Cashless debit cards

By Shelley Bielefeld

The cashless debit card, introduced in 2016 in Ceduna and the East Kimberley, restricts 80 per cent of a person’s regular social security payment to an industry-issued card that cannot be used to purchase alcohol and gambling products.

The 2017-2018 Federal Budget announced the program would continue in Ceduna and the East Kimberley for another year and be expanded across two new sites in September 2017.

Treasurer Scott Morrison also flagged the government intended to commence drug testing of 5,000 new welfare recipients, with any who tested positive to be placed on the card.

Indigenous welfare recipients are grossly overrepresented in the program. Given the bipartisan tendency to stereotype Indigenous welfare recipients as substance abusers, they are also at greater risk of being targeted under the new drug testing trials.

The government has rationalised the card as necessary to address ‘welfare dependency’ and reduce ‘alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling’. It declared the trials have been a ‘success’ and claimed an evaluation conducted by Orima Research indicates “these trials have been effective in reducing alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling”.

However, at the time these statements were made, evaluation of the program was incomplete. So why is the program being declared a success and being expanded before the evaluation is complete?

In forming their opinions, government ministers appear to have relied heavily on views expressed by card advocates and taken a dismissive stance to any contrary feedback about the card by those who are forced to use it.

Orima’s Cashless Debit Card Trial Evaluation: Wave 1 Interim Evaluation Report revealed there are significant problems for those who are subject to the program. Numerous users report the card has created difficulties for them in meeting their everyday needs.

Orima’s research revealed 49 per cent of program participants were worse off, compared to 22 per cent who said it had made their lives better.

Reasons provided as to why the program made life worse included people being unable to pay for bills, difficulties checking their account balance, difficulties using the card, some merchants telling cardholders they would not accept the card to purchase goods meant to be accessible by the card, and exclusion from participation in a range of cash-only transaction settings.