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Welfare changes will punish single parents who work

SINGLE parents living in public housing face keeping only 10¢ in each dollar they receive under the federal government's tough new welfare changes, a leading advocate has warned.

The president of the National Welfare Rights Network, Maree O'Halloran, called on the government not to proceed with the ''harmful and damaging'' changes.

''The policy the government is pursuing in relation to single-parent families is punishing those parents undertaking paid work who also need access to the social security safety net,'' she said. ''Most of these parents are women, many of whom cobble together casual shifts and work for the minimum wage.''

From January 1, about 100,000 people will be moved from the single-parent payment to the unemployment payment, incurring an overnight drop in income of about $120 a fortnight. The government wants to save $700 million over four years by making the change, which affects single parents once their children turn eight.

Some Labor MPs have expressed their anger at the lack of any additional assistance for single parents, particularly those who live in areas where unemployment is high and public transport poor. The Coalition says that when it was in government it accompanied an earlier wave of reform targeting single parents with a multibillion-dollar jobs assistance package. The government argues the move will get more people into work.

Ms O'Halloran said 16 per cent of people affected by the changes also lived in public housing and would be particularly hard hit. Because of the way public housing rents are calculated, people would lose most of the money they earned, she said. ''Many single-parent families will not be able to meet housing costs, bills and other household expenses each week.''

''We also note that these cuts to low-income families will take place over the Christmas and back-to-school period, when the costs of raising children are particularly significant.''

Parents could lose payments of greater value than the money they earned in their paid work. This loss could be compounded by the calculation of higher public housing rents, which are based on income levels.

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations figures show the changes will penalise parents already working by up to $223 a fortnight. Those fulfilling the conditions of their welfare by undertaking work will have their disposable income slashed by between 11.1 and 12.8 per cent.