Study proves income quarantining has failed

Welfare quarantining means replacing 50% of welfare payments made to all residents living in one of the 'prescribed' Aboriginal communities with cards that can only be spent on food and clothing, and only at major retailers such as Coles. Welfare quarantining was first introduced as part of the Intervention under the Howard government, to combat child abuse. But welfare organisations continue to argue there is no evidence to show it has brought effective change.

AudioGovernment expands income management despite negative findings (mp3)

See Also
Macklin dismisses credible research on income management
Call to set up a welfare camp in Canberra
Abbott backs welfare bill
More reports on welfare attack
Another failure of liberation

May 18th 2010 ABC News

Income Management
Customers at the community store in Jilkminggan, about 450 kilometres south-east of Darwin.
ABC file image

The Australian Greens have seized on a report that questions the effectiveness of income management.

A Menzies School of Health research paper has found quarantining half of people's welfare payment has not reduced tobacco sales or improved sales of healthy food.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has rejected its findings and is continuing plans to roll out income management for welfare recipients across the country.

But Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says the study is proof income management has failed.

"We've never been supportive of income management. We think it causes more harm than good," she said.

"It doesn't address the underlying causes of disadvantage and we believe it should be scrapped by the Government.

"We don't support the rollout of income management and certainly the evidence isn't there to prove that it works."

But Ms Macklin says the majority of Indigenous people support income management and she has met people who say it has improved their lives.

Senator Siewert says that is not an argument for retaining the compulsory scheme or expanding it to welfare recipients across the country.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert speaks with Mark Robinson about the 'Basics Card' roll-out

"The minister keeps hiding behind the people that say that they want it," she said.

"Well we say we don't have a problem with people who want it, they can choose to do it voluntarily. We do very strongly oppose it being indiscriminately imposed on people."

She says welfare recipients will be shocked when they hear about plans to roll out compulsory income management across the country.

"I don't think people realise the impact and extent of the legislation the Government proposes," she said.

"This is the most significant change to our social security system in Australia since World War II and there's been hardly any debate about it."

Senator Siewert says enabling legislation is likely to face a vote in June.

Centrelink - Income Management

Does Macklin's office have no shame? More on the income management study ...

May 17, 2010 – 4:22 pm, by Croakey Crikey Health Blog
This email landed at Croakey today. "Macklin's office really has no shame!"

My correspondent* was commenting on the response from Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin to a study published today in the Medical Journal of Australia showing that the federal government's income management policy is not making an impact on tobacco and healthy food sales in remote community shops in the NT.

Clearly anticipating adverse coverage from the study, the Government yesterday issued this release, stating: "The Australian Government is requesting an urgent report from key departments on policy options to help reduce the consumption of high sugar drinks in remote communities. A new study from the Menzies School of Health Research has highlighted the need to lower the consumption of high sugar drinks in remote Indigenous Northern Territory communities."

I'm not a great fan of the exclamation mark – much over-used – but in this case the email comment deserved a whole row of them. As in, Macklin's office really has no shame!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Minister and her staffers have clearly been watching way too much Yes Minister.

The script, which I'm sure you've seen too many times before, goes like this…What do you do when confronted with an unpalatable truth: why, of course you order an inquiry to distract attention and stop uncomfortable questions.

Never mind that there have already been zillions of dust-gathering reports and recommendations about how to improve healthy food choices in remote communities. Never mind that the study's authors specifically identified income management – rather than soft drinks – as the policy issue in question.

Two of the study's co-authors, Julie Brimblecombe and David Thomas, were not prepared to let Macklin's response stand unchallenged (the Minister was also on ABC radio this morning, downplaying the MJA study's findings and re-stating the Government's plans to roll out income management more broadly).

They put their case in this Crikey article today as to why their findings carry more weight than the government's evaluation that Minister Macklin prefers to cite in support of income management.

Commenting on the researchers' piece at Crikey, ANU academic Professor Jon Altman wrote: "…it is quite inappropriate to compare this research undertaken by academic experts at arms-length from government from research undertaken by federal bureaucrats or their paid consultants; and to compare rigorous quantitative research that addresses a specific question of sales before and after income quarantining with qualitative research that asks general questions about expenditures on broad categories of goods in government-licenced stores post Intervention only.

"The Australian government is clearly embarrassed by these research findings for three reasons. First, $82.8 million have just been committed in the 2010/11 Budget to create a new scheme for income management, an investment in a process to regulate the behaviour of welfare recipients in the NT. All up $410.5 million will be committed in six years to what might prove an entirely unproductive expenditure.

"Second, legislation is about to be tabled in the federal parliament predicated on an assumption that income management is good for Indigenous (and other) subjects in the NT, something this research seriously questions. Third, the Rudd government has remained firmly wedded to this intervention measure since its election in November 2007; saying sorry for others ‘historical' errors is clearly politically easier than saying sorry for your own ‘path dependent' acquiescence and possible mistakes."

This latest MJA study is not the first piece of serious research to undermine the Government's claims about the benefits of income management.

