On the sixth anniversary of the traumatising Northern Territory Emergency Response, known as the Intervention, three leading national community welfare organisations are urging the major parties to dump the policy of mandatory income management, which they assert is wasteful, ineffective and harmful.
The Australian Council of Social Service, the National Welfare Rights Network, and St Vincent de Paul Society say compulsory income management punishes people who are already doing it amongst the toughest and is incredibly expensive. It should be replaced with a genuinely voluntary scheme, which is part of a broader development plan in communities. The Government should abandon plans to further extend wasteful and ineffective income management from 1 July 2013.
The 2012 independent evaluation of income management in the Northern Territory found no clear evidence of the value of the program. At best, some people perceived that they were being assisted by the program. More than two thirds of those surveyed said they felt discriminated against by income management. Three quarters felt it was unfair and a similar number reported feelings of embarrassment.
Each person subject to income management in the Northern Territory costs between $6,600 and $7,900 in remote areas, and $4,600 in the five trial sites.
More than half a billion has been spent so far. The nearly $100 million per year would be better spent in partnership with Aboriginal people on programs that actually work in their communities.
For too long, the absence of real jobs and basic community infrastructure has been a blight on the social and economic life of many communities in the NT. The social impacts of prolonged unemployment and lack of basic services in many communities in the NT has demanded a holistic response. However, removing funds via welfare quarantining from entire communities was a crude and unfair response.
Compulsory income management unfairly and wrongly assumes that just because a person receives an income support payment, they can’t manage their own affairs. It should only be implemented as a part of an economic and social development plan negotiated with communities.
Income management was expanded to five new locations from July 2012: to Bankstown (NSW), Shepparton (VIC), Playford (SA) and Logan and Rockhampton (QLD). In May, there were 423 people on income management in these areas. Ninety-two per cent, or 391 of those on income management in these designated areas are voluntary participants. Thirty people were under the ‘vulnerable’ category, due to homelessness or other problems, while just two people were placed on income management under the child protection measure.
The Government is to rollout a major expansion of compulsory income management from 1 July 2013 in the five trial sites and the Northern Territory, with little warning and very limited consultation.
Thousands of young people, including many fleeing violent and abusive families, may have their income support payments quarantined. The largest group impacted will be young people unable to live at home because of family violence and abuse. People under 25 leaving gaol and moving to one of ‘declared areas’ who claim a Crisis Payment and people under 16 claiming Special Benefit will also be targeted.
Around 2600 people in the NT and place-based sites who receive the “Unreasonable to Live at Home” Youth Allowance are likely to be subjected to income management from 1 July 2013. No matter how well these young people are managing their financial affairs, they will be placed on income management just because they claim a certain payment and live and a specific location. This blanket approach is a step backwards to the early days of income management, when it targeted people on the basis of their Aboriginality. It will be harmful and hurtful to many young people.
Once again, the Government has got it wrong on income management.
Dr John Falzon, CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society, National Council of Australia
Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO, ACOSS
Maree O’Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network