PETRA HILTON is doing what the government would like thousands of other single parents to do. She balances raising her son, Tobias, with working 20 hours a week in administration for a food manufacturing company, while studying logistics to carve out a career path for herself within the firm.
Yet Ms Hilton, of Sydney's north shore, is one of 100,000 single parents who will be worse off under changes which Labor has claimed will encourage parents to enter or rejoin the workforce.
Ms Hilton yesterday travelled to Parliament House with Tobias, 15, to protest against the proposals, which passed the Senate last night.
The changes are expected to save $685 million over four years.
The changes mean that in January, Ms Hilton will lose the parenting payment and be shifted onto the Newstart allowance, leaving her more than $100 a week worse off. She will also lose a range of concessions and the pensioner education supplement, which is worth between $15 and $31 a week.
Under the changes announced in the budget, single parents will lose their parenting payments when their youngest child turns eight, while partnered parents will lose their payments when their youngest turns six.
People who have received the payment since 2006 already face these conditions. But under the current rules those who were receiving the payment in 2006 can keep the payment until their youngest turns 16.
In recent months two parliamentary committees have urged the government to delay the changes until a separate inquiry on the adequacy of the Newstart allowance concludes next month.
Ms Hilton finds it difficult to accept the government's rationale for the changes. ''Plunging people into poverty is not an incentive to do anything positive,'' she says.
''I am working part-time, and I am studying part-time, but on Newstart you don't get the support to do that,'' she says.
She doesn't know how she will manage to balance her budget once the change takes effect.
''It's hard to know where I'm going to make those cuts at the moment because it hasn't hit us yet,'' she says. ''We already do the things we can to save money.''
She says her son may have to give up his cricket and Australian rules football.
''You can't maintain the same lifestyle on less money,'' she says.
The Greens senator Rachel Siewert said the timing of the change so close to Christmas, and just before the start of the school year would make its impact more severe.
The Greens, who opposed the change, moved an amendment to defer them until July, but the move was defeated.