Sombre Tories

'The mood has been somewhat sombre as the first priority is to ensure stability in the banking and f

This year's conference has had a slightly different feel to it than those I have been to in recent years. To be precise there is a more serious atmosphere in and around the conference centre, not just on the main stage but in fringe events as well.

Usually conferences are a bubble, a miniature version of the Westminster village with political parties far more inward looking than at other times of the year. 2008 is distinctive with a lot more of time being spent studying events in America and working hard on policies that could help here at home.

The mood has been somewhat sombre as the first priority is to ensure stability in the banking and financial system. David Cameron has made it clear how vital it is that we leave political differences at the door. It is crucial that the political parties demonstrate maturity in tackling the current financial crisis.

As George Osborne left conference to have meetings with Alistair Darling, I was meeting developers from across the country to discuss the effects of the current economic situation on house-building.

The shocking truth is that completions of houses will almost certainly be under 100,000 this year and the consensus was that the situation would not improve next year either. With developers cutting back their activities and making redundancies, the knock on effects are obvious. It is vital that we set out coherent answers to these troubling times so the country can move forward. Meeting experts from all aspects of the housing industry and working with them on solutions to problems in their area is essential and conference has once again provided me with the perfect opportunities to discuss our policy progress.

Last night I did get a brief chance to relax at a dinner with my Westminster staff, past and present. The enthusiasm of the guys who work with me and with other Conservative members of Parliament never fails to inspire and it was a great opportunity to take time out and listen to what their thoughts and concerns are. Their optimism for the future of the country stems from a real belief that we as a party are demonstrating real plans for change and they are hungry for the chance to implement those changes. It is up to us as Parliamentarians to ensure that complacency does not creep in.

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“I felt very lonely”: addressing the untold story of isolation among young mothers

With one in five young mothers lonely “all the time”, it’s time for employers and services to step up.

“Despite having my child with me all the time, I felt very lonely,” says Laura Davies. A member of an advisory panel for the Young Women’s Trust, she had her son age 20. Now, with a new report suggesting that one in five young mums “feels lonely all the time”, she’s sharing her story.

Polling commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust has highlighted the isolation that young motherhood can bring. Of course, getting out and about the same as you did before is never easy once there’s a young child in the picture. For young mothers, however, the situation can be particularly difficult.

According to the report, over a quarter of young mothers leave the house just once a week or less, with some leaving just once a month.

Aside from all the usual challenges – like wrestling a colicky infant into their jacket, or pumping milk for the trip with one hand while making sure no-one is crawling into anything dangerous with the other – young mothers are more likely to suffer from a lack of support network, or to lack the confidence to approach mother-baby groups and other organisations designed to help. In fact, some 68 per cent of young mothers said they had felt unwelcome in a parent and toddler group.

Davies paints what research suggests is a common picture.

“Motherhood had alienated me from my past. While all my friends were off forging a future for themselves, I was under a mountain of baby clothes trying to navigate my new life. Our schedules were different and it became hard to find the time.”

“No one ever tells you that when you have a child you will feel an overwhelming sense of love that you cannot describe, but also an overwhelming sense of loneliness when you realise that your life won’t be the same again.

More than half of 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed said that they felt lonelier since becoming a mother, with more than two-thirds saying they had fewer friends than before. Yet making new friends can be hard, too, especially given the judgement young mothers can face. In fact, 73 per cent of young mothers polled said they’d experienced rudeness or unpleasant behaviour when out with their children in public.

As Davies puts it, “Trying to find mum friends when your self-confidence is at rock bottom is daunting. I found it easier to reach out for support online than meet people face to face. Knowing they couldn’t judge me on my age gave me comfort.”

While online support can help, however, loneliness can still become a problem without friends to visit or a workplace to go to. Many young mothers said they would be pleased to go back to work – and would prefer to earn money rather than rely on benefits. After all, typing some invoices, or getting back on the tills, doesn’t just mean a paycheck – it’s also a change to speak to someone old enough to understand the words “type”, “invoice” and “till”.

As Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton explains, “More support is needed for young mothers who want to work. This could include mentoring to help ease women’s move back into education or employment.”

But mothers going back to work don’t only have to grapple with childcare arrangements, time management and their own self-confidence – they also have to negotiate with employers. Although the 2003 Employment Act introduced the right for parents of young children to apply to work flexibly, there is no obligation for their employer to agree. (Even though 83 per cent of women surveyed by the Young Women’s Trust said flexible hours would help them find secure work, 26 per cent said they had had a request turned down.)

Dr Easton concludes: “The report recommends access to affordable childcare, better support for young women at job centres and advertising jobs on a flexible, part-time or job share basis by default.”

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland