Modern Australian

'An insult' – politicians sing the praises of the cashless welfare card, but those forced to use it disagree

  • Written by Eve Vincent, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University

“This is a bit controversial, we know that,” deputy prime minister Michael McCormick told the National Party’s federal council, which on the weekend voted for a national roll-out of cashless debit cards for anyone younger than 35 on the dole or receiving parenting payments.

The Nationals have joined the chorus within the federal government proclaiming the cards a huge success.

The Minister for Families and Social Services, Anne Ruston, has even gone so far as to claim welfare recipients are “singing its praises”.

Really?

Both McCormick and Ruston have proclaimed success based on the most recent trial of cashless welfare in Queensland. This trial began barely six months ago, and the independent evaluation by the Future of Employment and Skills Research Centre at the University of Adelaide is ongoing.

A more complex story emerges out of my research into lived experiences of the first cashless debit card trial, which began in Ceduna, South Australia, in March 2016

I spent about three months in the town of Ceduna between mid 2017 and the end of 2018 talking to people about life on the card.

'An insult' – politicians sing the praises of the cashless welfare card, but those forced to use it disagree Ceduna is located on the north-west coast of Eyre Peninsula, South Australia. www.shutterstock.com

All communities are diverse and people’s experiences diverge. Some liked the card, or had come to accept it, others were caught up dealing with far more significant problems.

Read more: The Cashless Debit Card Trial is working and it is vital – here's why

But I talked to people who found the card “an insult”. They told me it made them feel “targeted” and “punished”. They talked of degradation and defiance. They also told me the card didn’t work.

As for the the claim by both Ruston (and her ministerial predecessor Paul Fletcher) that the card empowers people to “demonstrate responsibility”, the opposite was true. In the words of June*, an Indigenous grandmother, foster carer and talented artist: “It has taken responsibility away from me. It’s treating me like a little kid again.”

Indigenous testing grounds

Ceduna, in the far west of South Australia, was the first of four sites chosen to trial cashless debit cards. The second was in the East Kimberley

The location of these two trial sites meant early trial participants have been predominately Indigenous. I am of the view that Indigenous communities are being used as testing grounds for new technologies and controversial measures.

Read more: Expansion of cashless welfare card shows shock tactics speak louder than evidence

'An insult' – politicians sing the praises of the cashless welfare card, but those forced to use it disagree The BasicsCard, introduced in 2007. AAP

In the first two trial sites, income support recipients younger than 65 have just 20% of their payment deposited into their bank account. The remaining 80% goes on to their debit card, which cannot be used at any alcohol or gambling outlet across the nation. Nor can they be used to withdraw cash.

The lead-grey cashless debit card is similar but different to the lime-green BasicsCard, introduced as part of the 2007 Northern Territory National Emergency Response (the “Intervention”). The use of the BasicsCard as an “income management” tool was extended to non-Indigenous people in the Northern Territory in 2010, and to other states in 2012.

The BasicsCard generally quarantines 50% of a social security recipient’s income so that it cannot be spent on alcohol, gambling, tobacco or pornography. BasicsCard holders need to shop at approved stores. In contrast, the cashless debit card, administered by financial services company Indue, can theoretically be used wherever there are Eftpos facilities.

Shame and humiliation

My research wasn’t based on collecting statistics but “hanging out” and getting to know people. I came to see the stigma associated with the “grey card” sometimes resonated with past experiences.

Robert*, for example, told me about growing up on a mission and then suddenly finding himself as “one little blackfella” in a large high school. He was acutely sensitive to the “smirks” and judgements of others whenever he used the grey card to pay for things.

Pete* left high school after a couple of weeks to join an itinerant rural workforce that has since vanished. After decades of manual work, finding himself unemployed due to ill health was devastating enough. Being issued the grey card compounded his humiliation.

Others voiced their belief the grey card was designed to induce shame. But they refused that shame, expressing instead a defiant belief in the legitimacy of their need for support.

The welfare system often defines people by the one thing they are not currently doing – waged employment. But many people I spent time with in fact laboured constantly: it just wasn’t recognised as work. People like June*, for example, looked after sick kin, the elderly and children. Yet the grey card treated them as dependents.

I heard about ways of getting around the card’s restrictions. As one acquaintance put it: “Drunks gonna drink!” One strategy involved exchanging temporary use of the card for cash. With terms that nearly always disadvantage the card holder, it has the potential to make life tougher for people living in hardship.

