Widespread calls for rejection of ‘cashless’ welfare card ignored: ACOSS

23 March 2015

The Australian Council of Social Service today rejected moves by the Federal Government to introduce trials of another iteration of income management through a ‘cashless’ welfare card.

“Of all the recommendations in the Forrest Review, it is deeply disappointing that the government appears determined to adopt the Review’s Healthy Welfare card recommendation contrary to widely held expert advice. All the evidence to date highlights the ineffectiveness and high cost of similar income management schemes,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“Following the release of the Forrest Review, ACOSS and more than 30 community organisations, including many leading National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, urged the government not to proceed with the implementation of this recommendation. Yet those calls appear to have fallen on closed ears.

“The welfare card is modelled on the Basics Card currently used to manage the income of people in disadvantaged communities and locations around Australia. This scheme of income management has failed to effect long-term changes in behaviour or outcomes, despite the high cost of the policy.

“Beyond some limited success with people who have entered into income management arrangements voluntarily, the evidence points to the scheme being unsuccessful in achieving the stated aims of preventing people from spending the money alcohol, gambling and drugs, or getting people to buy healthy and fresh food.

“The Government’s intention to consult with communities should include consultation on whether and how they want to participate as well as what other supports communities need to address underlying issues. Any move to introduce such a scheme should only be trialled in areas where there is strong and broad community support. It should targeted narrowly and accompanied by other interventions to address the underlying causes of alcohol and drug abuse.”

“We have long held that reform to government welfare programs should be grounded in evidence of what works. If people have chronic alcohol or drug addictions, or children are at risk, they need intensive case management and intervention based on the best professional advice.

“On the one hand the government says it is planning to roll out a new cashless debit card in several disadvantaged communities in a bid to “reduce the overall social harm which is caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol and drug abuse, particularly against women”. And on the other hand, it has cut half a billion dollars from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs, including services that run alcohol, drug and domestic violence programs.

“Despite this context, the Government has not indicated how much these trials will costs, nor how they will be funded.

“Beyond comments in media interviews, there is little information available about the detail of the policy. There remain many questions about how this scheme would be implemented. For instance, what percentage of funds will be managed by the card; how will communities be selected to participate; will the card be rolled out to entire communities, or just selected individuals; and will trials will be time limited or ongoing?

“There is very little detail beyond a declaration in the media that the government has decided to proceed with this costly scheme, against all advice,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 15

More information:
Groups call for rejection of Healthy Welfare Card