Hove woman chucked out of Jobcentre for feeding toddler

// 4 September 2008

24-year-old Samantha Corbridge was looking for work. As she is parent to a young child, she took herself and her two-year-old daughter to the Jobcentre. Reports The Argus:

But while she was there Robyn needed feeding and when Miss Corbridge took out the milk bottle she was asked to leave.

She told The Argus yesterday: “Robyn started crying, I was rocking her pram to try and calm her down.

“The staff told me I must keep her quiet because she was disrupting the other people and we were in a place of work.

“I apologised and said I thought she was hungry.

“I looked through my baby bag to get a bottle I had prepared for her and suddenly a member of staff rushed over and said: ‘You can’t give her that. It’s classed as food and drink so if you want to give it to her you’ll have to leave the premises’.

“As I took the milk off my daughter she started to scream, which made it even more difficult for me to take her outside. I felt humiliated.”

A Jobcentre spokesman has apologised, but surely the damage has been done. Young mothers should not be humiliated or challenged when they go to look for work, and Jobcentres should be set up to welcome and accomodate parents.

Via Harpymarx, who points out:

The rules and regulations are rigid and show no flexibility yet NL [New Labour] want people to find any old job but without giving good proper support especially for people with kids.

So here is a basic incentive, James Purnell, introduce free childcare to help women like Samantha.

Comments From You

Ruth Moss // Posted 5 September 2008 at 6:50 am

Poor woman.

I’ve always thought there should be provision made for babies and young children at interviews anywhere, but at the very least, in the job centre, what with the current push to get single mothers back into work (the government is taking away their benefits ever and ever sooner don’t forget), if they didn’t think to lay on some kind of childcare at the very least they could let her take her baby with her…

Harpymarx // Posted 5 September 2008 at 10:02 am

Thanks for that Jess.

I found the story utterly appalling especially as NuLab are so utterly keen on getting people into jobs but can’t be bothered to provide the basics such as free childcare.

Heather M. Morgan // Posted 5 September 2008 at 11:41 am

And this wasn’t even a breast! Interesting in light of yesterday’s revelations about the ‘glass ceiling’ having reverted back to concrete…

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 5 September 2008 at 12:32 pm

This woman’s experience was indeed appalling but sadly not uncommon given the fact New Labour is primarily concerned with ‘removing lazy individuals from the unemployment register.’ Labour’s definition not mine. Job Centres are not welcoming places at the best of times and I have had practical experience of this. There is a culture of disbelief and suspicion jobseekers are deliberately abusing the system.

I’ve seen young women who have had to bring their young children into these centres, being given disapproving looks and if a child so much as cries or refuses to be a ‘passive and silent object.’ The mother is immediately subjected to critical and disapproving looks from some staff working at these centres.

I do not blame individual staff because guidelines and rules come from higher management and ultimately responsibility lies with New Labour who are intent on portraying unemployed women and men as ‘lazy individuals who are deliberately defrauding so-called hardworking families.’ New Labour is punitive and intent on driving everyone including individuals with long-term health problems into work irrespective of their abilities and health.

Nicola // Posted 5 September 2008 at 1:34 pm

That’s ridiculous.

I read a similar thing in my local paper this morning about a woman asked to leave a leisure centre for breastfeeding her baby – you can read it here: http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/Breastfeeding-mum-in-Leeds-poolside.4459074.jp

Bethan // Posted 5 September 2008 at 2:07 pm

It beggers belief. Did the member of staff really think that on seeing a child drinking a bottle from a bottle the rest of the people present would start cracking open cans of Special Brew and having Wotsit fights? What a job’s worth! And such a nice way of showing women and mothers trying to (re)enter the workplace exactly how much they are welcome in the public sphere. Seriously, what alternative did she have?

Cara // Posted 5 September 2008 at 2:38 pm

What? The Jobcentre is a workplace. So are job interviews. It is NOT appropriate to take a 2 year old at all, let alone breastfeed!

