The case against compulsory income management
Last July, compulsory income management was expanded into Playford in South Australia, five years after being introduced to the Northern Territory. Compulsory income management involves welfare recipients deemed “at-risk” by Centrelink or referred by Families SA having 50-70 percent of their payments quarantined, or “managed”. This is usually through the BasicsCard, which can only be used at government-approved stores.
At a recent public forum hosted by SIMPla (Stop Income Management in Playford), guest speaker Barbara Shaw addressed over 60 attendees at the National Tertiary Education Union in Adelaide where she discussed the lack of solid evidence that compulsory income management improves financial literacy, health outcomes, or protects children. Analysing how this expensive, heavy-handed, lazy policy, humiliates already struggling people, and wastes resources that could fund more beneficial, culturally appropriate programs.
Khatija Thomas and Barbara Shaw
Barbara Shaw is an Aboriginal rights activist from the NT who has been on compulsory income management for over five years and lives in a town camps in the central Australian town of Alice Springs. Housing mostly Aboriginal people, often in poor conditions Barbara Shaw introduces herself as a “proud fourth generation town camper”.
Ms Shaw describes her childhood as being marred by racist incidents and constant harassment. When she was small, Ms Shaw recalls “child after child made fun of me because of where I lived in the town camp.” Her father and uncle were both assaulted and her uncle had white paint poured over him.
Today, Ms Shaw says that her children tell stories of discrimination on public transport to and from school. The bigger children say to them, “This is a whites’ only bus.” Aboriginal people are being targeted, she says and the police focus on cars being driven by Aboriginals. The gaols are full of Aboriginal people.
The previous Australian Federal Government announced a series of extraordinary measures. The Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) was formulated in response to what was described as “a national emergency” with the Government acting on a report which had detailed widespread child abuse in Aboriginal communities.
Ms Shaw is one of the most vocal members of an Australian group campaigning to put an end to the NTER in Aboriginal communities and for Ms Shaw, what has happened is “wrong and unjust”.
“There was no proper consultation before the Intervention and there is still no proper consultation with Aboriginal people today,” she says.
She believes the measures are “paternalistic” and give the Government far too much power.
“All Aboriginal people,” she says “are being stereotyped and demonised” and wonders how the Government can expand this system when it has ruined so many lives in the NT?
“Income management is a disgusting waste of funds when our communities are in such desperate need. The Intervention was supposed to stop the social problems like substance abuse. But I live with these problems every day and they are just getting worse and worse as our people are disempowered and made unemployed.” Said Ms Shaw.
“Many people are being forced to work for the dole and income management. How is this getting people off the welfare system? We need jobs and social services, not income management”, said Ms Shaw.
But in spite of the degradation many Aboriginal people continue to face we are uniting to fight back with supporter’s right around the country continuing the demand for an end to the Interventions.
The Federal Government argues that compulsory income management assists ‘at-risk’ families and individuals: by ensuring payments are spent on ‘essentials’, improving health outcomes for clients and their children; and by encouraging better financial and money-management skills.
However, there is no solid evidence that this policy achieves its goals. The expansion of compulsory income management beyond the Northern Territory, where it has operated since 2007, comes despite the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library’s 2012 paper on the topic concluding that there is “an absence of evidence adequate data relating to the effectiveness or otherwise of income management”.
The Menzies School of Health’s 2010 study into compulsory income management and spending patterns identified no significant changes regarding the consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, and soft drink, nor to fresh fruit and vegetables. Instead, it is feared that this heavy-handed intervention will humiliate already-stressed clients and further entrench dependency.
The Playford compulsory income management scheme, at an estimated cost of $4,600 per recipient (or $4.6 million overall) annually, wastes precious resources that could fund more anti-addiction programs, family and personal therapy, financial counselling, nutrition education, and other programs that build the capacity of disadvantaged families and individuals.
In 2011, 5 years on from the forced NT Intervention, the statistics show a very sad state of affairs:
Child welfare: 69% increase in children getting taken into out of home care since 2007. Most are cases of “neglect”, which is occurring at a rate far higher than other jurisdictions (Closing the Gap monitoring report part 2), and can in many cases be attributed to extreme poverty.
The NT has lowest rate of “out of home care” placement with Aboriginal families in Australia, less than 20% (Productivity Commission annual report on government services).
There is no evidence of substantial improvements in the welfare of children in the NT. Indeed, the Closing the Gap monitoring report part 2 details some worrying statistics which indicate a break with long-term trends towards improvement that have been evident since 2000, including:
Children admitted to hospital for malnutrition 10.9 per 1000 in 2006-07 11.1 per 1000 in 2009-10
Children under 5 who are underweight 7.1 per 100 in 2007 8.2 per per 100 in 2010
Children under 5 who are wasting 4.4 per 100 in 2007 4.8 per 100 in 2010
Attempted Suicide and self-harm: Reported incidents have increased by almost 500%. In 2007 there were 57 incidents. In 2010 there were 183. In 2011 there were 261 (Closing the Gap monitoring report part 2).
School attendance: Rates are down in preschool, primary and secondary schools. Overall, attendance rates have dropped from 62.3% just before the Intervention (NTER monitoring report 2009) to 57.5% in 2011 (Closing the Gap monitoring report part 2).
Incarceration: As of March 2011 there had been a 40% increase in Indigenous incarceration since the Intervention (NT Justice Department quarterly report). Recent news reports suggest this number is now greater than 50% – with particularly large increases in the last 12 months.
The NT prison officers association says prisoners are currently being held in 3rd world prison conditions, 12-14 in a cell in Alice Springs – mattresses on the floor and one hand basin and toilet between inmates.
Aboriginal people are one of the most incarcerated on the planet. If the NT was a country, it would have the second highest rate of incarceration after the USA.
Unemployment: There has been a consistent increase in Aboriginal people receiving unemployment benefits (NewStart allowance) since 2007, including a 14% increase from 2009 – 2011.
New positions created through the Intervention are far below levels of waged employment that existed under CDEP.
In 2007 there were more than 7500 waged CDEP positions. In April 2012 this number was only 1,667. These positions are disappearing fast, with the government refusing to employ new people on the waged scheme if existing workers break their relationship with their employer.
The government claims 2,241 positions were created to replace lost CDEP positions under the NT Jobs Package. Also that 865 Aboriginal people are employed through NTER programs (Closing the Gap Monitoring Report part 2) – though there is overlap between a number of these positions such as Night Patrol.
Housing: Before the Intervention the rate of overcrowding was 9.4 people per home. The government’s ‘target’ following SIHIP works is 9.3 (NTER evaluation 2011).
Domestic Violence: Police reported incidents in “prescribed areas” have dramatically increased since the Intervention and continue to increase – from 939 in 2010 to 1109 in 2011 (Closing the Gap Monitoring Report part 2).
Alcohol: Number of police incidents involving alcohol has consistently increased. Number of domestic violence incidents involving alcohol has consistently increased (Closing the Gap Monitoring Report part 2). The government has no hard evidence that less alcohol is being consumed in “prescribed areas”.
Links to referenced reports: