What goes without saying comes without saying (Part 2)

lousie casey 3

Louise Casey grabbed the headlines yesterday with an interview she gave in the Telegraph where she suggested that ‘having a baby might not be the best solution’ for families that are struggling. Following on from the first post which looked at Eric Pickles ‘common sense’ approach this post will explore Casey’s words in a bit more detail to see what remain unquestioned and self-evident.

Casey said:

My own personal experience is that families with lots of children across lots of different age groups are stretched. Managing a 21-year-old that’s still living with you that’s committing crime down to having another one that’s two, anybody would see that that’s a challenge.

Having a baby might not be the best solution, and actually doing something just for themselves like getting a job, getting on a course, getting their health sorted out could be the right thing to do.

The best family intervention gets into the family and helps them see what’s the best way for them to go forward. Sometimes adding another child isn’t right.

(Asked whether that included accompanying women to go to the doctor to get advice about contraception, she replied)

Yes that’s right. I’ve come across cases where that’s what some family intervention project workers have done, definitely.

A picture is very cleverly painted of mothers who are sexually (over) active without contraception over a long period of time, probably lone parents (no mention at all of fathers, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends etc) who can’t control their children and who see having more children as ‘a solution’ to their ‘troubles’. None of this is supported by any evidence and, in fact, Casey has form in talking about large families. Ruth Levitas has argued that her ‘Listening to Troubled Families’ report was

Policy making by anecdote, more akin to tabloid journalism than serious research … ‘Listening to Troubled Families’ presents the problem as one of large families by multiple partners forming a burgeoning dysfunctional underclass resistant to reform.

Bev Skeggs has written that ‘in any definition of respectability, sexuality lurks beneath the inscription’ and that it is usually in regard to the ‘governance’ of sexuality (p37, 2004). Lisa McKenzie’s recent work in St. Ann’s in Nottingham draws on Skeggs and highlights that working class women ‘have to work hard in becoming respectable, usually through adopting middle-class practices and by ‘dis-identifying’ from being working class’ – the ‘getting a job, getting on a course’ in Casey’s words.

McKenzie also notes that cultural signifiers

… do a great deal of work in coding a way of life that has been deemed valueless, and become more poignant when we are discussing working class women whose bodies, appearance, bearing and adornment are also central in coding working class people.(p5, 2013)

Sexuality could also be added to the above list. There are further parallels that can be drawn between the sexually active (probably lone?) mother of a 21-year-old in Casey’s vignette and the way in which working class mothers of mixed race children are often thought of in McKenzie’s work:

Zena said to me that everyone thinks ‘she’s up for it’ and Lynn, a woman in her forties with an adult daughter, described being known as ‘rough’ because she came from a council estate and also ‘ready’ meaning sexually available. (p7, 2013)

Casey didn’t explicitly say that ‘these families need to stop shagging/breeding’, although given her desire not to ‘hide behind shades of language’ and a seeming preference for ‘being straight with people’ it’s presumably not out of the question in future inteviews. For now, though, we are left to ‘join up the dots of pathologisation’ (McKenzie p5, 2013) and Casey has certainly made sure we get the picture.


McKenzie, L. (2013) Narratives from a Nottingham council estate: a story of white working-class mothers with mixed-race children, Ethnic and Racial Studies, DOI:10.1080/01419870.2013.776698

Skeggs, B. (2004) Class Self and Culture, London: Routledge