Image by jarmoluk

The Australian Government, led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, appears to be more than a little desperate to introduce the cashless debit card to Australian welfare recipients, claiming it is “an exercise in compassion and in love”.

What is the cashless debit card? Exactly what you’d think—a debit card given to Newstart Allowance recipients in lieu of actual cash sent to their bank account. The Australian Liberal (right-wing) Government has, for a long time, believed that welfare recipients are wasting taxpayer dollars on drugs and alcohol. Readers of News Corp newspapers like the Herald Sun constantly harp on about how their taxpayer dollars are being wasted by these welfare rorters.

This is a massive insult to the majority of welfare recipients who actually spend their money wisely, and can’t afford a lot of the luxury pursuits the Government thinks they “waste” their welfare on. Reading Turnbull and Co’s statement on this cashless welfare card, you may be mistaken for thinking this will actually help recipients, especially those from marginalized and lower socioeconomic areas.

You’d be wrong. The first study undertaken by the Government trialed the cashless welfare card in the Ceduna and East Kimberley regions, areas chosen specifically for disproportionate Indigenous population. This in itself might make sense to many—a fair percentage of this population was identified as having addictions to alcohol, drugs and gambling. Isn’t it fair to try and curb their addictions so they actually spend their money on life’s necessities?

A few stakeholders believed that the levels of alcohol consumption had reduced since the introduction of alcohol restrictions in these communities in late 2015. However, a few other stakeholders felt that such reductions were likely to be only temporary based on the perceived impacts of previous alcohol restriction arrangements.

Despite claims by the Government that decreases in alcohol consumption were because of the cashless welfare card, many stakeholders say the reduction in alcohol is actually because of separate, prior laws to deal with alcoholism in the Aborigine population of the area.

There are many examples of the Government using their test sites—including Ceduna and the East Kimberley—in order to fast-track this useless cashless welfare card into law. Despite only testing roughly 6,000 recipients under the age of 35 in a specific region of country Australia, they seem to think this is indicative of the entire Australian populace. Other tests are now being conducted further, but don’t be deluded into thinking it’s to help the younger welfare recipients in these areas.

The problem is that this cashless welfare card is not only for people on Newstart payments, but also those on Youth Allowance (students) and those receiving parenting payments. It’s also limited to those under 35, implying that once you reach 36, you’re magically not a problem any more and will suddenly spend your money wisely.

The aim of these sorts of programs is to scare the Evil Youth out of going on welfare, even if that means they can’t afford to live. Places like Centrelink treat the youth (those under 35, according to the Liberal Government) as if they are the scum of the earth.

It would be nice if these sorts of initiatives were created to help Aborigines and those in lower socioeconomic areas out of their alcohol and drug dependencies, but it is intended instead to scare them out of accepting payments.

The Government constantly harps on about how taxpayers and hard working families (as if welfare recipients can’t be hard working families) are struggling to foot the bill for these alleged money-sucking leeches, ignoring the millionaires hiding their money in offshore bank accounts and not paying taxes, who are actually what is causing hard working Australians to suffer. But why deal with millionaires and corporations when you can just go for the easy target? Many of these welfare recipients pay taxes too, using their payments to supplement the meager paycheck they already receive.

The sites detailing information on the cashless welfare card are a minefield of insulting language towards those on various Centrelink payments. The slang term “grog” is used constantly, as if recipients are too dumb to understand what “alcohol” is. There’s also a pie chart, with a tick/cross example of things recipients can buy with the card.

I can understand that the Government is trying to save money, and also that we need solutions to deal with rampant alcoholism and drug addiction in many communities. However, demonizing an entire portion of the population with useless “solutions” is not going to solve these. The problem is that initiatives like the cashless welfare card are not what they claim to be: their intention is simply to punish struggling young people for the negative actions of a few who misuse the system.

One does not need to be on welfare payments to have empathy for those struggling. Right, Malcolm?