We’ve talked before about pilot schemes of cashless cards for welfare recipients in Australia, governing what they can and can’t purchase and allowing greater scrutiny of their spending. Now, around 12,000 people in trial sites across South and Western Australia will be stuck with the cards until they move off benefits as the scheme has been made permanent.
The controversial scheme cordons off up to 80 percent of a welfare recipient’s payments, making it unavailable for spending on products such as alcohol, or gambling. Despite researchers from four universities saying they had found the cards caused ‘an overwhelming number of negative experiences’—ranging from feelings of ‘stigma, shame and frustration’ to basic problems such as not having enough cash for essential items—the government has insisted the cards will reduce social ills in areas where there are high numbers of welfare recipients.
“[Before the card, I had] never been late on my rent, whether as a worker or a student. I’ve lost count of the amount of times Indue has blocked my rent payments… [Now the card is permanent] I guess hopelessness is the best way to describe it.”
Emilie Randell, Bundaberg resident on JobSeeker Payment
The cards are easily identifiable, with bright colouring and an obvious logo. While the government says it is aiming to make the card design more subtle, some users still report embarrassment using them since they mark out benefits recipients. There are also numerous petrol stations and shops that do not accept the cards, further limiting the choice of those using them.
Where cash offers privacy and freedom of choice, the new cards are removing these rights from those on welfare. Unfortunately, they also seem set to see wider adoption. New legislation means the cards will not only become an ongoing feature at trial sites, but will spread to around 25,000 people in the Northern Territory and Cape York.
I understand where they’re coming from, growing up in a high drug and alcohol area as a child… But they don’t need to punish everyone. The fundamentals don’t work and it’s not targeting the right people.