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Author leads campaign on child poverty.

Byline: Martha Linden

Millionaire author J K Rowling has launched an attack on the 'scandal' of lone parent poverty as the film of her book Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone broke box office records. The phenomenally successful writer told a conference in London that more than one million lone parent families are living in poverty - meaning a total of three in five children in one-parent families are poor.

She said: 'This Government has made some very substantial progress in tackling child poverty but, clearly, the need to maintain the government's focus, and to engage with the public on this most vital of issues, is absolutely essential.

'Lone parents and their children are the poorest groups in our society. We are a wealthy nation, yet we have one of the worst records of child poverty in the industrialised world. It is a scandal.'

The author was speaking at a conference for the National Council for One Parent Families, in which former England football manager Graham Taylor, who is an Aston Villa non-executive director, was unveiled as a new ambassador for the charity.

He told the conference of how he felt 'powerless' when his daughter Joanne, in her mid thirties, and mother of five-year-old Elsie, experienced marriage break-up.

He said: 'I had never expected that would happen in my family and nothing in my professional life had prepared me for the sense of powerlessness I felt when she became a lone mum. Suddenly I didn't know what I could do.

'I've learned that divorce or separation can affect a whole family. Grandparents can be affected emotionally and practically.'

He said his daughter, a fulltime teacher, had broken up 'amicably' with her then husband and she had not suffered any poverty. Her ex-husband is still involved with their child, he said and he had been 'very, veryproud' of how she had handled the divorce.

But he said he had been 'taken by surprise' by the challenges faced by lone parents.

'The discipline that is necessary when you bring up any child, the love, the care and the attention and the 100 per cent that you have to give. 'And yet at the same time you have to give back 100 per cent throughout the day when your daughter is not there. There is the juggling and balancing that has to go on in order to have a sane and a good life.'

The conference heard a plea from Ms Rowling for better understanding and awareness of who lone parents are and how they came to be bringing up children on their own.

She presented the results of a Mori survey conducted for the National Council for One Parent Families in August this year.

The interviews were conducted face-to-face with a sample of 1,953 adults across the UK.

Nearly a third of people taking part in the survey - 31 per cent - thought that teenagers made up between a quarter and a half of all lone parents and 17 per cent thought that more than half of lone parents were teenagers. In fact only 3 per cent of all lone parents are teenagers - the average age of a lone parent is 35.

Only 15 per cent of lone parents have never married or lived with their child's father, she told the conference. Yet on average the survey showed that the public think that it is over twice this level, at 30 per cent.

Ms Rowling, who has spoken in the past of the poverty she suffered as a single mother caring for her daughter, said: 'These figures provide clear evidence for what we have been saying for some time that there is a widespread lack of understanding and awareness of who lone parents are, and how they got to be raising children on their own.'

Ms Rowling is an ambassador for the charity along with Bob the Builder creator Kate Fawkes.

CAPTION(S):

J K Rowling with Christoper, aged seven, and Sophia, aged ten, at the National Council for One Parent Families' conference
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 20, 2001
Words:670
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