North Adelaide community rejects BasicsCard plan

50-70% of payments are transferred onto a BasicsCard that can only be used on government-approved essentials.

The controversial introduction of income management to Playford in northern Adelaide was the subject of a thought-provoking and at times emotional community meeting hosted by Socialist Alliance on June 13.

A sizeable turnout of locals, including individuals from Anglicare, Uniting Care and the Playford City Council, discussed how this policy, to be “trialled” from July 1, will impact on the wellbeing of those on Centrelink payments and the broader community, and how people should respond.

Playford is one of five locations selected for income management trials beginning next month. Tthe other four are Logan and Rockhampton in Queensland, Bankstown in NSW, and Shepparton in Victoria.

Income management was introduced to Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory as part of the intervention in 2007. It has since been extended to the entire NT, and trialled in various forms in Perth and the Kimberly in WA, and Cape York in Queensland.

The policy has been criticised by several community, health, Aboriginal and welfare organisations for being expensive, humiliating and ineffective. They include the Australian Council of Social Service, the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, the National Welfare Rights Network and St Vincent de Paul.

There is no compelling evidence suggesting the policy improves the health or financial situation of those subject to the scheme, or the school attendance rates of children of welfare recipients.

Many at the meeting expressed confusion about the imminent trial and which categories of welfare recipients would be affected. It was agreed that more information about income management is required, and that local ALP MP Nick Champion should be questioned about the policy.

There was much anger when it was revealed that Champion has been a strong supporter of income management, having advocated the extension of income management into his electorate as early as 2010.

The Playford community has worked hard over the past few years to tackle its social problems, but was singled out for the income management trial. People at the meeting feared this would reinforce unfair stereotypes about the area.

Only those welfare recipients deemed “vulnerable” by Centrelink or referred to Centrelink by child protection agencies, would be subject to income management during the trial. They will have between 50-70% of their payments transferred onto a BasicsCard that can only be used on government-approved essentials, like food, clothing and paying for utilities.

The federal government would also target “disengaged youth”, those under 25 on the Parenting Payment or Youth Allowance for more than 13 weeks in a 26 week period, and long-term welfare recipients, those over 25 on Newstart Allowance or the Parenting Payment for more than 52 weeks in a 104 week period.

Exemptions would be possible but very difficult to obtain, according to academic and welfare policy expert, Eva Cox.

These categories for income management won't be applied to Playford straight away. But it may only be a matter of time, given the Gillard government’s record and statements on income management; its refusal to acknowledge the substantial research suggesting the policy is a simplistic response to complex social problems; its refusal to acknowledge the widespread opposition of community, ethnic, health, religious and welfare organisations to the policy; and the high likelihood we’ll have an Abbott government by the end of 2013.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott expressed support for extending income management to the entire country at the last federal election.

Questions were raised at the meeting about the range of stores where the BasicsCard can be used. This issue has concerned critics of income management who fear the BasicsCard will prevent those affected from shopping at smaller outlets like co-ops and second-hand stores where they can save money, as these businesses may lack the facilities to accommodate the BasicsCard.

It was agreed that the meeting needed to be the first of many on the issue and there should be more dialogue, education and outreach in Playford about the income management trial, and how the community should respond over the coming months.

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