We recommend that the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2018 be rejected. This Bill seeks to expand the cashless debit card trial to young people (aged 35 and under) in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region in Queensland.

The Society believes the cashless debit card is a paternalistic measure that is not supported by evidence and risks compounding some of the very factors that contribute to ongoing disadvantage and disempowerment among those on income support.

Although proponents of the card claim evidence of its success, there is no conclusive evidence that it results in widespread or long-term benefits, and proponents have cherry-picked & misrepresented the official evaluation which is itself deeply flawed. Evidence from a decade of income management in the NT shows that restricting income support recipients’ autonomy in how they spend their money does not result in sustained benefits for individuals or communities. There is, however, evidence of adverse effects, including increased financial hardship & exclusion, stigmatisation, and the erosion of individual autonomy & dignity. 

Further concerns include the failure to properly consult affected communities; ongoing practical & logistical problems; and the erosion of human rights, including the right to social security, the right to privacy and the right to self-determination. The card is also costly to administer & diverts resources away from more productive approaches to tackling poverty.

Ultimately, this Bill extends a paternalistic measure that is driven by ideology rather than evidence. Using social security as a punitive tool to control and disempower people detracts from the underlying purpose of the social safety net, and it does not tackle the factors that lead to drug and alcohol abuse. In a context of persistent poverty and growing inequality, we urge the Government to reinstate poverty alleviation as the central goal of income support policy, rather than extend a punitive income management agenda on the basis of questionable evidence.