A peak organisation for social workers has warned that the controversial cashless debit card “punishes” people based on their location and is disproportionately affecting families within small communities.
The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) has said the program won’t help address issues of alcohol, gambling and drug misuse within communities and instead efforts should be shifted to addressing underlying issues of inter-generational trauma.
The cards were first introduced in Ceduna in South Australia and then in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia in 2016.
Further trials of the program were then rolled out in the Goldfields region in Western Australia and the low employment Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region in Queensland in 2018.
The program "quarantines" 80 per cent of social security benefits onto an eftpos bank card so only essential items from approved vendors may be purchased rather than alcohol, drugs or gambling products.
The Department of Social Services states on their website that the cards were introduced in an attempt to reduce "the overall harm caused by welfare fuelled alcohol, gambling and drug misuse".
National president of the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW), Christine Craik, told NITV News that the official line for initiating the program was misguided.
“I think if you are talking about wanting to intervene and assist in communities that could be participating in behaviours that aren’t particularly the best behaviours that there could be, I think you need to look at why people behave in certain ways,” she said.
“So you need to look at inter-generational trauma… you need to look at peoples mental health issues, you need to look at a whole range of reasons that are causing issues in communities if there are some.”
Ms Craik said that instead of focusing on data and statistics, governments must listen to the experiences of people who are currently using the card and re-evaluate if they are necessary.
“Unless you are talking to people who are living it, you are not getting the true information that you need in order to be able to make decisions,” she said. “I think [the card] increases stigma and shame," she said.
"We see it as a war on the poor... it is restricting people on welfare to about $200 dollars a month."
Ms Craik also said the cards are impacting school participation as children from families on the cashless welfare card are often not able to access to the same opportunities as other kids, said Ms Craik.
“If you’re trying to get your kids to school, every year there are different textbooks, there's different uniforms, there’s different excursions, there’s different camps, there's different things that come up where you have to have cash,” she said. “It is very much disadvantaging children.”
A Ceduna resident, who requested to remain anonymous, told NITV News she feels “extremely embarrassed” about being on the cashless debit card.
“When I go away from home here, people know exactly where we come from due to the card,” she said.
“I am being painted with the same brush as those that ARE in need of support etcetera ... I can't just assist my family that I used to with a loan etcetera ... cause of the 20 per cent that I get in cash.”
The resident also said that alcohol abuse within the community has not been reduced.
“You only have to look around Ceduna and you can see it, plus crime rates have shot through the roof.
“It’s becoming worse because people are trying to get cash any way they can.”
As a mother of a child with severe autism, she said that the annual Oysterfest in Ceduna was an opportunity to be together as a family, but because she was limited to only withdrawing 20 per cent cash from her benefit, they couldn’t enjoy the festival in its entirety.
“We only had $200 to give to our child. She has high needs autism [and] she didn't understand that I only have 20 per cent of my pay that I could give to her. So, once that was spent - which was very quick - we had to leave," said the resident.
The federal government currently has draft laws before the lower house in an attempt to extend these trials and introduce the cashless welfare program into Cape York and the Northern Territory.
If the bill is passed the cards will be rolled out to an additional 22,000 people, with around 82 per cent said to be Indigenous.