Cashless welfare cards: controlling spending patterns to what end?

Shelley Bielefeld

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Delivering social security payments by means of cashless welfare cards has had a protracted trial in Australia, with various income management schemes in operation, the latest of which is the Forrest Review inspired Cashless Debit Card (CDC) issued by Indue Ltd. The government emphasises that the CDC has been co-designed with Indigenous leaders in trial areas via a consultation process, however the nature of what was agreed and the extent to which there was co-design of the CDC has been contested. Some Indigenous elders and community members indicate that the broadly applied mandatory CDC was not the targeted scheme they had supported in consultations, and assert that they do not want the card in their community because it fosters shame and causes suffering. Numerous welfare recipients subject to the scheme report that it has created additional difficulties for them in meeting their everyday needs. Despite this, advocates of cashless welfare are keen to declare income management a success, rationalising further expansion and possibly smoothing the path to increased privatisation of social security payments in the process. When assessed against the objectives for which income management was introduced compulsory cashless welfare cards look suspiciously like a boondoggle that society can ill afford. It is crucial to ask who benefits most from the CDC regime. Cashless welfare cards will increase the wealth of entities like Indue and the overall cost of social security provision in Australia, but without providing advantages for numerous people subject to these measures and delivering detrimental outcomes to many. The dominant political rhetoric has presented cash payments to welfare recipients as a high-risk activity due to their presumed preference for poor purchases. Such stigmatising supposition makes for poor policy and income management legislation is an area ripe for reform—not for intensification via an 80 per cent CDC restriction—but abandoning altogether the coercion coupled with surveillance upon which this system is based.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)28-32pp.
    JournalIndigenous Law Bulletin
    Issue number29
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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