My experiences of the Cashless Debit Card

Nothing illuminates policy in the same way that individual stories of lived experience can. The Cashless Debit Card Symposium was held at both the University of Melbourne and the Alfred Deakin Institute on Thursday, the 1st of February 2018, and the Power to Persuade is running a series of blogs drawn from the presentations made on the day. In this piece, Jocelyn Wighton, a citizen of Ceduna and one of the many who were forced onto the Cashless Debit Card, shares some of her experiences and frustrations with the CDC.

I live in Cedua SA, a beautiful seaside town of around 3,000 people. It is one of those towns that is on Highway One, so if you ever drive from the east or west across the country, you will know Ceduna as the fuel stop before or after the Nullarbor Plain. I love living here, and, as I’m on a disability pension, I do a little bit of volunteer work at our lovely little craft shop and go to a ladies group once a week. This keeps me in contact with the community and gets me out. I was living my life in peace after getting out of an abusive 2nd marriage around ten years ago. Then this Indue Card arrived and upset the whole community. It was foisted on us, with no consultation. The ‘powers that be’ decided that because there were 60-70 disruptive people around town that they would fix that by putting around 700 residents on a cashless welfare card. It is compulsory for all Centrelink pensioners, excepting the old age pensioners.

Eighty per cent of my pension was put on the card, and only 20% in the bank. That 20% was the only cash we had. In a country town, we have second-hand goods, markets, garage and clearing sales. We have 2 op shops that were given an EFTPOS machine each (!) and other small cafes etc. in town also had to get them, or lose business. Parents had to find cash to pay for school camps and lunches at school for their children. We cannot buy goods over the Internet with it. People had trouble paying their mortgage as the sum was more than the cash component. In the first six months, the card was rejected 21,000 times – yes, it is that unreliable!

Ceduna is a small, tight-knit community. Introducing the CDC has brought stigma and isolation to welfare recipients in addition to making it extremely difficult to manage funds.  Photo credit the District Council of Ceduna .

Ceduna is a small, tight-knit community. Introducing the CDC has brought stigma and isolation to welfare recipients in addition to making it extremely difficult to manage funds. Photo credit the District Council of Ceduna.

Have a think about the amount of cash you use each week. Imagine going out for a coffee with friends and having to use the card. Imagine buying the local paper ($1.70) and having to use the card. Imagine not having cash for something you really love on the local buy/sell/exchange. Imagine trying to sell some items to get cash to survive. Imagine every time you pull the card out that you are labelled as a loser. Imagine pulling out a card that doesn’t always work! Even if you have a dollar balance on the card, it refuses you at the checkout, with people waiting behind you in the queue at the local supermarket. Imagine going to the chemist and the card will not work for your prescriptions. All of this has happened to me, and others, many times. Just a fortnight ago, I went to the Post Office to pay my Ambulance Cover and Dom Care bill; my card was finally accepted on the 7th try. All this with a queue of people waiting, and judging, behind me. And this is an ongoing problem.

Every single dollar I get from Centrelink (and it’s not their fault) is divided up into increments, in the meantime your private details are goodness knows where. Even the advance I got from Centrelink to replace my fridge was, in its entirety, put on the card. I do not trust this company, Indue!

The other issue is the local group overseeing the card locally. This committee is made of signatories of the MOU supporting the card. In a small town such as ours, we know most people – for example, I am a member of our craft shop, as is the mayor’s wife. I applied for the 50/50 option that as given to us [in which 50% of payments is received in cash, rather than the standard 20%]; three months later I got a letter and a second envelope. I was not given 50/50, but 60/40. If I can’t get it, who can?

In case you were wondering, I do not drink, gamble, take drugs (other than prescription), or waste my money – yes, MY money, as a pension is a right in the Australian Constitution.

The crime statistics speak for themselves; they have risen. I live with it, every day.

Forty-six people have been removed from the card, after they protested that they couldn’t pay their mortgage, that it affected their mental health, or that it did not activate in the first place. That took over a year. There is no other way off this card. Even if I move – anywhere – I will still be on it.

Before anyone says, “but what about people who need help?” I have no problem with the various services around town helping them. There are just as many white alcoholic/druggies people in this town as Aboriginal, so do not make it a ‘racist issue’ either! That was the inane comment made by the politicians that made it okay to put everyone on the card.

Our Mayor, Allan Suter, told us that it would be a ‘minor inconvenience’ for those of us that didn’t drink, take drugs or gamble. Lately he has also said, and I quote, “the only people who had spoken out against the card were the addicts whose ability to indulge in their vices had been taken away.” I beg your pardon? I object to that statement on the grounds that neither I nor my friends are addicts. He later said after a letter to the local paper, that the comment had been taken out of context. More spin!

In closing, there is one thing I would like to emphasise: The less money you have, the better money manager you are.

To read more from the Cashless Debit Card Symposium, see:

The mounting human costs of the Cashless Welfare Card

Human Rights and the Cashless Debit Card: Examining the limitation requirement of proportionality

Straightjacketing evaluation outcomes to conform with political agendas - an examination of the Cashless Debit Card Trial

Looking at the Australian social security system through a trauma-informed lens