Government Extends Controversial Cashless Welfare Card
Friday, 14th December 2018 at 5:22 pm
The federal government is extending the controversial cashless welfare card trial by 12 months and considering a fifth site, despite continuing criticism about the card’s effectiveness.
Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher on Friday announced an extension of the card, and the government’s income management program across existing sites until 30 June 2020.
The federal government argued the card – which locks 80 per cent of welfare payments onto a debit card and cannot be used to withdraw cash or be spent on alcohol or gambling – has had a considerable positive impact on existing trial sites.
— Shalailah Medhora (@shalailah) December 13, 2018
But critics believe the card has made people’s lives more difficult, and Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said she was gob smacked by the government’s decision to extend the trial and add a new site.
“The government is falsely claiming there is evidence that these trials are working, the evidence is not there, they are simply pursuing their ideological agenda,” Siewert said.
The cashless welfare card trial was originally expanded after an independent report from September 2017 concluded the card had reduced alcohol consumption, drug use and gambling in the trial communities of Kununurra in Western Australia and Ceduna in South Australia.
But an auditor-general report from July this year said the government’s approach to monitoring and evaluating the trial was inadequate, and argued the 2017 independent report did not use all relevant data available to measure the trial’s impact.
Siewert and fellow Greens Senator Larissa Waters attended a community forum in Hervey Bay on Wednesday, ahead of the cashless welfare card’s rollout in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region next month.
“I was in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay earlier this week and the community is devastated by what this card will mean for them and their children,” Siewert said.
“This government has no understanding of what it is like to try and survive on an extremely low income, it is blinkered by ideology, this type of punitive approach needs to be abandoned.”
Income management doesn’t work. That’s what the evidence says. But the Government is putting the people in Hinkler through a social experiment and they haven’t even properly evaluated whether it is achieving its objectives in other locations #Auspol #greens pic.twitter.com/sj4WwqscGQ
— Rachel Siewert (@SenatorSiewert) December 12, 2018
Julia Hocken is a co-organiser of Anti-Poverty Network QLD, and attended Wednesday’s community forum.
She told Pro Bono News community members felt the card was punishing people simply for being on welfare.
“They feel like this is a blanket punishment for people who have done nothing wrong and it makes them feel like criminals,” Hocken said.
She added the extension of the trial demonstrated the government’s ignorance on the issue.
“I think support is the best way to counter these issues rather than punishment, because you shouldn’t punish people for being mentally ill or poor, or suffering addiction,” she said.
She called on the government to scrap the trials and said her community group were currently pushing to raise Newstart by $390 a fortnight.
“That would put it above the poverty line so people can actually live, because it’s very hard to get a job when you can’t afford rent or to pay your bills or buy new clothes, so raising Newstart would be a wonderful start,” Hocken said.
This latest trial in Queensland will affect around 6,000 people under 36 on Newstart, Youth Allowance or the Parenting Payment.
Fletcher said he welcomed the extension of the trial for another year.
“This will give further certainty to communities about the [cashless welfare card] program that is yielding significant positive results,” Fletcher said.