New cut-off  ... the conditions for parenting support payments are to change.

New cut-off ... the conditions for parenting support payments are to change. Photo: Gabriele Charotte

Single, unemployed parents will lose their parenting support payments when their youngest child turns eight, while people on welfare will forfeit their benefits if they travel overseas for more than six weeks.

These measures have been announced as the federal government scrambles to find savings to achieve its promised budget surplus.

Previously, support payments for single, out-of-work parents ended when the youngest child turned 16. 

Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury confirmed news reports today on the scale-back in parenting payments, which is expected to reap about $700 million in savings.

Under the changes, single parents would lose support payments when their youngest child turns eight. Parents would then be transferred to the Newstart allowance.

Previously, support payments for single, out-of-work parents ended when the youngest child turned 16.

For unemployed parents with partners, income support will end when their youngest child turns six.

The parenting payment is currently worth $648.50 a fortnight for single, unemployed parents, while partnered parents receive the $442 fortnightly income support payment.

Mr Bradbury was careful to frame the budget cuts as a measure to encourage people into the "dignity of work".

"Government assistance needs to be targeted," Mr Bradbury said. "It needs to be well targeted to people who need that assistance most."

Additionally, about 25,000 people receiving family tax benefits who spend more than six weeks a year overseas will lose their payments.

Exemptions will continue to apply for parents in special circumstances, including those caring for a child with a disability.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said welfare payments should be regarded as a temporary measure and not a disincentive for people to find paid work.

"We believe that, once children are at school, parents should be encouraged and supported back into the workforce," Mr Shorten said.

"A job is essential to a family's wellbeing and helping them make ends meet."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott backed the expected scale back in payments, saying he is in favour of people working wherever possible.

"I think that if you are fit and young, you should work," he told ABC Radio.

"Preferably you should work for a wage, but if not, you should work for the dole."

But the Greens families spokeswoman, Rachel Siewert, described the potential changes to the single parenting payment as a "cost-cutting measure" that would "punish children and vulnerable families".

“Around 100,000 parents and their children will be plunged further into poverty as a result of such a cut,” Senator Siewert said.

“This is cost-cutting that can't be dressed up as a measure to help people into work."