Per Capita Submission to the Inquiry into the Continuation of Cashless Welfare Bill 2020

October 23, 2020

Work and Workers


Per Capita welcomes the opportunity to provide a submission to this inquiry. In this submission we will analyse the impact of Cashless Debit Card on the lives of those it has been imposed on.

We note that the proposed legislation:

  1. Removes the trial parameters to establish the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) as an ongoing program;
  2. Establishes the Northern Territory and Cape York areas as CDC program areas and transitions income management participants in these areas to the CDC program in 2021;
  3. Contains various measures to enable voluntary participation;
  4. Enables the secretary to advise a community body when a person has exited the CDC program;
  5. Enables the minister to determine decision-making principles for the purposes of determining whether a person can demonstrate reasonable and responsible management of the person’s affairs;
  6. Provides broader powers to the secretary regarding the review of wellbeing exemptions or exit determinations as well as the imposition of the program on individuals.
  7. Removes the requirement that an evaluation be conducted by an independent expert of a review of the CDC program;
  8. Extends the sunset date for income management in Cape York from 30 June 2020 to 31 December 2021.

Our position on this bill is based on rigorous evidence and is consistent with Per Capita’s commitment to fighting inequality, guided by the principles of fairness, shared prosperity, community and social justice.

Critical to our concerns with the Cashless Debit Card is its inherently disempowering and stigmatising nature, as reported by compulsory participants.

The stated objective of the Cashless Debit Card is:

‘… to limit the amount of welfare payment available as cash with the aim to reduce the overall social harm caused by welfare-fuelled drug and alcohol misuse and problem gambling. The Cashless Debit Card is also designed as a helpful budgeting and financial management tool, which aims to help participants stabilise their circumstances and ensure they have money available to meet essential expenses.’[1]

We begin by questioning the framing of this objective, which presumes that the fact of being in receipt of income support (combined with certain discriminatory assumptions based on class, race and gender), means that a person is both more likely to experience addiction and unable to manage their financial resources. We reject these assumptions. By referring to addictive behaviours as being “welfare-fuelled”, the objective panders to the ideological position that welfare is itself the problem, ignoring issues of income adequacy, access to social supports, and the provision of social and economic infrastructure as a means of preventing poverty and, where appropriate, enabling a pathway towards employment.

Based on the evidence we have analysed we can only conclude that this bill will exacerbate inequality and act as a means of further marginalising people who are already experiencing social exclusion.

[1] Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 Explanatory Memorandum. p38.