These observations concur with the sober assessments of experts such as the South Australian Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council.

The evaluation of the Ceduna trial for the Department of Social Services was more positive, noting that alcohol drinkers and gamblers reported doing so less frequently. But it also noted no reduction in crime statistics related to alcohol consumption, illegal drug use or gambling. And the Australian National Audit office was so critical of the government’s evaluation it concluded that it was difficult to ascertain “whether there had been a reduction in social harm” as a result of the card’s introduction.

Which makes simplistic claims about the card’s success look a bit rich.

*Pseudonyms are used throughout.

Authors: Eve Vincent, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University

Read more http://theconversation.com/an-insult-politicians-sing-the-praises-of-the-cashless-welfare-card-but-those-forced-to-use-it-disagree-123352

NEWS

how Australian politicians would bridge the trust divide

Unsurprisingly, Australian politicians are happier than their constituents with the way our democracy works.ShutterstockWe hear a lot from citizens about the failings of Australian democracy and the need for reform...

Don't calm down! Exam stress may not be fun but it can help you get better marks

If you let it work for you, stress can be your secret weapon.from shutterstock.comTwo-thirds of young people experience levels of exam stress that mental health organisation ReachOut describes as “worrying”...

Facebook's online workers are sick of being treated like bots

Mark Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs may have to take notice of their workers' complaints.Aaron Schwarz / ShutterstockReports of Facebook moderators’ appalling working conditions have been making headlines worldwide. Workers...

We can’t drought-proof Australia, and trying is a fool's errand

The push to 'drought-proof' Australia is dangerous nonsense.AAP Image/Mick TsikasThere is a phrase in the novel East of Eden that springs to mind every time politicians speak of “drought-proofing” Australia:And...

Our land abounds in nature strips – surely we can do more than mow a third of urban green space

Even the standard grassed nature strip has value for local wildlife.Michelle/Flickr, CC BY-NC-NDYou may mock the national anthem by singing “Our land abounds in nature strips” but what you might...

These 3 factors predict a child's chance of obesity in adolescence (and no, it's not just their weight)

The mother's education level is also a factor.Brainsil/ShutterstockThree simple factors can predict whether a child is likely to be overweight or obese by the time they reach adolescence: the child’s...

China has form as a sports bully, but its full-court press on the NBA may backfire

It’s unlikely Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team, realised he’d be sparking an international diplomatic incident when, on October 4, he tweeted the following Stand with...

Alan Jones v Scott Morrison on the question of how you feed a cow

The battle between Jones and Morrison came down to the repeated, and, for the seething Jones, existential question, 'How does that feed a cow?'ShutterstockThe last PM shock jock Alan Jones...

In contrast to Australia's success with hepatitis C, our response to hepatitis B is lagging

While hepatitis B can't be cured in the same way hepatitis C can, effective treatment is available.From shutterstock.comAround one-third of Australians living with hepatitis C have been cured in the...

Australia is facing a looming cyber emergency, and we don't have the high-tech workforce to counter it

Nick Warner, the new director general of the Office of National Intelligence, has sounded the alarm about Australia's lack of preparedness to counter cyber-threats.Alan Porritt/AAPThis is part of a new...

Comprehensive gun register part of next stage of firearms law reform post Christchurch shootings

New Zealand's PM Jacinda Ardern, police minister Stuart Nash (right) and the minister for Christchurch regeneration Megan Woods announcing stronger gun laws and the creation of a firearms registry.AAP/David Alexander...

Double counting of emissions cuts may undermine Paris climate deal

Ice floe adrift in Vincennes Bay in the Australian Antarctic Territory. There are fears efforts to combat global warming will be undermined by double counting of carbon credits.AAP/Torsten BlackwoodIn the...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

Best Out of Waste in New South WalesGlamorous Gifts - 5 Luxe Giving Options When Only the Best Will DoFood for collagenIs Rhinoplasty Right for You?Winter fun in ColoradoSlots SecretsEssential Personal Hygiene Tips for TravelingTop 3 Affordable Activities To Do In Los AngelesTop 4 Reasons Why a Gas Fireplace Is an Ideal SolutionAdvantages of Using an Insulin PumpMaths – when it’s time to break free of your misbeliefsStrictly For Women:5 Steps To Top 5 Designer Sunglasses That Celebrities Are WearingBest Paradise Islands You Should Visit in AustraliaMost Popular Mexican Destinations for Australian Visitors