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Concern raised over welfare cards

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24 January 2018

Reports of increases in Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) in the East Kimberley since the introduction of the cashless welfare card have again raised concerns on the mandatory use of the cards.
Download this article— FDV and cashless welfare cards.pdf


The Guardian reports that ‘police data obtained under freedom of information law shows domestic-related assaults and police-attended domestic violence reports increased in the Kimberley communities of Wyndham and Kununurra since trials began in April 2016’, leading Melbourne University researcher Elise Klein to express concerns that ‘there is a link between the card, financial hardship, and family violence’.

The Department of Social Services responded that the increase of FDV incidents was ‘because more stringent police reporting meant incidents that were previously not recorded were now included in police reports’, and human services minister, Alan Tudge announced new trial sites for the cashless welfare card in the Kalgoorlie-Boulder region of Western Australia and Bundaberg in Queensland.

‘Orima Research, which conducted the evaluation, had access to the police data on the Kimberley but did not include it in its report on the cards,’ states The Guardian. ‘The Kimberley Land Council, representing local Indigenous communities, is strongly opposed to the card.’

The original research, which led to the increased roll-out of the welfare card, was based on perceptions of the use of the card in the Kimberley over its first three months. Subsequent reports suggested some card holders resorted to sex work or ‘humbugging’ (pressuring relatives for money) to survive.

Interpretation of data varies. As reported by The Guardian, almost 25% of people using the card reported less alcohol and drug use in their communities, and 27% reported less gambling.

‘Card users who said they were drinkers before the trial began also reported a 25% drop in binge drinking. Almost a third of users reported being able to better care for their children and save more money [and] about 41% of community members not on welfare reported less drinking in their area since the trial began, and 46% said it had made life in the area better.

‘However, about half of the card users reported the card made their lives worse.’

In its submission to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee: Inquiry into the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017, The Salvation Army stated that ‘punitive measures do not drive behavioural change’, and ‘that those most likely to be impeded from working due to substance use are also unlikely to cease use due to adversity resulting from measures such as cashless debit cards or withholding of welfare payments.’

Salvation Army staff have raised concerns over the mandatory, default implementation of cashless debit cards without consultation. Salvation Army staff member Grant Herring had stated to the ABC, in late 2016, that ‘it’s probably not wise to think “one size fits all”…

‘Even when in use for encouraging people to desist from using drugs and alcohol, it can be a challenge if people aren't really ready and willing. The question is finding the right fit for the card and that I think is going to be a big challenge.’

Click here for the ABC article www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-07/cashless-welfare-card-doubts-in-tasmania-over-lambie-conditions/7911080

Click here for The Salvation Army submission www.sarmy.org.au/Global/SArmy/Social/econnect/issue-115/Drug-testing-submission.pdf

Click here for reportage of escalation of Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) in Kimberley towns  www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/jan/12/family-violence-rates-rise-in-kimberley-towns-with-cashless-welfare

Click here for reportage of the initial research into cashless welfare cards www.news.com.au/national/politics/cashless-welfare-card-a-success-report/news-story/23af606451b27348a54c6a463ce15924