I don’t blame the other Jobcentre customers. It is impossible to concentrate on anything, let alone looking for a job, when some kid is screaming.

it’s not unreasonable to ask the women to leave to breastfeed if food and drink are not allowed (as they shouldn’t be, who would want a JobCentre smelling of and sticky with other people’s food). I am all for certain places allowing breastfeeding in public, so she could go to one and come back to the JobCentre later, how hard is that?

Yes I can understand some women cannot afford childcare, and don’t have any friends or family to leave the child with…or the friend/ family has an emergency. is held up, is ill, or whatever, and can’t take the kid at the last minute. And I do sympathise in that situation. But there is no divine right to bring a small child to a place of work.

I am all for free childcare being provided. I can see it must be a nightmare trying to look for a job with little money and a small child, and once they find a job, I can see that people cannot afford childcare so are, again, stuck if their informal childcare can’t take the child and a replacement can’t be found – this is a big factor in people going back onto benefits.

But none of this makes the JobCentre unreasonable for having rules.

Ruth // Posted 5 September 2008 at 7:28 pm

Cara, before going into rant mode, it might help if you *read* the article. She was not breastfeeding (not IMO that it matters if she was). Also, the Jobcentre is a workplace for the staff, but NOT for customers. For them, it is a public place. There is a difference between “having rules” and being obstinate and inflexible about enforcing them.

Susan Francis // Posted 5 September 2008 at 8:05 pm


She wasn’t breastfeeding.

Also, you can’t just “go to [feed] and come back to the JobCentre later”. You haven’t been in one recently have you? They can make you wait as long as they like, but if you’re five minutes late for your appointment, you’ll have to start again with the making an appointment by phone. Your time as the person signing on is worthless, don’t you know?

As far as blaming NuLab, I’d like to put the blame on Thatcher for introducing the anybody-can-get-a-job-if-they-want-one dogma, but it’s true that it got worse between mid-2002 and mid-2005.

Ruth Moss // Posted 5 September 2008 at 8:42 pm


Actually, the woman wasn’t breastfeeding. Not that her feeding method should have made the slightest bit of difference, but the fact you think she was shows you’ve not paid much notice to the story itself.

God, aren’t children inconvenient, eh?

Best for those of us who have ’em to stay at home quietly, or at least pay through the nose for a babysitter so we can go out without remind other people that there are vulnerable, needy little people in the world in addition to them.

blue milk // Posted 6 September 2008 at 7:56 am

Great post, dreadful experience. Good on you for covering stories like this one.

Anne Onne // Posted 6 September 2008 at 3:03 pm

The JobCentre is surely, first and foremost, a service to people who are unemployed, many of whom have children and most of whom are too poor to afford a babysitter. It’s supposed to be somewhere they can go to for help, something the government is trying to encourage. It is NOT their workplace, nor does what the staff are allowed to do themselves affect the customers/users of the service. We don’t expect people who go to a restaurant to wear the uniform, or not eat because the waiters can’t, do we? Furthermore, exceptions should be able to be made in cases where keeping to the rules would be incredibly inconvenient, or bad for their health.

As I see it, this is supposedly an issue of whether they have been cleared to allow consumption of food on the premises (let’s not forget pesky laws and licenses, here), NOT an issue of breastfeeding, since the article very clearly states that she took out a bottle to feed the child.

In which case the government should be aware that people might need to breastfeed, or bottlefeed children on the premises. Unless there is a VERY good health and safety reason why they shouldn’t, this should be relaxed, because unlike adults, small children cannot simply be left hungry for a little longer, nor do they understand beaurocracy. Little children are a hugely limiting factor as it is because of the care they take up, and it should be the government’s aim to reduce the factors and difficulties affecting their carers.

For a long time it’s been argued where and how women should be allowed to feed their children publicly, and laws and regulations should already be in place that allow this. If not, that needs to be changed. Bearing in mind the government is trying to make mothers go back to work earlier, threatening to cut benefits for mothers of older children etc, it’s even stupider that it has very little support in place for mothers who want to work.

Rules are one thing, but how they are enforced, and how the people on the recieving end are treated, is entirely another. If it really was out of the league of the workers to allow a woman to bottlefeed a child in the premises, there should have been a way to help her without making her feel like a criminal for having the temerity to want a job and have a child.

