By Kathryn Wilkes
For anyone who has always been a law-abiding citizen, who was a very hard worker for many years and who has slogged it out “alone” to raise a teenage daughter, the welfare debit card feels like the lowest insult to their sense of personhood and belonging within our lovely country.
Like many, I did not ask to be on Income Support payments. A work injury and then other health issues meant I simply could not return to work, despite repeated attempts.
A system which (at that time) did not cover any other supports had me placed onto a “grandfathered” Disability Support Pension.
Told to make do on the DSP, I was initially given to believe that my poor health did not make me a lesser person.
I was permitted to supplement the DSP with smallish self-employment projects. I did not feel judged for doing so. It was once policy to let pensioners “have a go”. I managed until worsening health got in the way. I felt proud of my efforts. At least I had tried to make it.
The DSP “safety net” was intended to be enough to get by.
At the same time, I was raising my daughter and trying to also provide care for my extremely ill mother until her passing.
Today, it feels like everyone like me will be branded by their use of the welfare card. Members of the general public will see it and know that I am on Centrelink payment. Although my illness is not always visible, I will now have strangers judging me. They may even be looking at what food I am buying, what items I am buying with “their tax dollars”.
(How would it make you feel to be exposed to judgements like “You shouldn’t be allowed to buy that with MY Tax Dollars” at the community supermarket? We “bludgers” must grow thick skins, but this is so invasive!)
It makes me question what my life is for. What is the point? If the Coalition Federal Government gets away with this policy, almost every aspect of my life will be scrutinised and every financial decision will be publicly monitored or judged.
Card recipients may need permission just to pay individual bills. My entire financial and private life will be shared with partner organisations connected to the company operating the card, Indue. That’s everything: my money, my health (me!) sold out to some data collection agency.
This sounds like something straight out of 1984, but for nearly 5 million people on any payment between the age of 16-64 this craziness could become reality. It is a reality I don’t want for me, nor my daughter, nor for the majority of others in this country.
Tell me why my daughter should automatically be deemed unable to manage money, why she should be restricted as to where she can buy things? She is not incompetent simply because she is the child of a pensioner!
I survive and have survived by being able to buy secondhand goods. I use the freedom to choose where I shop to get the most out of every dollar possible.
My fixed income does not allow for emergencies or sudden costs.
When the car died, there was no magic pot of savings to delve into. Finance and credit are not an option for me. I tried to borrow money from the ex to replace the car. This loan further burdened an already very strained situation.
The welfare debit card will not provide me with sufficient cash to repay any such loan. Private debts are not considered when involved with financial matters.
The welfare card will make me feel like I am now a lesser person, unequal to the working guy next door or my other neighbour, a self-funded retiree that owns investment property.
Thanks to a victim-blaming media, “welfare bludgers” like me already live with challenging levels of stigma. People have no idea of how the Centrelink system works, the tight regulations and pressures of this impoverished life cycle. Yet all feel entitled to make critical assumptions.
The media have painted a picture of people milking the system and living it up.
This is very remote from the reality of 800,000 people on DSP, who at this time are frightened of being cut off and placed onto Newstart.
As for the poor buggers losing their jobs and trying to survive on Newstart, nearly 3 million are now looking and fighting for work. Any that cannot get more than a few hours a week are treated as “bludgers”.
Sole parents trying to raise the next generation all feel the boot being stuck in. The government’s latest insult, the “welfare card” will crush us.
I don’t do drugs, never have and never will. I don’t even like prescribed medicines. I have consumed just one single alcoholic drink, just the once, in 7 years. I rarely buy a lotto ticket. Given the 14 day gap until there is any income again, I must use every dollar carefully.
Yet, I must still be condemned and processed like any chronic addict with proven money management issues.
Our dreams fade too. I once hoped to be able to save enough to be able to take my daughter to meet my relatives in the UK before they die, and for her to see where I grew up. (Recent travel restrictions on DSP recipients mean they are only allowed outside the country for 28 days).
Were there no loan to repay, were there enough for bills, were there ways to save, were lottery tickets afforded and were miracles to occur: any proper journey back to explore my birthplace would remain outside the rules.
The card does not allow for even some types of basic domestic travel. Whenever it is necessary to drive to a city hospital, you can’t even pay the hospital parking with the card. Overnight hotel or motel accommodation nearby is also vetoed. So much for the “Healthy” card spin.
