The Claimant And The Boss: `I will now be pounds 80 a week better off'

SOPHIE BATES is 27, a single mother from Cambridge who has never worked.

She says the working family tax credit means she can afford to go out to work for the first time.

Ms Bates is desperate to provide more for her two sons and has already applied for a job at her local hospital as an pounds 8,000-a-year nursing assistant and healthcare worker in anticipation of the changes to benefit rules.

She has spent the past eight years living on benefits. Ms Bates had her first child when she was 18 and had to leave college without any higher education qualifications when she gave birth.

She became married at 19, but the marriage broke down two years later.

The relationship with the father of her second son came to an end earlier this year after she suffered domestic violence, and she arrived in Cambridge with almost no possessions.

With her sons Tim, aged eight, and John, aged one, she said that it had never been worthwhile for her to work. "Under the new system, I have worked out that if I get this job, 70 per cent of my childcare costs will be paid for and I will be pounds 80 better off each week," she said.

"I am desperate to provide more for my two sons. At the moment, because I am paying back a loan for furniture, the three of us are living on pounds 39 a week after paying bills. Going back to work would make me financially better off as well as well as giving me and my kids a break," she said.

"I only moved to Cambridge in April and have not met many people. Working would give me more self-esteem and provide a better role model for the kids.

"At the moment I am very isolated. A job would mean I can make new friends and afford to go out sometimes. I would love to be able to buy extra things for Tim and John - some decent clothes, the occasional treat. It is very difficult living on pounds 39 a week," Ms Bates said.

Cherry Norton