As the single mother of a 16-year-old girl, I joined in solidarity with many single parents over the weekend at Penrith and all around the country. We gathered to protest against Labor transferring 67,221 single parents from parenting payments to the lower Newstart allowance when their youngest child turns eight, a move that has pushed many families over the edge.
Newstart itself has not been significantly increased since 1991 and recipients - and their children - are now expected to survive on an income well below the poverty line. Today one in six Australian children is living in poverty, effectively marginalised and punished for being poor.
Single parents and their children are the first casualties in the ideological war on welfare that Labor is spearheading. It is designed to affect many who were already struggling with the enormous task of sole parenting. Like Annette, in her honours year at Sydney University, with a 17-year-old daughter. The loss of income of $110 a fortnight means she can no longer afford the rent. She is within sight of being able to join the workforce but her study is being disrupted by having to search the inner west for cheaper accommodation which, as we all know, does not exist.
Or Layla, who was so busy studying and looking after her seven-year-old son she was unaware until recently her income was about to be cut by $100 a fortnight. Currently she is paying $700 a fortnight in rent. She will be left with $100 a fortnight to meet all the living expenses for herself and her son. Inevitably her anxiety is being transmitted to her child. She tells me: ''He really hates Julia Gillard.''
The bureaucratic hoops people have to jump through to meet compliance commitments add to the overall stress. People like Laura, who has been working part-time in the community sector for years, was on a small top-up fortnightly parenting allowance. Under the threshold changes, she no longer qualifies for it or other concessions, such as the $2.50 transport ticket and student allowances. She estimates this will cost her thousands - and provide a strong disincentive to continuing with her course.
The pressures of modern living are increasing and family breakdowns will always be a fact of life. We are watching the emergence of the working poor, people struggling to make ends meet by working in two or three low-paid, insecure jobs, meaning they have even less time for the family itself.
There will always be people who for many reasons are simply unable to take care of themselves. How well those people are looked after is a hallmark of a civilised society.
Under Prime Minister Gillard, the families of single parents, (95 per cent of whom are mothers, with the majority already working or studying) are being singled out for less support from society.
But if Gillard thinks she can dismiss the 67,000 single parents as bludgers she has got another thing coming.
Just because we are having personal and financial difficulties does not make us docile and stupid. She is not dealing with bludgers but battlers.
We are not going to say: ''OK, Julia, do what you have to do.''
We will struggle to pay for school uniforms and excursions while you give millions of dollars to elite schools.
You can imperil my child's future but still provide tax concessions so the super-rich get even more super.
You can save $207 million from us and let the miners get away with only contributing $126 million in the watered-down mining tax.
We get bone-achingly tired, but we keep going. The women who organised the Penrith event battled to juggle study and assignments, work, travel, domestic responsibilities and looking after their children to make it happen.
And it is only the start. We will keep on battling to have the cuts reversed, Newstart raised by at least $60 a week, corporations and the rich to pay more taxes, and a fairer Australia for all our children. We have had 21 consecutive years of growth. We are a wealthy country. It doesn't have to be like this.
Like ''No child shall live in poverty by 1990'', Labor has failed in its pledge to halve the numbers of young and mentally ill sleeping rough on the streets of Sydney. Under the war on welfare these numbers will only increase.
In the coming election campaign we can expect much rhetoric about small governments and big society but we have to defend our social safety net - and the size of its mesh. We have to ensure it is small enough to catch the most vulnerable and needy members of our society.
Dianne Hiles is the Greens candidate for Sydney.