The One Where I End up on Newsnight

You might have caught a report in the news yesterday about a “tsunami of family breakdown” heading our way – because apparently 1m children are living in a man desert thanks to their single Mothers, who fail to provide them with decent male role models.

The Centre for Social Justice, a right-wing think tank that is very supportive of the traditional family model, claims that children of single Mums are more likely to be involved with teenage crime, educational underachievement and depression.

It’s the kind of story that REALLY gets my goat. Because the children of single parents don’t under-achieve BECAUSE they are being raised by feckless single mothers, or because they lack male role models. It’s the old confusion between correlation and causation raising its head again, isn’t it?

The children of single parents often underachieve because single Mums tend to earn less money; tend to be less well educated; and tend to have less opportunities overall.

And that’s what I found myself chatting about last night on Newsnight. As you do.

I have to admit – the notion of appearing on live TV was absolutely terrifying but I comforted myself with the theory that probably almost nobody I know watches Newsnight, so if I made an idiot of myself, at least nobody would notice. And as my Mum said, it’s a life experience, so why not?

The whole thing wasn’t confirmed until just after 8pm, and the BBC had arranged a car to pick me up at 9pm so I took the world’s fastest shower and then Flea helped pick out “your very nicest clothes” for my TV debut.

A quick drive to Salford later, I was being met by a BBC runner who whisked me into a studio, put a microphone under my sweater (top tip for TV appearances: wear two layers so that strange men don’t have to navigate your bra) and Sellotaped a microphone to my ear. Apparently, all I had to do was stare down the camera and pretend I was talking to Jeremy himself. Simple. *cough*

A man in London started chatting to me through the earpiece, checking my name and letting me know I’d be on air in about half an hour, so I busied myself on Facebook, asking my team for some reassuring words. Someone brought me a cup of coffee. I took a few sneaky photos – well, I am a blogger, after all…

Then the voice in my ear suddenly said, “About three minutes, there, Miss Whittle…” 


“You’ll be live on screen as soon as this video segment finishes, so prepare yourself.” 

The buggers had only changed the running order! I turned off my phone (“You’d be surprised how many people phone you when they see you on live TV,” said the runner) and realised I’d have to wing it without any advice whatsoever. I scribbled some notes on a piece of paper, said a quick prayer, and tried not to look like a complete babbling idiot.

And ten minutes later, I was done!

If you want to see how it went, you can see for yourself below, but I think it went okay – and I did remember to make the point that what’s important here (in my view) is not demonising single Mums but rather looking at how we can support families of all shapes and sizes, and focusing on  how we can improve the availability of flexible, high-quality childcare and flexible working to allow single Mums to look after their children AND take on meaningful work that will support their family.


This morning, Flea was very keen to know how I’d got on. I told her someone on Twitter liked my jumper, which she took as a personal compliment, since she picked it out. I tried to explain to her that some people think kids of single Mums don’t do very well, because they are mostly looked about by just one parent.

“If I’d been on Newsnight, I would have told them I am not forlorn in the slightest,” she said, adding: “That’s a fancy word for depression, obviously.”

You know what? I think this child of a single Mum is doing just fine, thanks.



Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the HIBS100, Foodies100 and Tots100 - an online community of more than 15,000 UK bloggers. She is also a busy single Mum to Flea, the world's coolest eight year old.

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  1. says

    I was watching! I even recorded it, because I am sad like that! I think you made excellent points and you looked completely calm while the other guest was getting a little flustered. You are a natural on TV. And yes, Flea chose your outfit perfectly! As a child of a single parent, I don’t feel that I underachieved or had a worse life. In fact, I had a far better life than if my parents had stayed together and I am grateful to both of them for that.
    HelpfulMum recently posted..Week 50 – What has made me happyMy Profile

  2. says

    I watched it on iplayer this morning, not only did you look lovely but you sounded very intelligent and had a well thought out arguments and points. The whole idea of them somehow forcing men into the lives of children which they don’t want to be involved in sounds very destructive for all parties involved imo.
    Heather recently posted..Top Ten Grossest Things Ever About Being A ParentMy Profile

    • says

      Aw, thanks. I think the idea that adding any male figure into a family magically fixes problems of poverty, lack of opportunity and unemployment is just risible, to be honest.

  3. purplemum says

    Articulate and yes a very fine sweater. The bloke your debating with kinda grates tbh. “most women have never had a fight, that;s not how women communicate” um he obviously wasn’t at my secondary school.

  4. Ant says

    As a dad today, who was one of four raised by a single mum many moons ago, I agree with every point you make. My siblings and I turned out to be a ‘mixed bag’ in terms of personalities and so-called achievements. Our father was totally absent during our formative years, which was a good thing. Had he been around, the levels of family conflict would have been a significant issue for us, as they are for far too many other families. This type of conflict, along with poverty, are the prime issues here, not this father figure myth. I am pleased my role model was and still is my mum.

