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Lone parents: `What's the point working if my child suffers?'

Bringing up Sam is a full-time job for Ruth Glover, 19, and, what's more, it is one that she wants to do. Labour claims that getting single mothers like her into work will improve their quality of life. But, as she told Clare Garner, life would be worse both for herself and her son.

"It's unbelievable," said Miss Glover, as she listened to Labour MP Austin Mitchell defending his decision to abstain in last night's vote on single mothers' benefits. "I mean, I would hope that people who go into politics do so as individuals and because they really care about issue and are prepared to speak out about them." Miss Glover, from Camden, north London, had come to Westminster with her nine-month-old son to lend her support to the Single Mothers' Self-Defence campaign.

"I'm a mother as far as I'm concerned and that is work," she said. "I'm up at six or seven o'clock. It's longer hours than any other job you could possibly do. It's like being on call all the time."

Miss Glover believes that she can do a better job of raising Sam than anyone else. "He had to have major heart surgery after he was born, which they say causes babies to be much more miserable, but he is a very smiley baby and not particularly miserable. I feel sure that is because I've put that time into him."

It is not that she never wants to have a job outside the home. In fact, she hopes to go into nursing in due course. But "if Sam seems to be suffering I want the choice. What's the point in getting a job and caring for other people if my own child is suffering in that process?" she said. For the time being, she wants to concentrate her efforts on raising Sam without being labelled a lazy scrounger.

When she voted Labour in the last election she had hoped such attitudes would change, but now she's feeling "disappointed with the lot of them."

"This just seems like penalising the people who really need help - penalising children as well as mothers," she said. Even if she did want to work, the astronomical cost of child care would mean she would not be any better off. The average cost of childcare in north London is, she says, pounds 650 a month and while there are council creches for pounds 65 a week, spaces are limited and there are only two days a year on which to apply.

Miss Glover believes the implications of Labour's policy are worrying in the long term. "In society there's so much anti-social behaviour, crime and depression, and a lot of this is probably coming from people who are living in poverty," she said. "It's so cliched, but our children are our future and that's just a fact. If they aren't getting off to a good start it doesn't say much about the future of the country in general."