Folk on DSP did not commit a crime.
Dependence on DSP instantly stopped my life, it put an end to home ownership. Without enough income to maintain the mortgage payments, I also lost the house once I had to rely solely on DSP. Isn’t that huge loss punishment enough?
Goals are replaced with lost confidence. There is no living it up on Centrelink.
I am left with a life of isolation. The collapse of my health would have been restriction enough, but strong friendships founder and invitations dry up faster when you cannot afford to reciprocate hospitality or participate in events.
An impoverished environment and lifestyle is already riven with instability and trauma. This welfare card imposes further controls over my life that could cause extra stress.
Relinquishing this last bit of self-determination seems too much. What is the price of personhood?
I prefer to make decisions for myself and don’t want a random private company taking over that slender safety net and telling me how and where I can use it. While it will be detrimental to my financial and mental health; their shareholders will profit through my struggle and further loss of self worth.
Purchasing newish or hardly used items at markets, garage sales and op shops helps me afford basic essentials for my daughter. I once found her a pair of unworn Converse sneakers for $5 at a garage sale. The card would eliminate this sort of saving.
The Welfare Card only gives you the choice of relatively expensive retail shopping. New appliances are now way beyond budget.
The card would stop me from being able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables at markets, but permit trips to McDonalds. (“Healthy”? Really?)
I feel that at nearly 50 years of age, my worth as a citizen is being thrown to the gutter. We are no longer viable, as we are not big “Income Tax” payers. We don’t generate enough profit for others. So they re-engineer the “free” market and take away freedom of choice.
When the boss says, “Sorry we have no more work for you”, aversive and dehumanising policies from Centrelink will not get us back in the game.
When work dries up, you are shifted from “valued” to “burden”. Within hours, the very low “safety net” begins to separate you from your hard earned savings and assets, reducing you to a stressed out mess and dumps you into poverty.
Redefined as a bludger/rorter/lazy, you find yourself being attacked by media and people you don’t know. They don’t know how hard you have worked, what you achieved, (buying a house, owning a car, being able to pay bills as they came in. Remember shopping when you want? Going out with family and friends to socialise?)
It all disappears as you struggle to re-organize your life, desperately trying to keep that house or pay the rent to keep a roof over your head.
Once unemployed, life as a person knows it is gone. Naturally, people try to get another job, albeit with lowered self esteem. Further dignity may be stripped from you as a job agency treats you as “waste of space loser who wants to sponge off the system”.
Yesterday you had a job, a future, friends, dreams for the future.
Today you are branded a “waster”, no longer valued, and you must join the 3 million other people struggling to survive the brutal punitive system that has sprung up around us to make profits for private business whose CEOs and managements are living well, while their “clients are starving and becoming homeless “and generally struggling not to drown in the inequality of the modern world”.
Where is our nation’s humanity and compassion when human worth is reduced to dollar productivity?
Where are the politicians standing up for the rights of all? Where are your MPs and Senators standing up for the rights of the 5 Million on every Centrelink payment aged 16-64? I know in my electorate not one of our members actually stands up for me and everyone like me? Why not, is it not the duty of our members of parliament to actually stand up for the people, all of the people, not just the “income tax payers” of this country. We all pay our taxes and our dues too.
Last but not least, I do know people out there that may be in need of such a card, or a service, those that either volunteer or are referred through a court order etc, as in the cases for children at risk.
One is not blind to the devastation, poverty, alcoholism and addictions can cause havoc within poor families.
However, disempowering a person and thrusting their family into still more stressful situations, is not the way to fix all their problems.
Solving complex addiction and social problems requires expert professionals, compassionate caring supports, investment in the appropriate facilities, drug rehabs and properly funded support services. Many of the best support services have had their funding cut or been closed down by this Government.
Real investment in people is required. No mere card can suddenly cure addicts in a “one size fits all” or cookie cutter approach. Paternalism should have limits.
We are not all “one size fits all” and neither should this card be!
Kathryn Wilkes is a progressive humanist who has joined the Anti Poverty Network campaign against the Basics Card and Welfare Debit Card in the past 12 months. Her work follows on the 5 year campaign against the Basics Card by the SA Anti Poverty Network. She convenes related groups on Facebook (Say No to Cashless Welfare and We Don’t Need Income Management) and is a committee member for the March Australia Activists Exchange. She is based in Hervey Bay.
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