    • says

      Hi Ant, thanks for commenting :)

      I think the best academic research shows the most important factor in children’s outcomes, in terms of education, crime etc is socio-economic – the mother’s age, level of education and income have far more bearing than whether a father is a good role model.

  5. says

    I’ve just watched and you did brilliantly. I’d have been a jibbering wreck, I don’t know how you managed to look so calm. This sort of lazy reporting drives me mad. I’ve seen the same thing this morning with a report saying northerners are more likely to die prematurely than southerners as if being born in Durham condems you to ill health rather than acknowledging the more relevant link between wealth and education and health outcomes. Frustrating that they don’t seem to thing the public hand handle a slightly more complex view of what’s going on.
    Cat (Yellow Days) recently posted..Our fourth Parenting Pin-it PartyMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks so much Cat – it was quite nerve-wracking but I’m predisposed to love a good debate. I have ranted regularly about causality and correlation – they are NOT the same, but it serves some people’s agendas to assume they are.

  6. Nikki says

    Just watched it on iplayer – my thoughts:

    1. How calm are you!!! Go girl!!
    2. How did you not just say “what are you talking about fool” to that man?
    3. Re girls and fights? He’s from a different planet. Show me any child that’s never been bullied or involved in a fight and I’ll take you to Neverland for tea…..
    4. Yes, a male role model is important, but it doesn’t need to be the father.

    Last point – ah yes, single parents are to blame for all of the world’s issues – how did you forget that Sally? Tut tut……(Joke – obv)!

    • says

      1. Ha! Thanks :)
      2. I think from sentence one, I knew he was coming from a VERY different place to me, let’s just put it that way!
      3. Quite.
      4. Amen, sister.

      And yes. We’re a terrible liability, I know.

  7. susie newday says

    Amen to flea. Huge hugs to you(cause I know you love those) :-)
    and you know I think you are an amazing mum.

    • Vegemitevix says

      Hi Susie and Sally, Hey Susie what proxy server did you use to see the iplayer outside of the UK? I can’t seem to get to see it and I know there’s a way. Way to go Sally, you big star you! Vx NB/ Couldn’t agree with you more especially as I was a single parent for over three years (and arguably even before that!) and I believe my teens have worked out just fine.

  8. says

    Well done Sally – you kept your cool in what seemed to be something of a manufactured debate: you both want the best for kids, and that came across really clearly in what you, especially, were saying. Very calm and collected – you’re a tv natural!
    Potty Mummy recently posted..Silent SundayMy Profile

  9. TheBoyandMe says

    You were ace! Looked far more eloquent and knowledgeable than the daft bloke banging on about… well hang on, he kept changing his argument didn’t he? When he realised that he was talking complete twaddle!

  10. says

    Well done Sally. It all happens so quick doesn’t it. Two weeks ago I’d never been on tv and not been in the paper since I was in school. Suddenly I had three tv appearances, three on two different radio stations and I went international in more newspapers than I can count…repeatedly. I’m left sitting at home thinking “what was all that about?” Lol.

    You did brilliantly. Well done for standing up for single mums. Xx

  11. says

    You came across really well, and made sensible, intelligent points, whilst also making it sound like you’d actually READ the research concerned. Quite the opposite of the bloke who was on with you. I watched it on catch-up on iPlayer, and then had to rewind it to get the geekdaddy to watch too, as I knew he would agree with you about the discrimination towards fathers in schools.

    And I LOVE that jumper!
    Ruth (geekmummy) recently posted..Riding without stabilisersMy Profile

    • says

      I’ll tell you a secret. I didn’t read the research. But discrimination against Dads is another one of those things that REALLY bugs me – it’s so sad we have a society where a man who wants to get involved in kids’ activities is automatically assumed to be doing something wrong by a huge portion of the community.

    • says

      My hair thanks you. I blow dried it and everything, you know. Okay, in five mins flat while the BBC car was waiting outside my house, but still… it’s nice to know the effort was appreciated :)

  12. says

    Well done Sally for a thoughtful debate in which Paxo was able to be silent. Based on years and years of listening to him moderate, in good temper and bad, that is no small achievement.

