Parliament must stand firm against expensive, ineffective, demeaning policies designed to distract from urgent need to increase Newstart

9 September 2019

The Australian Council of Social Service is calling on the Parliament to resolutely block the Government’s demeaning, expensive drug-testing plan, and any attempt by the Government to expand the impractical cashless debit card.

It was reported yesterday that the Prime Minister planned to take his time before considering plans for an expansion of the cashless debit card. The latest evaluation has not been completed, communities have not been consulted with beyond the trial sites and legislation for an expansion has not been drafted.

“Any attempt by the Government to expand the expensive, impractical cashless debit card this week would be a clear case of haphazard policy on the run,” ACOSS Senior Advisor Social Security Charmaine Crowe said.

“Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on ineffective, demeaning policies, the Government should focus on the urgent need to increase Newstart, which is widely supported and would give the economy much-needed stimulus.

“Cashless debit and drug testing both cost thousands per person to administer, while a $75 a week increase to Newstart would cost less than $4,000 per person and would stimulate the economy, while giving people the support they need to find paid work.

“Cashless debit and drug testing compound the sense of shame many people feel about being unemployed when they are doing all they can to find paid work in today’s competitive job market with one job available for every eight people looking.

“It’s particularly demeaning to have to provide a urine sample just because you’re unfortunate enough to have lost your job, even when you have been retrenched and have never touched drugs your life.

“People feel humiliated when they have to pay with the cashless debit card, especially in small towns, and it is impractical, making it harder for people to buy second-hand goods.

“Not only are both of these policies stigmatising, they are also unproven.

“Many health experts have expressed concern that drug testing income support recipients is ineffective and could threaten the health and wellbeing of people affected.

“There is reliable evidence that policies like cashless debit do nothing to improve community outcomes, especially when the vast majority of people affected have no issue with addiction.

“Instead of making life harder for people, including older people who are facing age discrimination, younger people trying to get their foot in the door and single mothers juggling caring responsibilities, we should be supporting them to get through tough times and into suitable employment by raising Newstart,” Ms Crowe said.