SINGLE mothers who say they are already feeling degraded by changes to government benefits have been further angered by Families Minister Jenny Macklin's assertion she could live on $35 a day.
One mother says the changes, which came into effect on Tuesday, will force single parents to rort the system while another says it makes her feel as if she is being treated like a drug addict.
"As a single mother who has always worked part-time and raised polite, considerate children, I feel that I am now being treated as somebody who adds no more value to society than some junkie who sits on the couch all day," office manager Cate Flaherty said yesterday.
Under changes to the payment scheme, the majority of the 84,000 single parents who receive parenting payments will be moved to the Newstart allowance when their youngest child turns eight.
Advocacy groups and some parents were outraged when Ms Macklin on Tuesday said she could survive on the $35-a-day Newstart allowance.
Terese Edwards, chief executive of the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, said Ms Macklin's comments had been greeted with "great dismay and distress" by single mums.
"It has resonated as salt in the wound for these mums who are facing such an uphill battle," she said.
Corinna Taylor, a 43-year-old Brisbane mother of two, said she had a friend on Newstart who worked part-time and had asked her manager to get paid in cash.
"I would challenge anybody to live on $35 a day and not in some way have to rort the system," she said.
The Greens have taken up this challenge, with acting Greens leader Adam Bandt calling on Ms Macklin to join him in living off the Newstart allowance for one week when parliament returns.
Mr Bandt said for the minister to say it was possible to live on that amount was "an outrageous statement".
"I think perhaps the minister needs some first-hand experience of it and maybe that will change her mind," he said.
Ms Macklin's office did not return calls for further comment. But Federal Housing Minister Brendan O'Connor accused Mr Bandt of patronising people receiving the allowance with his pledge.
"I think it's quite patronising to pretend that you can actually live the experience by living on the unemployment benefit or Newstart for one week," Mr O'Connor said yesterday. "Our efforts are better deployed in working out ways that we can get people off unemployment benefits and into work."
The government understood it would be difficult to survive on $35 a day but the policy was designed to get people into jobs, he said.