Under the guise of protecting children and reducing substance abuse, gambling and domestic violence, the Federal Government is supporting trials of a new mandatory income management system, known as the ‘Healthy Welfare Card’.
Is it ground hog day? Well, not exactly. The scheme, concocted by billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest, will not be restricted to Indigenous communities as Twiggy has suggested or like the income management (IM) methods employed in the unprecedented Northern Territory Intervention (NTER), 2007. No, there will be no removal of the Racial Discrimination Act this time. The Federal Government has kindly stated that it will not just be Indigenous welfare recipients who will be subjected to their surveillance and control, but the privilege will also be extended to vulnerable and marginalised non-indigenous families (MacDonald, 2015). It’s good to see that we are now testing non-evidence-based methods of welfare allocation on a diverse group of vulnerable and marginalised communities instead of just indigenous communities for a change.
The Howard Government birthed income management in Australia in 2007. Since then, multiple sources have suggested a range of issues relating to the scheme in terms of evidence and impacts of IM in Australia (Buckmaster & Ey, 2012; Dee, 2013; Equality Rights Alliance, 2014; Mendes Waugh & Flyn, 2014; National Welfare Rights Network, 2014; SPRC, 2010 ). Mendes et al. (2014) raise serious concerns regarding flaws and gaps in evidence surrounding the legitimacy of income management in Australia. These concerns specifically pertain to issues that have seen little follow up investigation once identified such as the dynamics of choice and control within these systems; limited genuine community consultation; and the quality of decision making regarding IM participants. The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) (2014) has rejected the healthy welfare card, a move backed by over 30 community groups. So too has the Australian Bankers Association (2014), stating, “the banking industry supports providing individuals and communities with the knowledge, skills and capabilities to ensure they manage their finances.”
Compulsory and voluntary income management schemes, encouraged through monetary incentives, are already utilised in a number of communities throughout Australia (Department of Human Services, 2015). Negative impacts of IM schemes have been revealed in numerous Government and non-Government reports. These impacts include women feeling judged whilst using their welfare EFPOST card (Basics Card); a high proportion of women not feeling safe; a loss of freedom, power and community; as well as control and constraints relating to the use of the Basics Card (Buckmaster & Ey, 2012; Equality Rights Alliance, 2014; Mendes et al. 2014). Some reports have suggested voluntary IM may have assisted people to manage their income, yet there is significant evidence suggesting substance abuse and parenting issues are not impacted (Buckmaster & Ey, 2012; Katz & Bates, 2014).
One must ask, “why”? Why are these communities labelled by the government as ‘high risk’? Why are some families and individuals struggling? A 2014 report from ACCOSS stated that 80% of community services in Australia are unable to meet demand with the areas of greatest community need comprising the biggest gaps (ACCOSS, 2014). Mendes et al. (2014) suggest that causes of disadvantage link strongly to broader structural and systemic issues and that IM may not take this into account effectively. Whilst the Federal Government has cut millions of dollars from community services around the country, it is happy to further marginalise families by implementing more controlling and paternalistic policies placing more restrictions on their choices.
Plenty of people in Australia who are impacted by substance abuse, gambling and domestic violence do not receive government payments, will their income be quarantined too? Or could it possibly be that the Government is feeding into the old, and unequivocally incorrect, ‘poor people are immoral’ argument? If the Government truly cares about individuals, families and communities experiencing hardship they must stop cutting the services already unable to meet the needs of the most marginalised members of the community.
ACCOSS. (2014). Australian Community Sector Survey 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.acoss.org.au/images/uploads/ACSS2014_final.pdf
ACOSS. (2014). Groups call for the rejection of the healthy welfare card. http://www.acoss.org.au/media/release/groups_call_for_rejection_of_forrest_review_healthy_welfare_card
Australian Bankers Association. (2014). Response to Forrest Review. Retrieved from: http://indigenousjobsandtrainingreview.dpmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/get-involved/public-submissions/australian_bankers_association.pdf
Buckmaster, L & Ey, C.(2012) Is income management working?. http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2011-2012/IncomeManagement
Dee, M. (2013). Welfare surveillance, income management and new paternalism in australia. Surveillance & Society, 11(3), 272-286. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1471985469?accountid=13380
Department of Human Services. (2014). About Income Management. Retrieved from: http://www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/enablers/centrelink/income-management/about-income-management
Equality Rights Alliance (2014) Women’s experience of income management in the Northern Territory. Retrieved from: http://www.equalityrightsalliance.org.au/sites/equalityrightsalliance.org.au/files/docs/readings/income_management_report_v1-4_0.pdf
Katz, I., & Bates, S. (2014). Voluntary Income Management in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. Retrieved from: https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/09_2014/voluntary_income_management_in_the_apy_lands_final_report_2014.pdf
Mendes P., Waugh J., & Flynn C. (2014). Income management in Australia: A critical examination of the evidence. International Journal of Social Welfare, 23, 362–372. DOI: 10.1111/ijsw.12066 2014: 23:
National Welfare Rights Network. (2014). Creating Parity or Creating Uncertainty?Retrieved from: http://www.welfarerights.org.au/sites/default/files/field_shared_attachments/policy/The%20National%20Welfare%20Rights%20Network%20Creating%20Parity%20-%20SUBMISSION.pdf
Social Policy Research Centre. (2010). Evaluation framework for new income management. Sydney: Social Policy Research Centre
Macdonald, S (2015, March 22). Federal Government to trial cashless welfare card, with payments not allowed to be spent on alcohol or gambling. Retrieved from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-22/government-trial-cashless-welfare-card-payments-alcohol-gambling/6339080