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Cashless Welfare Card Trial Set to Expand, After Release of Independent Report

1 September 2017 at 3:30 pm
Luke Michael
The federal government’s cashless welfare card trial is set to expand to Western Australia's Goldfields region, as an independent report concludes the card has reduced alcohol consumption, drug use and gambling in trial communities.

Luke Michael | 1 September 2017 at 3:30 pm


Cashless Welfare Card Trial Set to Expand, After Release of Independent Report
1 September 2017 at 3:30 pm

The federal government’s cashless welfare card trial is set to expand to Western Australia’s Goldfields region, as an independent report concludes the card has reduced alcohol consumption, drug use and gambling in trial communities.

The scheme, which locks 80 per cent of welfare payments onto a debit card that cannot be used in liquor stores and gambling venues, has previously been trialled in Kununurra in Western Australia and Ceduna in South Australia.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the card’s expansion to the Goldfields on Friday during a visit to Kalgoorlie, which is one of the towns included in the Goldfields region.

The government justified the trial’s expansion on the back of a Cashless Debit Card Trial Evaluation by ORIMA Research released on Friday, which found a number of positive developments for the trial communities including:

  • of people who drank alcohol, 41 per cent reported drinking alcohol less frequently, 37 per cent of binge drinkers were doing this less frequently;
  • a decrease in alcohol-related hospital presentations including a 37 per cent reduction in Ceduna in the first quarter of 2017 compared with first quarter of 2016 (immediately prior to the commencement of the trial);
  • a noticeable reduction in the number of visible or public acts of aggression and violent behaviour. Nearly 40 per cent of non-participants perceived that violence in their community had decreased;
  • 48 per cent of gamblers reported gambling less; and
  • of drug takers, 48 per cent reported using illegal drugs less often.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge lauded the trials, and said the report demonstrated they were having a positive impact on the community.

“The card is not a panacea, but it is has led to a fundamental improvement in these communities. There are very few other initiatives that have had such impact,” Tudge said.

“As many local leaders noted, these communities were in crisis largely due to massive alcohol consumption paid for by the welfare dollar.

“I hope that we can look back in a decade’s time and say that this initiative was the beginning of the turnaround.”

However not all aspects of the report were positive, with 32 per cent of participants reporting the card made their lives worse, while only 17 per cent of participants said it improved their children’s lives.

The trial also had little effect on the community crime rate, with the report stating: “With the exception of drug driving offences and apprehensions under the Public Intoxication Act (PIA) in Ceduna, crime statistics showed no improvement since the commencement of the Trial.”

Other concerns noted by participants in the report included:

  • not being able to transfer money to children that are away at boarding schools;
  • not being able to make small transactions at fundamentally cash-based settings (eg fairs, swimming pools and canteens);
  • not being able to make purchases from merchants or services where EFT facilities were unavailable;
  • being told by a merchant outside of the area that they cannot accept this card; and
  • having difficulties using the card online (including some online merchants not accepting the card).

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert has been a vocal critic of the trials, and said recently that Kununurra had experienced a substantial increase in robbery and threatening behaviour since the trial commenced in the community.

“In figures provided by the WA police we have seen a marked increase in non-aggravated robbery offences, theft, and threatening behaviour in the period that the card was introduced,” Siewert said.

“The cashless welfare card was intended to control the incomes of anyone on income support as a supposed means of reducing drug and alcohol abuse.

“For those managing on a shoestring budget the card makes life more difficult, and those that are struggling with addiction will find ways around it. This has been evidenced repeatedly.”

After the Goldfields were announced as a new trial site for the cashless welfare card, Siewert said she was “extremely disappointed.”

“There is divided opinion in the community about the card being trialed in the region so this announcement will no doubt be distressing for those that spoke up and said they did not want it,” she said.

“Evidence shows that taking choice, control and agency away from people does not have positive results. We heard about that just this week in evidence to the inquiry into the government’s proposal to drug test people trying to access income support.

“This government continues to take a punitive, demonising top down approach to our social security scheme, it is demonising and undermining people’s ability to find work and does not address the underlying causes of disadvantage.”

Meanwhile, Shadow Housing and Homelessness Minister Doug Cameron indicated a Labor government would only implement a cashless welfare card where it was fully supported by the community.

“The cashless welfare card under a Labor government would only be introduced where the community want it to be introduced. We are not going to impose this on any community,” Cameron said.

“So we would consult, we would ensure that there was support for it before it would be implemented. It simply cannot be about imposing some conservative agenda on unemployed people in this country.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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