  13. says

    BRILLIANT! Well done you, Newsnight – I say! You’ve hit the big time :-) Oh, the kudos of being able to claim, “I’ve been on Newsnight and escaped the wrath of Paxman!”
    The only forlorn thing about any of this is the average iQ of a think-tank member. THINK-tank…? they’re ‘avin’ a giraffe aren’t they?
    Aisha from Expatlog recently posted..Traitor to my CultureMy Profile

  14. says

    I thought you were ruddy brilliant. That man meant well but he was talking about living in an ideal world. He obviously has no real experience of the situation or even knows anyone in our position. I don’t get anything from my ex-husband either – the CSA started taking funds from his wages so he gave up work. He’d already got the near £1000 debt owed down to £8 per week, but he even stopped that so his idea of ‘forcing people to take responsibility’ is pie in the sky, although you put it rather more politely that that while he floundered. Good on you. Hope this is the start of things to come for you :)
    Anya from Older Single Mum and The Healer recently posted..Everybody is a Somebody – #BML.My Profile

    • says

      Thanks Anya, it’s nice to hear! My ex is a great support now, but the process of getting there hasn’t been without its fraught moments!

  15. says

    You were awesome,

    I feel as one of afore mentioned team I may have let you down with motivational comments…..

    Sorry bout that.


  16. says

    Just watched you on iplayer, Sally. So good to hear Mum bloggers be smart and articulate in a very public platform arena like Newsnight. I saw Shaun Bailey speaking from a particular place in his childhood that doesn’t necessarily apply to many people, and seemed to speak primarily about absent fathers’ lack of financial accountability for their children . He acknowledged too that he had had great support from other males both inside and outside his family as he was growing up. Wouldn’t we do well to remember that many successful and happy people have come from a single parent household? Ex-President of US Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama to name but two.
    jo recently posted..Wedding of the YearMy Profile

  17. says

    You did bloody brilliantly missus! *stands up and applauds*

    My best friend is a single mum – she had her son at 19 and he’s never really had a male role model in his life as she split up with his Dad when he was just a toddler. He’s going to be 21 soon and I’ve watched him over those 21 years turn into a wonderful young man. He has respect for women and can look after himself etc.

    I’m so glad single Mums were represented by you, Sally. Bravo!
    SAHMlovingit recently posted..Distant MemoriesMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks Heather, I think single Mums deserve every credit and support, and it infuriates me how quick the media are sometimes to blame everything on them!

  18. Nadine Hill, Juggle Mum says

    I’ve downloaded it on ‘Catch Up’ Sky TV so I can watch it later! This is the first time I’ve ever downloaded Newsnight… it’s nestled in my ‘to watch’ list along with The Good Wife, Hannibal and The Wizard of Diz (that last one is my 5 year old’s!)

  19. Vic says

    You kicked ass! Valid points, well put across. Whereas your ‘opponent’, every time he spoke I just thought “I wonder how you’d work that with my ex?”

  20. Threebecomefour says

    I thought you did amazingly well. You were professional, articulate and calm and listened to the points being made by the other guest (he didn’t extend you the same courtesy however). You presented yourself far more clearly than many other, theoretically experienced, guests that have been on the show. Well done! I couldn’t have done that.

  21. says

    I thought you did brilliantly. Single mums do a brilliant job on the whole, I did it for 5 years and it was hard work being the being one everything falls to, but I do not believe my daughter has suffered for it. I quite agree that many of the things blamed on single parents are actually due to poverty. Life these days is very hard on one income, it’s pretty hard on two! A little more support wouldn’t go amiss, rather than constantly being blamed for the ills of society.
    Sonya Cisco recently posted..Write Like Nobody’s Reading.My Profile

  22. says

    Well done you! I thought the points you raised were important and he did look a lot more flustered than you.

    I am divorced and had to leave my abusive husband when my son was 4.5 months old. If the role model does not step up to the plate and do all what he promised he would do, then you end up in a position of being a single parent. I had hopes and dreams, but I had to put my son FIRST and get out. I am now fighting a system where I do not get housed, as people that seek asylum have more chances than I do. I am degree educated and worked my whole god damn adult life (and even worked school holidays, had two paper rounds and picked fruit at school).

    Also, if the father leaves jobs because the CSA are involved and find out where they’re working… how does that help?

    There needs to be better male role models and a fairer system for those single parents who don’t just breed to get a house!
    BabyGaGaLou recently posted..Happy Fathers Day…My Profile

  23. says

    Only saw this today – so well said, Sally, such important points to make. I think Flea would have made quite an impression on Newsnight too! I totally believe that the worse outcomes for children raised by single parents are due to lack of support. So much research shows that regardless of family makeup, maternal education levels and income are the link to worse outcomes for the child, as is a socially isolated parent (which is more likely to happen to single parents because of the constant juggling). As a single parent it is much harder to access training or have a high enough income to give a child a full range of opportunities, it’s this we’ve got to change, and stop guilt tripping single parents who are doing the most amazing job under really tough circumstances. Also well said about non-father male role models, that is so bang on.
    cartside recently posted..Down at the MelaMy Profile


  1. […] about how Sally Whittle ended up on Newsnight, and did an amazing job, and Iona Burchell muses about Positive Male Role Model […]

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