Juliet // Posted 6 September 2008 at 4:03 pm

If Samantha hadn’t given her crying daughter the bottle she would probably have been up in Daily Mail Court accused of child cruelty!

I don’t agree with Jennifer (Drew), in that I do actually blame some members of staff. They have no right to give a mother and child critical, disapproving looks. Who the hell do they think they are? I bet they wouldn’t dare have given some six-foot something man disapproving looks, certainly not looks he’d have noticed. Each individual can opt to behave decently, and telling a mother she can’t give her baby a bottle because it contravenes some rule is definitely not decent behaviour!

Rhona // Posted 6 September 2008 at 4:09 pm

Can I put a little tangential fly in the ointment here?

I am not a child-lover, to say the least, and back in the days before the Glorious Dawn of Self Employment, I used to HATE it when mums brought their kids into the office (I realise childcare can ocassionally let people down, but every day for a FORTNIGHT? Did you forget you had a job?). I have very sensitive hearing and even the high-pitched voices of children playing, never mind howling, is like somebody running their nails down a blackboard to me.

I really struggle to reconcile my feminist views of equality with my ‘anti-child’ stance and, while I don’t want to cause a massive fight on this post and dicert from the point, I would really like to see a blog post from somebody who perhaps feels similarly in terms of equality vs preferring not to have to deal with other people’s kids…

In relation to the discussion in the post, however, I think this was a typical ‘jobsworth’ reaction to a fairly inane rule – heavens, even we child-haters would rather see a hungry baby or child pacified with the breast or bottle than howl its head off in a confined space! ;)

Rachael // Posted 6 September 2008 at 6:09 pm

The Jobsentre is still a place of work for it’s employees so they should enjoy the same benefits as any other employees- and this includes rules about food.

I have been in jobcentres recently and they are not great places at all for anyone so they should be made as comfortable for the childfree as much as those with children.

And I think Ruth’s comment about “God’ aren’t children inconvinient” shows more about her need to have her own choices validated – rather than children’s needs.

To have children IS a choice – and yes some people do find them inconvienient – but not because they are “vulnerable” but because that is how some people feel about them.

Ruth Moss // Posted 7 September 2008 at 7:29 am

My “God aren’t children inconvenient” comment was sarcastic – I don’t find children inconvenient at all. But yes they ARE vulnerable. They’re unable to do certain things for themselves and have to rely on an adult to help them; the younger they are, the more vulnerable they are.

Our society isn’t keen on vulnerable people; those that are not able to do certain things for themselves, those that are reliant upon other carers; just look at the prevalence of child abuse and elder abuse – at both ends of the age scale.

Personally I think it’s time to call this dislike of and discrimination against children what it really is – ageism.

Amity // Posted 7 September 2008 at 10:28 am

I would really like to see a blog post from somebody who perhaps feels similarly in terms of equality vs preferring not to have to deal with other people’s kids…

Hmm, that’s a tough one. I guess it’s like saying you want equal rights for racial minorities but don’t want to have to see or deal with them in public. Separate but equal didn’t work for black people in the US and I don’t think it will work for women with children and those without. By the simple act of segregating you divide.

I can empathise with your anti-child feelings because I found myself often having them too, before I had kids. Now that I’m able to look back and examine the causes for those feelings, I think that I was trying to shield myself from thinking about the one thing that truly does make me different from men — the ability to bear children. And as we all know, this ability has historically kept women down and prevented many from recognising their potential. We all dread becoming that 1950s housewife whose life revolves around her man and her children and who never gets to know herself or fulfill her dreams. In bucking against that lifestyle, I think many of us as feminists decide to completely reject the idea of motherhood and children as a way to perhaps make things easier for ourselves and not draw any distinctions between us and the male world we are so desperately trying to gain equality in. However, I would say that we shouldn’t be striving for equality as defined in the current man’s world, but creating a totally new set of parameters that embrace and include motherhood and children within them. Maybe then the idea of being around children or becoming a mother wouldn’t make so many women’s blood run cold.

