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The Moorside blows the lid off the welfare state and how it has created a distorted view of parenthood within certain sections of society

By Nina Steele 

The MoorsideKnowing what I knew about the story of Karen Mathews, I was expecting to feel anger while watching The Moorside, the BBC’s dramatisation of the fake kidnapping of her daughter Shannon Mathews, so she could claim part of the reward money that was being offered for her safe return. She is the epitome of the benefit mum. Aged 33 at the time of the kidnapping, she had never worked and had 7 children by different men. We now know that she used her children purely as cash cows. The more she had, the more she earned on benefit. At some stage in the film, her boyfriend had to remind her that she had 7 children and not 6, as she wrongly told the police. In the words of her real life sister: “It took her days to remember she had seven children”. You cannot make it up!

Yet, I felt sorry for her, because it was obvious that she had some mental health issues. As much as I wanted her to take responsibility for her own life, it was clear that she had no sense of what that means. She is said to have been “twice diagnosed by psychologists as having a borderline learning disability and described in the report as emotionally vulnerable”. Naturally, that made her a prime target for unscrupulous men, who treated her like a commodity to be used and then discarded. As one of the actresses who plays her friend in the drama put it, she is damaged goods.

And so, even though what she did was despicable, I could not bring myself to be angry. Instead, I prefer to direct my anger at the welfare system that has allowed people like her to have children they obviously are unable to look after. Not only is the state having to pay a lot of money to mothers like her, but when many of those children inevitably end up in the care system, even more resources have to be deployed. That all of Karen Mathews’ children have been taken away and given new identities, is a case in point.

Recent changes to the benefit system is meant to rectify some of those early mistakes and make the system less attractive. Hopefully, this will act as an effective deterrent to children being born purely so they can be turned into cash. Unfortunately, the changes have come far too late for the many children like Shannon Mathews, whose lives may have been irretrievably damaged.

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