By ERWIN CHLANDA
Income Management, with the BasicsCard as its major tool, has made little difference to alcohol sales, and “rather than building capacity and independence, for many the program has acted to make people more dependent on welfare”.
The current, same size fits all strategies following the Intervention in the Northern Territory has not enough “working with individuals and tailoring the program to their needs.
“Building capacity is a challenging process that requires time and resources, and it cannot be developed by simply imposing restraints.
“Measures of well being at the community level show no evidence of improvement, including for children.”
That’s the dim view expressed in a long-awaited report by the Social Policy Research Centre of the University of New South Wales, which was commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Social Services.
“There was no evidence of changes in spending patterns, including food and alcohol sales … for those on compulsory income management [and] spending on BasicsCard on fruit and vegetables is very low.”
The reports says 41% of participants want to get off the program and 45% want to remain on it. This figure is much higher for people who have volunteered for management.
The report did not find support for the common belief that Aboriginal women are predominantly for Income Management, and men against.
The head of the evaluation team, Professor Ilan Katz, says amongst Aboriginal participants in the scheme “we did not find much of a difference between men and women” in their attitudes towards Income Management.
The report says: “Many of those on income management want to remain on indefinitely.
“The main reasons people gave were that it was easier being on income management, it was easier to manage their money, that they are used to income management and it is easier to stay on, and that they liked having the BasicsCard.
“Around two-fifths of people on income management thought that it had made things better for them; about one-third thought that it had made no difference, and about one-quarter thought that income management had made things worse for them.
“These mixed sentiments were reflected in many other areas, with substantial groups reporting that they felt more in control of their lives and money and that it was good for their children, and substantial groups reporting the opposite.
“A substantial group of people subject to income management felt that it is unfair, embarrassing and discriminatory.”
The program appears to be failing where it needs to succeed most: “New Income Management appears to have encouraged increasing dependence upon the welfare system,” the report says.
“The tools which were envisaged as providing them with the skills to manage have rather become instruments which relieve them of the burden of management.
“While at one level, and for some groups, this may still be seen as a positive outcome and one which they report as having improved their quality of life, more broadly it also comes at a cost of greater dependence.
“Program elements designed to build financial capabilities have not been successful.
“Despite over 29,400 people having been on the compulsory measures, only 1,139 people (4%) had completed an Approved Money Management course, and 31 had obtained a Matched Savings Scheme Payment.
“There was no evidence of any overall improvement in financial well being, including reductions in financial harassment or improved financial management skills.
“Data was collected on the incidence of problems in families due to alcohol, drugs and gambling. This was analysed as to whether there were any problems, and whether there were severe problems.
“All the groups reported a relative reduction in the incidence of there being any problems, but no change or an increase in severe problems.
“Only those on Voluntary Income Management reported a relative reduction in alcohol problems in their family, but, along with others, no improvement in problems with drinking in their community.”
Income management was first introduced in the NT in 2007 as part of the Federal Government’s Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER).
The main form of income management currently in place is “New Income Management”, which was introduced in the second half of 2010.
“While income management has been implemented in a number of other locations in Australia, it is only in the Northern Territory that the program is primarily composed of a compulsory component, which is simply linked to duration on payments and is implemented on such a large scale,” explains the report.
Indigenous people make up 90% of those being income managed. It is estimated that 1.3% of non-Indigenous people and 34% of Indigenous people aged 15 years and over living in the Northern Territory are subject to income management.
The BasicsCard can be used in approved stores and services to buy non-prohibited goods and cannot be used to withdraw cash.
Some 35,000 people have been subject to income management in the Northern Territory since the introduction of New Income Management.
In December 2013, 18,300 people were income managed. Of this total, 77% were on the main compulsory measures, and 20% were on Voluntary Income Management.
Income management appears to have been relatively successful in ensuring that the income managed portion of income is not spent on proscribed items, says the report.
“Expenditure of these income managed amounts, however, covers a very wide range of commodities and services, with no particular emphasis on the narrow set of ‘priority needs’ identified in the policy objectives of the program.
“Significant problems reported with the BasicsCard include the imposition of minimum purchase limits, surcharges on the use of the card, and the limited number of outlets at which it could be used.
“Merchant approval meant that many people reported having to purchase items at higher prices at approved merchants.
“The payment of rent was a major problem for some people in urban areas in a range of situations, including group housing and where landlords sought cash payment.”
PHOTO: Yuendumu store, where the basics card can be used.