Macklin dismisses research and soldiers-on with income management roll out

Related:
Study proves income quarantining has failed
Call to set up a welfare camp in Canberra

Macklin's twists truth on income management

Intervernention Graph
Three month rolling average per capita sales for store sales, total food and drink sales, fruit and vegetables, soft drink and cigarette and tobacco, for Arnham Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation stores combined, 1st October 2006 to 30th September 2009.

The introduction of income management occurred in one the study communities at the 19th month, as shown, and commenced in the other nine communities in the subsequent 3 months.

The Medical Journal of Australia
After the Intervention - Research Report

Julie Brimblecombe and David Thomas Crikey

We are the co-authors of a study published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, which shows that the federal government's income management policy is not making an impact on tobacco and health food sales in remote community shops in the NT. Smoking and poor diet are responsible for much of the health gap between indigenous and other Australians.

We are concerned that indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin has responded to our study by highlighting the results of the government's evaluation. She has told journalists that the government intends to press ahead with plans to roll out income management more broadly, and has appeared to dismiss our findings.

The evaluation cited by the minister was based on interviews with 76 income management clients in four communities, telephone interviews with 66 store operators as well as interviews with business managers and other stakeholders across several locations.

This is poor use of qualitative research to answer a question that essentially requires quantitative data: are people buying more healthy food as a result of income management?

Our study provides that quantitative data. It used sales data to measure how much was being spent each month across 10 stores in the Northern Territory, 18 months before and 18 months after income management was introduced. In contrast, the government's evaluation report of income management and spending relied entirely on people's perceptions in a large number of interviews.

We confirm store managers' claims that there was no change in people's spending on tobacco.

However, in contrast to the government report, we found that spending on food and drinks and fruit and vegetables did not change with income management. Soft drinks sales increased.

The one time during income management that spending went up for all store commodities was when people actually had more money: at the time of the government stimulus payment.

Telling people of low income how they can use 50% of their income may make no difference to their spending, but giving a lump of cash does.

The government's evaluation report claims that "the main benefit identified [of income management] was the increase in the amount of money spent on food for community members, especially children". This is now questioned by our evidence.

Even its minor claims of improved food choices, more fresh and more healthy food being purchased, are linked to the new licensing of stores in these communities?-?not income management.

Continued income management in remote NT Aboriginal communities and its extension to all welfare recipients does not seem to fit with the government's credo of evidence-based policy.

Whilst the government's defence of income management with only very shaky evidence has been controversial, gaining little support from public health experts, it has received applause for its work on prevention, and smoking in particular.

It has allocated $100 million to indigenous tobacco control, using the limited local indigenous research but extensive international evidence from other contexts. Its recent decisions to increase the tax on cigarettes and to restrict tobacco companies' advertising using cigarette packets are also likely to reduce indigenous smoking.

But attempts to tackle indigenous people's poor diet have not been as coherent and are off to a shaky start. There is no funding for either the COAG food security initiative or the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan. The government is yet to respond to the 33 recommendations of the Senate inquiry into remote community stores.

But store licensing, which is setting minimal standards in remote stores in the NT, and the funding of 100 new indigenous healthy lifestyle workers are welcome and positive steps.

Less welcome is the reluctance to consider food subsidies. Yes, they are expensive and difficult to monitor, but there is increasing international evidence that modifying price and monetary benefits, such as food stamps, help to improve the diet of economically disadvantaged groups.

As Amanda Lee and colleagues have stated, we need rigorous testing of economic solutions to increase access to healthy food in remote communities.

Skirting the real issue of affordability and poverty, while defending and extending income management policies, may delay improvements in indigenous people's poor diet and the government's pledge to "close the gap".

*Dr Julie Brimblecombe and Associate Professor David Thomas are from the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin


Gillard defends welfare quarantining

Sat May 29, 2010 ABC News

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard says she supports the policy of income management in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, despite criticism from Amnesty International.

Amnesty International's 2010 report was released this week and found Indigenous people in the Northern Territory are still being discriminated against under the federal intervention.

Ms Gillard says she understands that some people do not support welfare quarantining, but she is confident it is working.

"The evidence from here in the Northern Territory - and I understand that it has been controversial in parts of the community - but the evidence here is that it makes a difference to make sure that kids are fed, that bills are paid, that women feel safe," she said.

Compulsory Income Management

Source: Australian Council of Social Service (ASPSS)

In November 2009 The Federal Government announced plans to rollout compulsory income management for people on income support.

