OPINION

Divisive wedge of a move towards cashless

IMPACT: Zoë Wundenberg says that unemployment doesn't discriminate. Having a degree, skills and experience or even an inherent sense of responsibility doesn't give you immunity.
IMPACT: Zoë Wundenberg says that unemployment doesn't discriminate. Having a degree, skills and experience or even an inherent sense of responsibility doesn't give you immunity.

Nelson Mandela said that poverty was man-made, and it could be eradicated or it could be exacerbated by the actions of humans. However, when we see our nation's leaders further restrict the freedoms of those whose only crime is vulnerability, we have a deeper issue at play.

The Morrison government is relying on data from the CDC baseline data collection qualitative findings from March 2019 to claim that the "overall" community reaction to the Cashless Debit Card is a positive one, with this evidence underpinning Mr Morrison's apparent puzzlement at the resistance he is facing in rolling out the expansion of the trial. However, what he isn't telling you, is that out of the 5218 "participants" in the program, only 64 were surveyed. That's less than 2 per cent.

The Auditor General's report on the efficacy of the program tells a different story. This report, together with research undertaken by UNSW has concluded that the program is poorly targeted, is not cost-effective, can result in strong negative experiences such as social stigmatisation, financial harassment and hardship, increased stress, and can actually damage financial management skills.

One of the biggest problems with this approach to social policy is that it implies that there is something wrong with you if you are on welfare, indeed, it perpetuates the idea that you are on welfare because there is something wrong with you.

The government wants to drug test you to make sure you aren't on drugs, they want to limit your access to the welfare payments you receive because you can't be trusted to spend what little money you have wisely or budget effectively, and it is apparently assumed that you are at risk of putting your own selfish needs ahead of feeding and clothing your children, when in the majority of cases, this isn't the situation.

If 76.4% of welfare recipients don't use illicit drugs, as the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016 suggests, and more than 72.6% of people experiencing unemployment (looking for work) are unlikely to gamble in a given month according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, where is the justification for rolling out a mandatory, punitive and paternalistic national program as Mr Morrison has stated he is considering?

Regardless of this program's purpose or its efficacy, the fact remains that it goes against the very value-system of the liberal democracy this country is founded upon - to govern with minimal infringement of personal freedoms - and it drives a divisive wedge between us, making us forget people experiencing unemployment are not the enemy.

It is easy to turn a blind eye when it doesn't affect you directly.

It is convenient to blame the individual rather than the system for their employment status, for to blame the individual is to give one the belief that we retain control over whether such a thing will ever happen to us. After all, we couldn't possibly become dependent on welfare payments ourselves because we are too responsible, too educated, too skilled or too experienced.

But unemployment doesn't discriminate. Having a degree, skills and experience or even an inherent sense of responsibility doesn't give you immunity. It can happen to any of us. The demonisation of those experiencing unemployment is a tool used to create a divide, and psychologically separate "us" and "them". No liberal democratic government has the right to restrict people's personal legal choices. When these activities become abusive, there needs to be systems in place to support individuals, whether they are employed or not, to overcome this issue.

To quarantine payment and take away the personal agency of an entire group of people because of what they "might" do, or because of what their neighbour is doing, is nothing short of the exercise of Machiavellian governmental control, and surely we can all see the slippery slope that precipitates.

It is easy to turn a blind eye when it doesn't affect you directly. It's easy to pretend that the end justifies the means. But it doesn't. When the evidence is "not" clear that the cashless program even achieves the goals that it sets out to achieve, how can it be a program that we support? The most frightening thought is what is the next step.

As George Orwell said: "...if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed - if all records told the same tale - then the lie passed into history and became truth."

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocate at impressability.com.au

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