That is not to say that all women who dislike children are projecting their fear onto them and secretly want babies, I’m just sharing from my own experiences and feelings because I’ve seen both sides of the coin.

tefelome // Posted 7 September 2008 at 10:51 pm

i think its a bit silly for the staff to have banned the woman from feeding the child, theres a difference between someone munching on a smelly mcdonalds meal and a child fedding from a bottle. but i also understand that this is a place of work, and a child screaming is a noise that is hard to ignore, and if this child was screaming a lot i can see how they would have asked to keep the child quiet. the thing with the bottle i think is a bit jobsworth i think. but i think people also need to see that not everyone loves children and are tolerant towards their noise, everyone is different, and if people dont like kids, then ok, so be it.

Willow Moonbeam // Posted 7 September 2008 at 11:59 pm

The problem is the gendering of the public sphere and the workplace as serious, masculine, impersonal, profession – and thus opposed to the private sphere, the personal, children and – oh yes – women. As far as I understand it, job centres are a public place and a public service and surely those who have no employment and small children to provide for should be welcomed and helped to find active employment should they choose it. The quasi-Victorian attitude to children being seen and not heard seems to be such a kneejerk one – white noise, conversation and so forth being unavoidable in a public place anyway. It seems to always operate as a reminder that the public sphere demands adherance to a strict – and by implication masculine – code of conduct. Infant milk, breast feeding and bottlefeeding should be differentiated from an adult casually snacking; milk is vital for their growth and sustenance, and the fact that some people may find it objectionable amazes me. That many will defend a woman’s right to dress how she likes allowing quite rightly for individual self expression, and that Playboy bunny branded t-shirt or plunging cleavage revealing tops which solely sexualise and objectify the breasts are deemed socially acceptable, whereas a mother quietly feeding her baby attracts rancour.

The issue of childcare has also been raised, and one that definitely will remain a huge roblem that needs to be tackled. But it strikes me, reading similar articles or commentary in the media lately, that there’s been much discussion by feminists about maternity in general and it’s position in the workplace – and coupled with various media horror stories of poor mothering, the debate on working mothers, plus the domestic goddess brigade – its clear that motherhood is fine and dandy as long as it’s natural – and naturally kept at home.

Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams // Posted 8 September 2008 at 9:06 am

I think the point here is about the responsibility of a Government who has changed the rules and requires women with 24 month old children to go into a job-centre, to provide facilities which enable that without disruption to the rest of the people using the service. They are the ones creating the situation, not the mother. They have a duty of care to both parties. It’s very easy to make policy changes when you’re in the cosseted ivory towers of Government and I’m of the understanding that Tony Blurt brought his children to work on numerous occasions – but I guess couldn’t quite translate that the same needs and situations might occur for the people he was supposed to be representing.

This is why, we as feminists have to get behind the campaign for mothers, even if we don’t have children. If you haven’t already seen it – Fawcett have a new campaign called ‘keeping mum’, which has a link to a 2-minute action – it was literally filling out an e-postcard and pressing send. http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/index.asp?PageID=644 I did it already – and it immediately made me feel better – that I was taking some action – however small.

BareNakedLady // Posted 8 September 2008 at 10:51 am

The thing that really seems stupid in all this is *what* the JobCentre workers actually made the poor woman leave for. The child starts crying & is disturbing people and they ask the mother to try and quieten it; fair enough, there are other people there who are trying to work. But when she pulls out a bottle in order to do so – suddenly *that’s* a problem? Pure red tape and mindless obedience of pointless rules. I’m sure the other people there would have been much less disturbed by the child quietly having a bottle than by the inevitable fuss and upset caused by taking it away and forcing the mother to leave. Presumably the whole point of the no-food-and-drink rule is not to disturb the other people in the JobCentre, but these days people just blindly follow rules. Even without engaging with the whole issue of whether a mother has the right to feed her child, surely common sense should have made the JobCentre people see that the best thing to do is just let the kid have the damn bottle.

Maybe they were worried about computers or something, but even so… a simple request of the mother to be careful the bottle didn’t get spilled, would have been quite sufficient.

Rachael // Posted 8 September 2008 at 11:53 am

Amity – I think your thoughts on some women’s reasons for not wanting children were really lovely. Very well put. But thank you for acknowledging that not all women feel that way. I personally do not.

