Cashless Welfare Cards: They Don’t Work

02/02/2019

Over the last few days, the government’s cashless welfare cards have been introduced to Queensland in the next string of trials. They have been rolled out elsewhere across the country already, and despite what the government claims, it is already obvious that these cards do not achieve the policy goals they were set out for. Instead, they are (who would have guessed) another way to limit the poor.

There are two sides as to why the cards are not appropriate. The first is the cost and how these cards are managed; the second is their ineffectuality. As with a lot of the Coalition’s privatisation schemes, the cost to the taxpayer to outsource is actually higher than if the services in question were publicly owned. For example, Centrelink’s automation and privatisation has caused countless issues, from fraudulent debt collections to an increased number of services (like Austudy, from personal experience) being outsourced to private companies with outrageous waiting queues and that pretty much assist you by looking at the same screens you have already scoured – in a word, useless.

So the cost of contracting these welfare cards to the private company Indue? On average, it equates to about $10,000 per person that is forced onto it. Just in the trials that have been carried out it has cost millions of taxpayer dollars, the majority of which goes to Indue and not the people with the cards. Take a moment to think about that. Cuts and limitations have been made to welfare to ‘save’ on the budget expenditure, but then we over double that amount to send it straight into a private enterprise. That is where the second half of the management side comes into it – the government is forcing welfare recipients onto these cards, placing the control of their finances in the hands of a private company. Whether these cards worked the way they are supposed to or not, that fact alone should deter anyone from believing that this is a worthwhile investment. It would not be acceptable if your bank dictated to you what you could and could not do with your money, even if it is from Centrelink, so why would it be any different for these people? It isn’t – it’s a method of control over the poor and vulnerable.

As for the inefficiencies, there have been a number of reports listing reasons why they have not worked, and for the reports (mostly government released ones) that have positive notes, there are a number of discrepancies regarding the process of producing them. To start off with an easy one – the stigmatisation of those on welfare. There are people with these cards that have had their mental health severely impacted due to the (unfair) societal shame of their circumstances. As for the initial reasoning for the cards – to prevent the use of welfare money being spent on alcohol, drugs, and gambling – so far there has been little evidence to prove that this has been the case. Not enough time has elapsed to make a clear judgement, and it has been suggested that the government hold back the card’s release until proof is available. The claim that the cards also lessen the crime rate of the region is also ambiguous, also due to the fact there hasn’t been enough time to tell, and that drops in crime (in Goldfields) are more likely the result of increased police presence.

There are differing reports, however, on the success of the cards. The government reports have been criticised for their methods of data collection – it should come as no surprise that the company responsible for this ‘research’ is a private company, Orima. They were paid $1.6 million for their work, citing “complexity of collecting data and the level of stakeholder involvement” for the exorbitant amount. It only took a second on Google to find an article elsewhere that flashed them up in another scandal, involving the profiling of public servants working at the ATO based on data they were given by the ATO themselves without workers’ knowledge. With the welfare card reports, the data they collected was disputed by the Australian National Audit Office, with topics such as ambulance callouts and school attendance rising and dropping respectively (the latter among Indigenous students, overall there was a slight increase). The government chooses to repeat the findings of the Orima reports.

While in principle I am opposed to the further dehumanising of welfare recipients, if the government so desperately wants to keep trialling it then they need to step back and deal with the data they currently have. It does not look good for them, and to continue peddling it as a quick vote grab before the election is abhorrent. Look at any comments section from the commercial news stations or Murdoch type press and you will find horrifyingly cold and thoughtless abuse hurled at the people on welfare. It is one thing to attack the vulnerable with damaging policy, but it is another to incite anger among the more susceptible of the population against them as well. One can change in time – the other has lasting effects.

 

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Previous piece: Why I Changed Banks

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