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Political rhetoric infuriates mothers: Women bringing up children alone respond to recent criticisms. Jojo Moyes reports

JOANNE BENSON (not her real name) , 32, is divorced, with an eight-year-old daughter and a 21- month-old son. She was married when she had her first child, and had her second when she was on her own. She owns her home in Barnet, north London, and receives no state benefits.

'I actually left school with 'O' levels and went to finishing school. I worked from age 18 and got married at 22. I don't actually work now, I can afford not to. I don't get any support from the state and absolutely not a bean from the children's fathers.

'The Government's rhetoric on single mothers really makes me angry. I live in a very middle- class area, full of professional people and I'm no different to any of them.

'If there is a 'single mother problem', it's only in other people's minds. I actually think the problem is that married people are very frightened of single women with children. I have interests and I think married people feel very threatened by that because they rely on their partners so much.

'I pay for the odd bit of babysitting, but my children are completely my responsibility in every single respect. I don't ever have a night or weekend without them.'

VICKY FREEMAN, 43, lives in north London with her three children - two girls aged 11 and 13 and a five-year-old boy. She has been single since 1990 when her husband left. She lives on income support with single parent benefit and family allowance.

'The real 'single parent problem' is the fact that single parent mothers have been lumped together regardless of their situation. There are some who become single mothers for reasons better known to themselves and then there are those who had single parenthood thrust upon them.

'The hardest part of being a single mother is finding the finances to keep the children fed and clothed and pay the bills.

'I'm very angry about how we've been labelled. What gets me upset is that the Government thinks single mothers are bringing up violent elements of society. Violent children come from families where there's no love shown, regardless of the number of parents. One loving caring parent is better than two parents who are constantly fighting.'

NICOLA MARCHANT, 19, from Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, became pregnant accidentally at 15. Her son, Jordan, is now three- and-a-half. She lives with her mother - also a single parent - in council housing. Having attended a college with creche facilities, she now works as an administrative assistant in the courts department of the Scottish Office.

'I didn't mean to get pregnant. At that point I was pretty mixed up. But I got seven GCSEs when I was pregnant and then took two highers and after that I just wanted to apply for jobs. I've been working in the courts for a year last Wednesday. My job has career prospects - they move you up quite quickly.

'My son only goes to nursery in the morning - the fees are pounds 35 per week - and his dad has him in the afternoon. His dad doesn't live with me, but we're still together. He pays for half the nursery fees.

'But he's not got that much because he can only work half days. If I didn't have my boyfriend's help I couldn't go to work.'

(Photograph omitted)