear the brunt of this crisis and who feel it the most, its causes and consequences infest the whole fabric of society. It also warrants a return to fundamental ethical questions with regard to how people in poverty are viewed and treated and with regard to the role of solidarity within the welfare state. In particular, it argues that there is an urgent need to re-consider the role of social work practice within the receding welfare state and to scrutinize the impact of conditional welfare on vulnerable clients. The thesis ends by proposing a framework for a ‘politics of the heart’ that encompasses the pursuit of social justice and an ethics of care that recognises that the empowerment of mothering and motherhood needs to be at the centre of policy and practice that engage with single mothers suffering from poverty and homelessness, as this also tends to be ‘in the best interest of the child’.

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