Welfare quarantining (or income management), which locks up to 70 percent of a welfare recipient’s income on a government-controlled BasicsCard, will soon affect many more people across Australia.
On 15 March, social services minister Kevin Andrews told The Australian that he was “considering the next steps for income management” and “keen to explore opportunities to expand it to other areas”.
NSW Liberal housing minister Pru Goward has also argued that the scheme should be expanded further among public housing tenants.
Welfare quarantining was originally forced on Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory in 2007, and since then has gradually spread throughout the country. The vast majority of those on welfare quarantining are still in the Northern Territory, but figures from the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee show a massive increase – 500 percent – in the number of people affected outside the NT.
“Young people are automatically income managed just because they happen to be on certain payments, not because there is any evidence that they are unable to manage their affairs or are being abused or are otherwise ‘at risk’”, noted the National Welfare Rights Network in a recent report.
Since the scheme’s inception, a range of studies have detailed the terrible effects it has had, giving the lie to government spin about “helping those in need”. People whose income is locked on the government BasicsCard consistently report feeling shamed and disempowered.
The Menzies Health Institute, in a study of the effects in the Northern Territory, concluded that the scheme “appears to have had no beneficial effect”, and the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association has warned that the humiliation of having your money strictly controlled by the government can have long term impacts on mental health.
Even the government’s own report, titled Is Income Management Working?, could only tepidly conclude that, “In none of these locations [where welfare quarantining applies] is there unambiguous evidence for or against the effectiveness of income management.”
The Liberal government, like the ALP before it, has maintained welfare payments at a criminally low level, forcing people into poverty. The further roll-out of welfare quarantining won’t change this; it will only subject even more people to the humiliation and stigma of not being able to control their own money.
It is yet another attack on welfare recipients, which tries to blame the victims for the social problems of unemployment and poverty.