I went to a restaurant yesterday and actually got a head ache from a child who was screaimg so loudly that some patrons (incl. myself, left). this happens more and more regularly nowadays.

However, a friend of mine who also reads this site avidly was as she put it “midly offended” by your ideas on comparing ‘child seperatism’ and racial seperatism.

She is a women of colour and she said that you really cannot compare black people’s hellish struggle with this. I will not comment on it because I am not black and would’nt presume to know how it feels. I am just saying what she said.

Ruth – I realize you were being sarcastic, but I also still think it was quite defensive. Also I didn’t mean to say that children are not vulnerable. I should have been more clear -I was actually alluding to a comment you made about how society isn’t keen on vulnerable people – and I guess you meant children too. I just got the idea that that was why you were saying some people don’t like children – because they remind some people of their own vulnerabilities. I am am sure for some people, they do. But to me, they are not my reasons. But sorry, if I was misinterpreting your comment, there.

Rhona – I do feel very similar to you in terms of a right not to have to deal with someone else’s children.

I think the reason that Amity may feel that we are being seperatist about chilren isn’t because we do want totally seperate spaces in public from them (I never suggested that – but I do think some places should be adult-only).

I don’t know. Perhaps she is feeling the frustration with this topic that I have ever since this discussion became heated on the recent “men who want to get you pregnant” thread. I made a few comments on there and for the first time on this site – the reactions I got made me seriously question whether I wanted to stay with this site. I did not feel at all comfortable saying how I felt but now I am clearer, I stand my what I said before.

There are no economic reasons anymore to “need” to have children. It is purely about personal choice now. So I do not like the results (ie: noisy children, sticky hands) of someone else’s choice foisted onto me by all the behaviours I mentioned.

As a friend of mine put so well – “given that having children really is just another lifestyle choice now and given that our planet is already suffering the effects of massive-overcrowding….aren’t 9 billion little miracles enough?”

I do not mean to sound offensive there but it really hit me as a very thoughtful way to look at it.

Jess McCabe // Posted 8 September 2008 at 12:02 pm


I see where you’re coming from, but I think that taking a child to a restaurant is very different than taking a child to a Jobcentre.

Jobcentres are government-funded employment agencies – they’re there to provide a public service, and that has to be available to all. In my view it’s very unreasonable for them not to be child friendly, because parents will need to use them.

That’s completely different than having adult-oriented spaces such as restaurants, bars, etc…

Rachael // Posted 8 September 2008 at 12:15 pm

Excellent point Jess. I was not suggesting that the Jobcentre was the same as a restaurant. And there is certainly more need for parents to take children to jobcentres (although I still don’t think that this is totally essential – It can sometimes be more about parental conviennience than thinking about other people in the jobcentre.)

I was actually using the restaurant analogy to make a general point about children in public spaces, which I stand by.

Amity // Posted 8 September 2008 at 2:40 pm


I’m sorry if your friend misinterpreted what I was trying to say. I didn’t mean to suggest that racial segregation and the segregation of children are comparable as social or political struggles but merely contemplating why some people who claim to support rights for an oppressed or vulnerable group are sometimes wary of actually interacting with those they claim to champion. It’s like an acquaintance of mine who claims to support gay rights but gets all freaked out and squeamish when any talk of gay relationships or sex comes up, or when she sees a gay couple kissing or holding hands. There’s no sense talking the talk if you can’t walk the walk, ya know?

I actually agree with you that some places should be adult-only. I’ve even argued with other parents about whether it’s acceptable to take kids under a certain age to the cinema or to certain eating establishments on certain days and times. I’m a firm believer that there are and should be places where adults can interact without children about. It’s also not fair to the children to be expected to behave like adults in such places. However, some people’s take on where and when it is acceptable to take children seems a bit skewed, in my experience. Personally, I would never take my child to a romantic/expensive restaurant on a Friday night, or to the cinema. It’s not fair on other patrons or to the child. But to get dirty looks for taking my daughter into Costa on a Tuesday afternoon, because the person next to me decided to bring their laptop and mobile and play office in a public place? Not on. That’s the thing about sharing public places — someone is always going to have a much more lax or strict tolerance than ourselves.

