It dropped like a bomb on the town

This story from The Council of Single Mother and their Children (26 September 2017) is a first hand account, of the experience of one person in Ceduna (South Australia), forced into the Cashless Debit Card trial  (the Indue Card) and it is making it even harder to make ends meet than it was before. This account provides a good argument to back calls for putting an end to the trials and abandoning the idea of the Cashless Debit Card altogether.

“I want people to know what the Indue card is really like”

Anna is a single mother of three children, nine, seven and four. They live in Ceduna where she, along with most other people receiving some form of social security payment, had to switch to “I’ve been on it since pretty much the beginning,” Anna told us when we spoke to her on the phone.
The Indue card, as Anna refers to it, “makes life as a single mother more difficult than usual. You just lose any control in your life. You can’t even properly manage your budget and go shopping with confidence.”

Anna told us she feels that her life has become more stressful and difficult since the linking of her Parenting Payment to this card.

The Cashless Debit Card is now in place in Ceduna, Kununurra, and Wyndham and will commence in Kalgoorlie in 2018. Given the governments’ predilection for trials and expansions, it is likely it will spread to many more regional and urban locations in Australia. The government has nominated high levels of gambling, alcohol and drug use combined with high levels of welfare dependence as the reason for selecting these areas. Not much discussed though is that limited employment opportunities also exist in these areas.

People of working age receiving income support payments, such as parenting and carers’ payments, disability pension or the Newstart allowance, have these payments linked to the Cashless Debit Card. Those on age or veterans’ payment can volunteer to have their payments on the card. While the amount of money a person receives from Centrelink does not change, 80% of the payment is placed on the Indue card (named after the company the government has contracted to produce and manage the card), and 20 percent is paid into the person’s regular bank account. The government and Indue say the card works in most places with Eftpos facilities but will not allow the purchase of alcohol or gambling services and will not dispense cash.

Anna told us she feels “she has no freedom and is heavily restricted on what she can pay for using her Indue card”. She said lack of access to cash makes her life as a single mother difficult and is not easy for her children as they see her worry all the time. Anna told us she had to save for months to afford school photographs as they only accepted cash payments. Treating her children to weekly lunch orders has become difficult and spontaneous treats at the local store are almost impossible unless, in order to do it, she spends additional money to meet the minimum purchase amount to access Eftpos with her card.

Anna said clothing prices in Ceduna are expensive but with her Indue card, she is unable to access buy/swap/sell sites and second-hand stores as most of these only accept cash. On some occasions, Anna told us, she would pay for a friend’s fuel with her card in order to have them pay her back in cash. She said she finds this way of living makes it harder to budget and to save than it was before. Anna says that since she was put on the card, “it has made my depression and anxiety worse. I feel persecuted and sometimes just don’t want to go out and should deal with it. I feel so powerless.”

Anna described going to another town “… but the card declines because the businesses don’t accept the card. Every time this happens, I feel embarrassed and judged because the card marks me out”. Anna told us “It’s worse when you go to another town like Port Augusta for shopping and medical appointments and big school events. You stick out so much.” She said, “The only good thing about using it in Ceduna is that so many people are using it and there is a kind of ‘safety in numbers’. It’s so easy to see what the card is because there are signs all over town that mark us. so everything points to us as lazy dole bludgers”.

We asked Anna if she could name the good things about the card. She said she doesn’t think there is anything good about the Cashless Debit Card and does not believe it should continue. Whilst she acknowledged problems of alcohol, drugs and gambling, she believes this is not an effective way to address the issues. “Get the doctors involved and do smaller studies with an emphasis on helping people. I would do it that way, not have something like this that just punishes people and makes them feel even more like life is getting away from them.” Anna told us that most people in Ceduna felt this way, and that the Cashless Debit Card was “dropped like a bomb on the town. People receiving the card did not have enough knowledge about how the system worked and local professionals didn’t have the answers either.”

Anna said that she thinks the “statistics and interviewing are not accurately representing the people on the card.” She mentioned an evaluation exercise where interviewers stood outside the supermarket and spoke to people shopping. Anna told us she noted that most who were willing to talk were not Aboriginal people. “There was an Aboriginal lady doing research but locals would prefer to speak with a local”. When the results were publicised Anna said a lot of locals said “They didn’t speak to me! Where was that meeting? I didn’t hear about it.”

To Anna, the Cashless Debit Card is a ‘useless piece of plastic’. Technical problems with the card have caused a great deal of stress for her and for others.
Checking the balance on the card requires her to have an app on her phone. She tried this but it used up too much data space on her phone and required either Wi-Fi or a bigger data allocation. Some people she knows do not have access to a smart phone or internet, making it a serious and costly challenge to check their account balance.

Anna pointed out that once a purchase has been made, the money is not immediately removed from the balance displayed on the app and can sometimes take more than a day to be withdrawn. She said she rang Indue and they told her it is because the stores haven’t yet done their banking. She told us this makes it difficult at times to track her finances and ensure her card will not decline. Anna also said that people who don’t readily understand the cards limitations and the built in delay in internet transactions, are constantly subject to the humiliating and confusing experience of having less money than they thought they had.

Anna told us she does not believe the incidence of alcohol and drugs will reduce much by controlling how people will spend their money. She said, “If they really want it, they will get it. Forcing people onto this form of welfare is ineffective and harmful.”

Anna told us she is “worried about the expansion of the Cashless Debit Card particularly because there is no real transparency about the program. The government only hears what it wants to hear and it just wants to control us all.” Anna said, “Single mothers are doing their best but there is no work around and for those in the outlying areas, there is even less chance.”

Anna said she is passionate about sharing her experience, as the wider community seem to be unaware of the effects it is having.

At times, Anna said she has encountered people shocked to learn she is on Cashless Debit Card as they hold the misconception that it is Indigenous people only. Anna says the jobs are just not there and that she established her own background of solid employment in another place. She says many on the card, Indigenous and not, have no criminal or drug related history and are just parenting to the best of their ability in rural Australia.

Single mothers, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, deserve the best support we, as a society can provide, as they raise their children.

Anna has asked us to share her story to highlight the lack of consultation with people negatively affected by the card and to stress the importance of ensuring their voices are heard as it is expanded across different regions of Australia.

CSMC is grateful to Anna for her time and frankness. We have changed her name to protect her privacy.

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