Cashless welfare card harms Aussies: study

Welfare cards quarantine most of the Centrelink payments so money can only be spent on essentials.
Welfare cards quarantine most of the Centrelink payments so money can only be spent on essentials.

Cashless debit cards forced on welfare recipients do more harm than good, an independent study into the system has found.

The joint analysis by Queensland, Monash and Griffith universities found people put on the cards had problems paying for bills, making purchases and often faced extra financial difficulties from fees associated with paying with a card.

The research involved more than 100 interviews with people from four areas where the cards are being trialled, as well as about 200 surveys.

University of Queensland researcher Michelle Peterie said the views of welfare recipients on the cards were often drowned out in policy debates.

"The overwhelming finding is that compulsory income management is having a disabling rather than enabling effect on the lives of many social security recipients," Dr Peterie said on Wednesday.

"This was true across all of our research sites."

The debit cards quarantine 80 per cent of Centrelink payments so the money can only be spent on items the government deems essential, rather than alcohol or gambling.

About 6000 welfare recipients in the Queensland cities of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay are already on the card, which has been rolled out in the area since last January.

They are also being trialled in Kununurra and the Goldfields in Western Australia and Ceduna in South Australia.

The government is trying to expand the card to the Northern Territory and Cape York, where many welfare recipients are already on another type of restricted debit card.

University of Queensland's Greg Marston says compulsory income management has made people in the NT less able to manage their finances.

"To manage their finances, many participants have become reliant on family members, service providers or automatic payment systems," he said.

The Australian Council of Social Services has used the study to renew its calls for a rise to the rate of Newstart so people are better supported while looking for a job.

The council is dismayed 84 per cent of people experienced shame or stigma while using the card.

"Instead of forcing people on to stigmatising cashless debit cards, which cost thousands per person to administer, we need our political leaders to help lift people out of the poverty trap by increasing Newstart and improving employment services," ACOSS chief Cassandra Goldie said.

"We're urging the Senate to block any move by the government to extend the cashless debit card and thank those senators who've visited communities subjected to the cards and have heard people's concerns."

Australian Associated Press