While many people would assume every teenage girl’s worst nightmare is falling pregnant, 16-year-old Sofia Sencier insists it would be a dream come true.
Originally published 20 March 2012;
Shockingly, she’s been trying to conceive with her 17-year-old boyfriend for a year because, incredibly, she feels being a mum will be easier than finding a job and is the only way she’ll secure a council-funded home.
'Women are stupid for working, you’re better off having a baby and living on benefits. I tried to get a job but haven’t been able to'
'There’s no work out there and it’s so easy to get a house and benefits for doing nothing,' says Sofia, who adds:
'Women are stupid for working, you’re better off having a baby and living on benefits. I tried to get a job but haven’t been able to.'
She adds: 'Five of my friends got pregnant to get a house last year and they’re 15 and 16 – it’s the only way to get anywhere. They couldn’t get jobs either.'
As figures released last week show youth unemployment has risen by 16,000 to 1.042m during the three months leading up to January – and statistics reveal the last Government’s pledge to halve teenage pregnancies has failed – experts say Sofia’s attitude is becoming more common.
Hilary Pannack, the CEO at Straight Talking, a teenage pregnancy charity, explains: 'Youth unemployment can increase the feeling of a low sense of acheivement and low self-esteem and some young girls feel that having a baby to gain benefits and housing can seem like a good option.
'But it’s unlikely they’ll get a council house straight away and they won’t get as much money as they think. They could lose their friends and will lose their childhood.'
Shockingly, Sofia, from Nelson, Cumbria, lost her virginity to a boyfriend at school when she was just 12.
The teen, who has four sisters aged 17 to 32, says: 'We didn’t use contraception – if I’d fallen pregnant, I would’ve been happy. I was already thinking being a mum was my only option as a lot of people around me were out of work.
'I couldn’t see the point of education. I never thought of university – it’s for rich people. I didn’t have any ambitions, I just wanted to be a mum.'
Sofia split from her boyfriend aged 13. By then, she’d been expelled from school for truanting and swearing at teachers and was attending a residential special needs school for her ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia.
'My mum used to nag me to take education more seriously, but I couldn’t be bothered,' she says.
Sofia – whose parents split when she was five – failed all her GCSEs and, after leaving school at 15, she tried to get a job.
'I applied for six hairdressing jobs and got two interviews in salons – but loads of people applied. I even went for jobs cleaning the salon floor – but girls with qualifications were picked. There aren’t enough jobs – I gave up,' explains Sofia.
I felt I didn’t have choices. I decided to get pregnant to get a council house.'
'I saw my mates with babies getting incomes and homes. I was jealous – I wanted that and thought being a mum sounded easier than getting up for work.'
At just 15, Sofia decided to start a family. She says: 'I met my second boyfriend at 14 and, a year later, we agreed I needed to get pregnant to get a house. We’ve been trying ever since. My sisters don’t approve, but I don’t care,' she says, adding she’s not in contact with her mum following a disagreement and hasn’t discussed it with her dad.
Now 16, Sofia, who’s currently staying with a friend, receives £275 disability living allowance for her ADHD and £220 income support a month – but knows she could get more if she has a child.
She says: 'I’ve heard I could get a house and receive £75 a week housing benefit to pay the rent. I want a two-bedroom house with a lovely nursery.'
Sofia, who is 'on a break' from her boyfriend, but is confident they’ll get back together, adds: 'If the Government is going to give me money for having a baby, I’m going to take it. I hope to be expecting and living in a council house later this year.'
Unemployed mum-of-nine Iona Heaten, 43, says Sofia’s story is all too familiar. During the ’80s recession, aged 19, she felt getting pregnant was one of her only options.
Iona, who’s three months pregnant with her 10th child, says: 'I quit school before my GCSEs. I didn’t have any qualifications and there was a recession – there weren’t any jobs. I felt I didn’t have choices. I decided to get pregnant to get a council house.'
With an unemployed boyfriend of five months, she tried to conceive and, after having two children, she was given a three-bed council house and benefits including income support, child benefit and housing benefit.
Iona – who split with the father of her eldest three kids when the youngest was five months – says: 'I was really happy – I had the house I wanted. I can understand why some teenagers who leave school without any qualifications feel this is their only option – especially in the current climate.'
Iona, who now lives with partner Paul Brown, 45 – a metal polisher who’s the father of her six youngest kids – still doesn’t work, arguing that being a mum is a full-time job. She lives in a four-bed council home and receives £21k benefits a year, including child benefit, tax credits and housing benefit.
But she warns Sofia: 'My benefits don’t go as far as people think and being a young mum is hard. You don’t think about the sleepless nights, constant feeding and nappy changes before you get pregnant. Some girls think babies are a meal ticket but they should try to get an education.
'If they can work first and have a family later, it’s better. I feel I missed out on a lot.'
Consultant psychologist Dr Cecilia d’Felice agrees. She says: 'Girls feel there are no jobs, so they turn to the only resource they have – their bodies – to get what they think they need. Being a mum is the biggest job a woman will ever do. If Sofia feels she has the time and energy to be a mother, she has the time and energy to get a job.
'She should be mindful about cuts to benefits, the State’s desperate housing situation and that raising a family is a huge responsibility.'