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‘I go in, come out, and I'm all in tears’: Vulnerable people humiliated by cashless welfare card


Wednesday, 26th February 2020 at 2:27 pm
Luke Michael
Experts say compulsory income management is doing more harm than good


Wednesday, 26th February 2020
at 2:27 pm
Luke Michael


9 Comments


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‘I go in, come out, and I'm all in tears’: Vulnerable people humiliated by cashless welfare card
Wednesday, 26th February 2020 at 2:27 pm

Experts say compulsory income management is doing more harm than good

The cashless welfare card has failed to improve the financial stability of social security recipients and has instead left many feeling embarrassed and unable to pay their bills, new research shows. 

An independent study into Australia’s compulsory income management policies uncovered an “overwhelming number of negative experiences” relating to the cashless welfare card, leading researchers to question the merits of this approach.

Dr Michelle Peterie said the social, emotional and economic costs of 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 – outweighed its benefits.

“The overwhelming finding is that compulsory income management is having a disabling rather than enabling effect on the lives of many social security recipients,” Peterie said.

“This was true across all of our research sites.”

The card has been trialled in East Kimberley and Ceduna since 2016, and the Goldfields region since March last year. It was also introduced in Queensland’s Hervey Bay-Bundaberg region in 2019.

Researchers conducted 114 in-depth interviews at four trial sites, and surveyed 199 people.

A large majority of respondents (84 per cent) said they felt stigma and/or shame either sometimes or all the time when paying for goods using the cashless welfare card, or the similar BasicsCard.

“I go in, come out, and I’m all in tears. I just don’t want to go home. I just want to stand in the middle of the road and get run over, mate. That’s how I feel,” one respondent said.

Another person said the card made them feel like less of a person.

“Instantly people think I’m a dole bludger, alcoholic, druggy and the list goes on,” they said.

“Little do they know I never [saw] myself becoming a single mother to two young children, but I am trying my hardest through university to obtain a degree so I can get off welfare and support my family.”

One respondent said when using the card they received “dirty looks, snide remarks, and… verbal abuse at times.”

The Coalition government has consistently defended the card as “one of the most positive developments in welfare for decades” that has made a real difference in the lives of thousands of Australians.

But while the government has spruiked the card’s benefits to strengthen recipients’ financial independence and help transition people away from welfare dependency and into work, researchers say there is no clear evidence to suggest this is the case.

Professor Greg Marston said income management had actually made it harder for many people to budget.

“There have been recent moves to extend the [card] across the Northern Territory, but our findings show that [compulsory income management] has in fact weakened many participants’ financial capabilities and autonomy,” Marston said.

“To manage their finances, many participants have become reliant on family members, service providers or automatic payment systems.”

The report concluded that a policy approach focused on providing jobs and training opportunities, as well as access to social services and affordable housing, would be a better way to reduce unemployment and help vulnerable people.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, a long-time critic of the card, said this research was a stark reminder that income management had met none of its stated objectives.

“If this government wanted to assist people to face barriers like poverty, addiction and unemployment they would immediately increase Newstart and invest in community-led wrap around services rather than punishing them with this expensive and punitive program,” Siewert said.

“This card needs to be stopped.”

Australian Council of Social Service CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie added that it was clear many people felt humiliated when they had to pay with the card.

“The card compounds 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 only one job available for every eight people looking,” Goldie said.

ACOSS is urging the Senate to block any move by the government to extend the program. 


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

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


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3 Comments

  • Avatar Greg Stehle says:

    It is worth noting that the Basics card, which is the same thing has been operating on Indigenous communities since 2007. It is surprising in all this reporting of the Cashless welfare card, how this never receives a mention. It is as if the same issues affecting Indigenous people are somehow not as newsworthy. Anecdotally, I have spoken with people on Indigenous commuinties who are unable to easily purchase things such as second hand clothes for their kids. Previously, people in the community pooled money together to buy larger items such as a car or car servicing, but this is no longer possible. Before there is more talk about vulnerable white people experiencing these issues, spare a thought for those on indigenos communities who have been impacted by this policy for much longer, without anyone giving voice to the same frustrations they have.

  • Avatar ROBIN ALEXANDER says:

    As a 82yr old widow pensioner live in fear of threat of INDUE CARD!after hearing media statement May 2019 that all “welfare ” payments will be made by INDUE CARD. Commencing 2020 including AGED & VETERAN pensioners! stated by then minister PAUL FLETCHER! My husband ,& I worked hard all our lives reared 3 children my husband 12yrs my senior never had benefit super as to old when introduced to be a benifit but was still doing odd lawns for pensioner ladies in his view couldn’t afford contractors prices man generous heart! NOW Ilive solely on pension trulyfear this evil card it has so many disadvantages as I have direct debits for my power/phone/internet/insurance etc not allowed on card or little cash paying these payments relies solely on ringing Indue everymonth to pay this that? Which I read they fail to do so frequently resulting many cases losing their accommodation etc? Cars so many other defaults because of lackness of INDUE people! Can.you really see 80/90yr olds capable of going through this procedure all time to survive every week or so! So many have no idea & majority people have no idea of “INDUE CARDS” look at you say” whats that” Truly have no likeness for this LNP the PM & 5/7 top ministers belong to HILLSONG they care pray only for EXTREMLY WEALTHY & believe all others are of DEVILS making must not be cared for?this you would have to agree is exactly what they are determined to inflict on us formally hard working people hers fought for country but they have no EMPATHY WHATSOVER for those they consider “lowley worthless creatures” the aged will live lives of STRESS & MISERY IF THIS BILL IS PASSED! May I add when PENSION was introduced decades ago stated in Parliament “PENSION NEVER TO BE CALLED WELFARE” statement repeated by both sides opposition at time BOB MENZIES! Now this AG PORTER has changed name secretly to WELFARE why would that be?my view because it would be illigal to place Pension on INDUE? All this is on HANSARD UNDERSTAND then law! Why cannot someone seriously look into legality of pensioners onthis card? Thank you all reading my views

  • Avatar Andrew says:

    If this government was really compassionate and cared about people, they would raise the rate of Newstart. After all, it only represents about 6% of the $191 billion welfare budget they keep winging about. Talk of welfare cards and drug testing is just a smokescreen for the real issues such as poverty and homelessness.

    If one does their own research instead of just reading the headlines in the tabloids, you will come to the inescapable conclusion that more than 95% of people who receive the unemployment benefit do the right thing and are struggling. To suggest that many waste their payment on drugs and gambling is just more dole bludger bashing. Income management should only be forced on people where there is proof of alcohol or drug induced criminal behaviour such as family violence or child neglect. This system already exists through court orders by child protection agencies. No need to invent the wheel.

    The welfare card will just make things more difficult for the majority who do nothing wrong. Housing for those on welfare is already a disaster. Many rent a room in a share house where the rent is paid in cash. More people will be chucked out on the street. Also food is a lot cheaper at local markets where there is no eftpos. People should not be forced to buy more expensive and rotten food from only certain supermarkets. Public transport is also a cash transaction in most regional areas. Second hand goods are usually paid for by cash. There are other legitimate payments that the card restricts you from doing.

    People will be identified in public as being on welfare as the card is easy to spot. This will increase stigma and vilification, especially in small country towns. The card should only be voluntary or compulsory in certain circumstances providing there is a process to opt out. Other than that, it is just a vote winner for the government that ignores the bigger problems.

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