In the absence of a final evaluation report on the trial of the Cashless Debit Card in Ceduna in South Australia and Kununnurra in Western Australia, the Federal Government has declared the trial a ‘success’ and has agreed to extend the implementation of the Cashless Card in Ceduna, South Australia and East Kimberley, Western Australia, on an ongoing basis with six-monthly reviews.
Based only on interim report findings released today, this significant policy decision has been taken prior to the completion of the trial or a consideration of the final evaluation report, which is only due in June 2017.
A selective use of evidence
The Interim Evaluation Report (February 2017) states that, ‘Overall, perceptions of the impact of the Trial varied between those involved in it and those in the general community (p. 4)’. More participants (49%) said the CDC Trial had made their lives worse rather than better – that’s an average of almost one in two participants indicating that the CDC had made their life worse. 46% on the non-participant sample group indicated that the Trial had made life in their community better.
Simon Schrapel AM, CEO of Uniting Communities: ‘The Federal Government’s premature decision has ignored the fact that almost half the trial participants who were interviewed indicated that their lives were worse as a result of the trial. The so-called ‘success’ of the trial and the Government’s decision to extend the Card on an ongoing basis appears to be based on the views of non-participants, rather than those with lived experience of the Card, the actual participants themselves.
‘It appears that the Government places much greater value on the voices of those not subjected to the imposition of using the debit card than those who are forced to use it’.
Lack of rigour in data analysis
The Interim Report states that poker machine revenue in Ceduna and Surrounds in the period after the start of the Trial (April-August 2016) was 15% lower than in the same months in 2015 (p. 17).
Schrapel questions the use of this data: ‘The Report’s gambling data for Ceduna and surrounding area seems to be in line with the 15% state-wide reduction in gambling, as reported by South Australia’s Consumer and Business Services. The claim that the CDC trial has resulted in this decrease in pokies does not recognise the generalised downward trend in poker machine revenue across South Australia or the range of variables that impact on gambling – it appears that the available data is being manipulated to suit the desired objectives of the proponents of the Cashless Card’.
The Report states a decrease in overall crime in the Ceduna trial site. However, the statistics for a range of crimes, as provided by SAPOL for the Eyre Western LSA over the past 12 months when compared to the previous year, indicate an increase in offences against property and against the person. Most notably, there was a 111% increase in robbery and related offences, and a 400% increase in non-aggravated robbery.
Schrapel says, ‘It’s alarming to note that the Minister for Human Services has indicated in an interview today with ABC News that the crime figures in the Report were “preliminary and not conclusive” and yet this very same crime data has been used to validate the extension of the Cashless Card. Surely we need a more rigorous assessment of such evidence before it is used to justify a major policy announcement’.
Schrapel went on to comment: ‘While the Government has painted a rosy picture about the impact of the Cashless Card, it has neglected to focus on the significant negative consequences of the Card that have been included in the Report. These include reports from participants that they felt penalised and discriminated against by being forced to participate, and that there was a stigma and sense of shame associated with having a CDC. Participants have also experienced a range of challenges such as not being able to transfer money to children that are away at boarding school or to participate in the ‘second hand’ market for used goods or pay for transactions at events such as markets or where EFTPOS facilities are not available.
‘Of particular concern is the apparent increase in age pensioners being humbugged for cash, as a result of there being less cash available in the community. This leaves older members of the community more vulnerable. In addition, some people appear to be resorting to illegal behaviours in order to obtain cash. These unintended consequences require heightened attention.
‘Uniting Communities opposes the blanket and mandatory approach to the trial and the implementation of the Cashless Debit Card that negates people’s sense of agency and their right to choose. We call on the Government to consider a voluntary scheme that would enable people to opt-in if they believe that the Card would act as a positive support in their lives.
‘Uniting Communities stands by participants in the Trial who have experienced stigma and shame as a result of being forced to use the Cashless Card and call for an end to the Government’s inappropriate and victim-blaming approach to managing and providing income benefits to people.
‘Uniting Communities calls for a rigorous analysis of the interim findings prior to any decision being taken about the future of the Cashless Debit Card and remains shocked at the Government making key policy decisions based only on the selective use of interim findings’.
Mr Schrapel explained that, ‘Uniting Communities is a member of the Accountable Income Management Network, a group of organisations and individuals from around Australia committed to ensuring that income management policy and practice is held accountable to those who are subjected to its imposition’.
For media comment:
Simon Schrapel AM
Mobile: 0411 643 132