SINGLE parents are poorer than pensioners, J K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, said yesterday. She urged the Government to do more for them.
Miss Rowling, who is a single parent, said: "Poverty is a lot like childbirth. You know it's going to hurt before it happens, but you'll never know how much until you've experienced it. I had naively supposed the system would be geared to helping those determined to support themselves and their children. How much I had to learn."
She accused Ann Widdecombe, shadow home secretary, of negative stereotyping by suggesting that there was a "preferred norm" for raising children. Miss Rowling, a former teacher, told the annual conference of the National Council for One Parent Families that disruptive children could just as easily have two parents, living together. "Vote for the party who offers the best deal for lone parents and their children - and urge them to do more."
Miss Rowling, 34, who earned about £20 million last year, has spoken of writing her first Harry Potter novel while living as a single mother in a "mouse-infested" flat in Edinburgh on £70 a week. She left her husband, a Portuguese journalist, after a three-year marriage in 1993.
The "baseless stereotype of the teenage mother eager to get her hands on the taxpayers' money in the form of a council flat" angered her. She accused John Major, the former Tory Prime Minister, and Miss Widdecombe of perpetuating the myth.
"Mr Major gave a speech in which he attributed the breakdown of discipline among schoolchildren to lone parents. I am as angry about that speech now as I was when I first heard it. I taught more than one disruptive, damaged child whose home contained two married parents, apparently incapable of providing a loving or stable environment.
"A quarter of all families living in Britain are headed by a lone parent. Why are we, as a society, ready to ignore this state of affairs? I am typical of the vast majority of lone parents. I never set out to raise my daughter alone."
Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, said he was "moved" by her comments. He promised to take one million children out of poverty by the end of the next parliament and to make families a priority in the next Budget.