For what it’s worth, I moved to another area of my local cafe yesterday because of a kid shrieking next to me. I was cherishing my alone-with-the-Sunday-papers ritual and wasn’t in the mood to listen to a child wail, I get enough of that at home! But I didn’t shoot dirty looks at the kid’s mother or make nasty comments, I just moved further away and popped my iPod in. Voila! Peace at last.

Rachael // Posted 8 September 2008 at 6:21 pm

Amity – thank you for another very thoughtful reply to my post.

I certainly hope I didn’t offend you by saying what my friend said. It was just a comment. It was not meant to be personal and she feels the same.

Again, I think you made some great points and I really agree with them for the most part.

The only thing I do not agree with is the part about having to move away from the noise. Of course, you are entitled to handle the situation as you see fit but I don’t think that I would do that.

I think from this I realize that we are just gonna have to agree to disagree (unless of course you wish to comment further) because we may just end up going around in circles otherwise!

But I am actually kind of relieved that we carried on this discussion after that other post “men who want to get you pregnant”. And I am relieved because feelings were running very high on that post on both ends, I think.

I think having had this chance to exchange very different view points on this subject has been enlightening. It has also I think made everyone discuss a little more rather than just get angry. And I was quite angry myself – I wasn’t suggesting that I was calm or collected!

So for that – thank you so much.

Rhona // Posted 8 September 2008 at 6:57 pm

Amity – thank you for your comment, it made very interesting reading.

However, I think it is a little disingenuous to suggest that women (and men) who actively choose not to have children do so because of a socio-politically induced ‘fear’ of parenthood and/or all that represents – some people don’t like children and that’s all it comes down to, really.

What I’m trying to say is that there are certain women (feminists included) who are guilty of bullying the childfree and castigating their choices. I realise mothers and families do still face problems in society (particularly in terms of employment), but steps are being taken to protect their rights in law – there are no laws for the childfree. Some of the most virulent attacks I have faced as a direct result of being childfree have come from women, including some who identify themselves as feminists (men sometimes find it a bit odd, but, in my experience at least, don’t feel the need to launch a series of fairly personal attacks on my beliefs, self-image and gender identity).

However, this is probably a story for another day – ultimately, I would just like to see all choices recognised as valid. :)

Anne Onne // Posted 8 September 2008 at 7:37 pm

A place young children should not be at: Rock concert. Especially not without ear protection, that’s really not good for their developing ears. And they’re a hazard for pregnant women who don’t want to miscarry or have an early labour, because of the vibrations.

Agreed, there are places which should be adult-only, because small children can’t be expected to sit through 3 hour films or listen to really really loud music. I can also understand why bars/clubs/pubs etc have no children policies, and there are places and times that would do the children and everyone involved a disservice if children were present.

However, wherever reasonably possible, allowances should be made to be inclusive and not limit access for parents. I think that a jobcentre, given the context (middle of the day, parent looking for work, not much money), reasonable rules about children should be part of the way the JobCentre works, seeing as their goal is to help people find work.

Amity // Posted 8 September 2008 at 9:21 pm

Hi Rhona,

Just wanted to be clear that I do *not* believe that all or even most childfree people feel that way, I was merely offering up my own experience based on my feelings when I was childfree, as per the disclaimer at the bottom of my first post. I don’t pretend to know anyone’s myriad reasons for having or not having children, I can only reflect on my own.

Just wanted to make sure that wasn’t misunderstood. Cheers!

@Rachael: I have enjoyed discussing the issue with you and can completely see your points as well. I apologise if I was less than respectful in our last interaction. As you said, emotions run high on these issues and we’re all bound to get a bit worked up about it sometimes. Thanks for helping to keep things on an even keel this time. :)

jayne and tasha // Posted 4 November 2008 at 10:47 am

fully understand about this problem its happened to me with my 2 year old daughter its dicrasefull how people make up their own rules at the end of the day its a place where they want to help people get work but how can they help u if u got a child that is crying because they are hungry and they ask u to leave xx

jonathan // Posted 1 December 2008 at 4:28 pm

i think that the jobcentre should help people get back in to work and stop giving people not good jobs

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