Basics Card

The Basic Card was introduced in 2007 by the Federal Government as part of Income Management with the aim to prevent people spending money on grog and drugs. The card can only be used at prescribed stores and for prescribed items. Most of the money received by people on government benefits is through this card. The card has been rolled out in the NT, and various place-based trials (2014):

  • Bankstown (167)
  • Shepparton (348)
  • Playford (588)
  • Rockhampton (467)
  • Logan (949)

However in many communities the level of violence and drinking has not gone down, in fact has gone up in some areas. So presumably people are circumventing the spending restrictions and other issues are affecting the outcome.

The  Evaluating New Income Management in the Northern Territory: Final Evaluation Report (2014) conducted for the government provides the following table on the misuse of the Basics Card:

Ways of use of BasicsCard and related questions, LSNIM Wave 2, 2013 p 135.

Proportion reporting that event occurred Urban (%) Town Camp/ Settle-ment (%) Non- urban Comm-unity (%) Other (%) CIM Indig. (%) CIM non-Indig. (%) VIM (%) Total (%)
Do you/anyone in your family:
Share/swap BasicsCards when shopping with others 32.9 26.5 42.9 22.2 37.1 30.5 31.5 34.7
Let others use BasicsCard/PIN on behalf 41.6 34.5 55.3 11.1 48.5 32.0 45.3 44.1
Let others use BasicsCard/PIN for self 34.2 18.1 44.7 11.1 38.6 25.8 30.7 34.4
Swap food/groceries for money, alcohol, tobacco 23.1 4.9 8.0 11.1 14.4 22.7 8.1 15.5
Swap cards for money, alcohol, tobacco 19.6 2.4 7.6 11.1 12.4 18.1 8.2 13.2
Cash from taxis 16.7 3.6 10.8 11.1 14.0 11.4 9.7 12.8
Gamble using BasicsCard 3.2 0.0 3.8 0.0 3.7 2.4 0.0 2.8
Get stores to sell tobacco and alcohol on BasicsCard 10.4 0.0 3.7 0.0 6.3 10.4 1.4 6.6
Did you:
Pay more because using BasicsCard 38.9 26.0 39.4 12.5 41.3 33.1 23.5 36.7
Couldn’t buy something on BasicsCard 72.7 35.1 42.0 100.0 55.7 80.2 33.3 59.0

There are also other probable social effects, such as the willingness of people to circumvent the laws they do not respect and interferes with their independence and self-worth.

Government Policy

A summary of this new policy approach is here. And a very good summary of the statistics, and comment on the lack of comprehensive data collection or analysis is here.

To quote from interview with Elise Kline, Lecturer in Development Studies,
University of Melbourne (ABC RADIO ADELAIDE 9.10-9.18)
Topic: Possible cashless welfare card trial for Port Augusta after success
in Ceduna
(Clarke: Elise Kline … why do you think the cashless debit card actually
causes harm?) … I¹ve been following the trial in the east Kimberly that
was started at the same time as the Ceduna trial … our research has
shown some really concerning trends with the introduction of the cashless
debit card … because it¹s compulsorily targeted, so anyone that is
getting a payment from the Government, except if you¹re getting aged
pension or veterans allowance, but any other payment you are included in
this program … there is quite a big group of people that are included in
that … there¹s some very serious ramifications because … people are
finding it hard to manage their money on the card … it seems to not be
getting at the issues that it¹s meant to be getting to … targeting
people with all the same brush. (Clarke: … some of the statistics we¹ve
seen from the Government indicates that drug use is down … purchasing of
alcohol and gambling is down as well …) … the Government¹s numbers
also show that 49% of the people on the card reported that it made their
lives worse and 20% of the people on the card said it actually made their
children¹s lives worse … the Government¹s research also showed that
crime has gone up and there¹s questions around the impact on domestic
violence … I think the report that the Government put out when it
extended the trials had a whole lot of numbers in there that weren¹t
addressed and the analysis was quite concerning to researchers that have
been watching this space … need to focus on is the compulsory way in
which this card is targeting anyone that¹s receiving government benefits,
except for aged pension and veterans allowance … we¹re talking about
carers, we¹re talking about … youth … people having parenting payments
you know all being targeted with the same brush as having some vice, which
I think is a real issue … people receiving these benefits are receiving
them because they need financial support … having a piece of plastic
that¹s managing or trying to manage your income is actually … managing
people¹s finances a bit more difficult is what we¹re finding.

Checking data

The use of “double accounting” techniques are important for checking data, and there are simplified techniques that can be easily adapted to new topics. These techniques aim to approximate the result you would expect from the known situation, then compare it to the one given by the “authority”.

Techniques are: grouping or pattern matching to count in blocks; consider different cases as blocks and handle separately; simplifying the calculation by rounding; considering if the result seems likely.

Apply this to government policy in Aboriginal area – e.g. the proposal that the Basics Card will stop drinking and gambling.

The media reports that various individuals support the program, that they ‘have seen a decrease in violence in their community’. The program has been running for a while, so what are the figures?

There are firstly the issues around the children, who are the initial focus of the report. Is school attendance up as promised? Is better food being purchased from stores, especially community stores which are the main buying site for remote areas?

You can get figures from the police and family violence refuges – has drinking and domestic violence gone up since the introduction of the card in different regions? Some indigenous DSS and HACC data here

The data here shows number of people on the card – interesting there is no “unknown” just Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal groups.

Beyond the direct data

Firstly, there are questions about whether is fair to impose such
controls over the majority of people compulsorily on the card who have not
had such problems, secondly there have been new services funded in both
communities that could well be the cause of  reduced damage, but the
research cannot separate the effects of the card v services.
There are no clear official statistics that make clear connections between
the implementation of the card and behavioural changes. There are dubious
responses from a survey with people claiming they have reduced
consumption, but few would tell interviewers they had not.
There are concerns raised that crime has increased in some areas and lack of access to stores in remote areas and to second hand shops. Note there are different implementations of the Income Management system, such as the Basics card and Cashless Welfare Card

Consider the health effect on people of being denied control of their own (severely limited) finances. Studies have been done with employees of the British Civli Service and showed health effects from difference in pay scale results as those on a lower pay than those around them feel less control over their lives.

You can see some other issues arise from the data, such as the lack of practicality in its implementation, the vast majority of card holders are in NT, while there are few stores accredited there for them to purchase from.

For the latest report, see:

Evaluating the Cashless Debit Card Trial in Ceduna and East Kimberley: A Briefing Note by Dr Janet Hunt, Senior Fellow CAEPR, ANU

and the Greens Minority 2017 report to Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee

These summarise the concerns over the method of data collection, and its analysis, when reviewing the effectiveness of the basics card against the criteria for which it was created


The Basics card is not an effective response to protecting Aboriginal children and Aboriginal people’s wellbeing

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