ACOSS and many other community groups are concerned the measures will discriminate against income support recipients by denying them the option to manage their finances. The program will be trialled in the Northern Territory before being rolled out across Australia.

"These are major reforms to our welfare system and we are concerned there is no evidence to warrant an extension of income quarantining. Blanket income management is a blunt instrument which does not consider individual circumstances. We need individual solutions to individual problems and we urge caution on a national rollout," said Clare Martin, CEO, ACOSS.

"In addition to being unable to find a job and having to live on $228 a week, this announcement is another humiliation for unemployed people. These measures will not give unemployed Australians jobs or training.

"The last report released by the Government on the progress on the NTER - the Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory - showed there has been no improvement in school attendance, and sales of cigarettes have remained steady, despite the argument that income management would improve school attendance and reduce alcohol and tobacco sales."

The joint statement is supported by:
ANTaR
Australian Financial Counselling and Credit Reform Association
Australian Association of Social Workers
Australian Council of Social Service
Australian Nursing Federation
Catholic Social Services Australia
People with Disability Australia
Family Relationship Services Australia
Jobs Australia
National Council of Single Mothers and their Children
National Ethnic Disability Alliance
National Shelter
St Vincent de Paul
The Salvation Army - Australia Southern Territory
UnitingCare

The policy

About compulsory income management

Under compulsory income management, half the fortnightly payments for people on certain types of income support would be earmarked for essentials like food, bills, clothes and rent. These funds will be available using the BasicCard, Centrepay or other Centrelink arrangements.

Who will be affected?
15 - 24 year olds who have received welfare payments for over three of the last 6 months;
25 year olds and older on Newstart Allowance and Parenting Payment for over a year in the last two years;
people referred for income management by child protection authorities; and
people assessed by Centrelink social workers as requiring income management due to vulnerability to financial crisis, domestic violence or economic abuse.
The scheme will be trialled across the Northern Territory from 1 July 2010. Around 20,000 people are likely to be affected in the NT.
Individuals can apply for exemptions.

Media Release

National Welfare Rights Network - 11 March 2010

No justification for "income management" roll out, says Welfare Rights

A key welfare lobby has today angrily slammed a Senate Report that recommended the expansion of income quarantining across the entire Northern Territory, and potentially across Australia, as a "whitewash and not worth the paper that it was written on," said Kate Beaumont, President of the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN).

"Just two weeks ago the Chair of the Senate Committee told NWRN that 'we know there is little evidence' to support the extension of income management. Somewhat incredulously, the Chair has now recommended that the Bill be supported, with not even a single word changed. This is an unfortunate case of a policy that is in search of an evidence base.

"The Government and Opposition reports ignored and distorted evidence to the inquiry. The report is incredibly thin on analysis into the complex social issues which impact on disadvantage in this country. For the most part the Government's response is little more than a cut and paste job from scripts developed by departmental officials who provided evidence which lacks credibility and authority.

"Given that the expansion of "income management" is not supported by any evidence, the changes are little more than a massive social experiment on some of Australia's most marginalised individuals and communities. This comes two and a half years after the NTER which was developed by the former Government in just four days.

"The Opposition's minority report to this inquiry insists on a continuation of the Northern Territory Emergency Response to all 73 communities where blanket compulsory income management is currently in force. Among the misguided policy considerations is the suggestion to impose compulsory income management to most people on income support, including those on Disability Support Pension and Carers Payments who have young people under 18 in their care. This proposal would punish thousands of selfless Australians who provide support and care for young people under 18 needing foster care. The Coalition's approach could result in foster families potentially turning young children needing help because they would fear being placed on income management.

"Compulsory income management does not address the root causes of social problems. Instead it seeks to blame individual behaviours for the social problems that confront them. Voluntary income management, rather than a system that is imposed from above, is what is required. Evidence to the inquiry also raises serious questions over the effectiveness of the Government's proposals to restore the Racial Discrimination Act.

"A major concern that we call on Minister Macklin to address is the risk that people who are faced with a major personal crisis, such as financial abuse or domestic violence, will be reluctant to seek help because in reaching out to authorities they risk being assessed by Centrelink as "vulnerable" and placed on compulsory income management. Even age, veteran and disability pensioners may be caught in the income management web if their nominee looking after their finances falls under the compulsory income management regime."

For comment:
Kate Beaumont, President, National Welfare Rights Network: 0414 792 923
or Gerard Thomas, Policy and Media Officer: 0425 296 882.

The NWRN is a network of services throughout Australia that provide free and independent information, advice and representation to individuals about Social Security law and its administration through Centrelink.

For member details, services and information visit: www.welfarerights.org.au