In the government’s crackdown on single mothers on social security there is the usual “get the bludgers working” tone. But there would be more confidence that politicians knew where to draw the line if it was their own daughters and grandchildren they were dealing with. Here are some stories I have collected first hand to illustrate this point.

A young women eight and a half months pregnant was weeding a traffic island in the heat of the wet season in northern NSW, working for the dole. Tears streamed down her face. She was humiliated and scared. She should not have been there but her private job network provider was ignorant of the basic rules.

Another rural woman became unemployed when her oldest turned 16, as if that made him cheaper to keep. Her mistake was refusing to pull bulrushes from a creek without wearing proper equipment on work for the dole. When her supervisor threatened to breach her she “read him his pedigree” and stormed off. Less forceful women would have hopped into the creek. Nothing happened because what he was asking her to do was illegal. All single Mums who need income support will eventually be at the whim of private workplace providers. The potential for exploitation and corruption is frightening.

Last year the Howard government set out to make single mothers work for their pensions for 15 hours per week. By including people who have worked a few paid hours a month as employed the “unemployment rate” has been reduced to historical lows. So why can’t single mums work?

Academic economic reformers, most often on taxpayer support themselves, sold this change across conservative politics. Single mothers are steadily having their benefits and basic support cut, and are being sent to the Job Network private workplace providers. Kevin Rudd’s economic advisors were so impressed with the powerlessness of single mothers in the media they have promised to do the same to the disabled.

This saving would help pay to reduce the top tax rate, except it actually cost more to pay private workplace providers to “manage” these women into work. When a single woman’s youngest goes to school, or they have a job and lose it, or live with someone and are made single again, or their youngest turns six or seven, their income and support benefits are cut. Eventually all single mothers are shifted from the pension to be managed by job network workplace providers coming under up to three separate federal ministers.

All the while, income is not reliable, renting is stressful, as is maintaining a car, a phone, electricity and gas bills. Fines for speeding and parking lead to floods of tears from even the strongest. The so-called “safety net” of further reduced income and begging at charities for food vouchers is there for the third workplace breach during an eight week suspension of payments.

If the kids get sick, if mum gets sick, even if the car blows up, the consequences are unthinkable for these women. Thousands of single mothers undertaking part time study now have to give job seeking priority. Looking after their kids these women can only do part time study – but it is not recognised as an activity. Austudy payments for full time study are even lower. Childcare is not covered by additional “family payments”. There are now two clear classes of women. Those partnered mothers encouraged to stay home to look after the kids and the home and those forced to work part time to justify a far smaller amount of income support compared to the tax benefits of joint company ownership.

The Liberal and Labor parties and their academic advisors have made these women and children even more vulnerable to the predators around them, people keen for power over the few others weaker than themselves.