In the same issue of the journal, the president of the Australian Indigenous Doctors' Association, Dr Peter O'Mara, cites the health impact assessment (previously covered at Croakey) which concluded that the NT intervention will do more harm than good. "The report's disturbing prediction — that the intervention will cause profound long-term damage to our Indigenous communities — should be of concern to all Australians, including medical practitioners," he says.

"Generally speaking, governments need to think about the ways they can work together with Indigenous people, but, more immediately, AIDA believes that the Racial Discrimination Act must be reinstated and compulsory income management must be overturned."

My Crikey blogging colleague Eva Cox has described Minister Macklin's response to the new MJA study as "incredibly trivialising and dismissive".

It's also quite insulting. Apart from anything, it's an insult to the Government's professed commitment to "evidence-based policy".

• The email came from a seasoned observer of NT politics, especially the politics of health (and perhaps I should also mention that this person is not part of the Menzies School of Health Research team).

Croakey Comment - Crikey
Marion Scrymgour MLA

The researchers are well qualified, the study is based on concrete sales data (not subjective anecdotal reporting like the Federal Governments own commissioned study) and it has the imprimatur of the highly respected Menzies School of Health Research.

The stated conclusion is "income management independent of the government stimilus payment appears to have had no beneficial effect on tobacco and cigarette sales, soft drink or fruit and vegetable sales".

It is time to revisit the hype and spin that prevailed back in mid-2007 when this measure was introduced. The situation at the time was that Noel Pearson had developed a "fault-based" welfare reform proposal for implementation in Cape York. It was a proposal in which as a last resort income management could be imposed on particular dysfunctional or delinquent families along with a number of other arrangements, all in the context of close case management of the individuals concerned. Income management in that context had some chance of achieving a benefit because it was part of a package of case-managed measures targeted at particular individuals whose inability to exercise responsibility was demonstrated.

The Commonwealth Government endorsed Pearson's initiative for Cape York and then imposed a lazy and fundamentally different model on the NT, deliberately removing CDEP employees from work into welfare in order to achieve their objective. Rather than criticising the Federal Government for this, Mr Pearson praised and supported the intervention. The rest is history. To its great discredit, the current Commowealth Government has maintained the destructive combination of universal income management and the winding down of CDEP, asserting all the while that it sought to act on the basis of "evidence".

The evidence compiled in the Menzies report speaks for itself, as does the deterioration since the abandonment of CDEP in work participation, morale, and tidiness and general appearance of our communities. It is time for Minister Macklin to change course…..

Welfare Quarantining Fails to Prompt Healthier Purchases in Indigenous Community Stores

A new publication by Menzies School of Health Research raises doubts about the effectiveness of income management on improving Indigenous health outcomes.
Welfare quarantining was introduced as part of the Commonwealth intervention into the Northern Territory's remote Aboriginal communities.
Menzies' Researchers examined store sales data from 10 remote Indigenous communities from the 18 months before the legislation was introduced and for 18 months after it was brought in.

Lead author and Senior Researcher Julie Brimblecombe said in terms of improving sales of good food and reducing tobacco sales the research found welfare quarantining was not effective.

"This is a serious issue. Poor nutrition is a growing problem in remote communities. As with tobacco it is a key contributor to the health gap between Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians. It's vital that we address this issue."

The research found that income management led to no sustained change in the sales of healthy food, soft drink or tobacco. During the brief period in 2008 when additional lump-sum payments of $1000 per child were paid to families (the "government stimulus" payment) all store sales increased, including soft drinks, tobacco, and fruit and vegetables.

These findings suggest that, without an actual increase in income (as occurred with the government stimulus payment), income management may not modify people's spending habits in a positive way.

"This is an important finding. What we know from past research is that increasing the availability and affordability of healthy food in remote communities, together with community-wide education does improve nutrition." Dr Brimblecombe said.

Menzies' Director Professor Jonathan Carapetis said the research findings begin to provide the solid data needed to evaluate the effectiveness of intervention initiatives.

"This is what we've been pushing for. To date, evaluation of the Commonwealth intervention has relied too much on anecdote, instead of high quality evidence about what works and what doesn't. We need empirical data, not just opinion."

For more information please contact Laetitia Lemke 0447 275 415

Indigenous welfare quarantine failing: study

Lindy Kerin ANC News May 17th 2010

The Federal Government is determined to expand its welfare quarantining measures across the Northern Territory, despite research that claims the mandatory restrictions are not working for Indigenous people.

Income management is in place in more than 70 Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.

Welfare recipients can pay for essentials such as food, clothing and rent but cannot use the payments for alcohol, tobacco, pornography or gambling.

The Government plans to extend income management to include non-Indigenous welfare recipients in the Territory from July.

But Professor Jonathan Carapetis, director of the Darwin-based Menzies School of Health Research, says its research challenges the Government's claims that income management can help change people's spending habits.

"The main findings in 10 stores in the NT was that sales of healthy food, particularly fruit and vegetables, tobacco and soft drinks did not change at all really as a result of income management," he said.

"This really is the first reliable data we have on virtually any aspect of the NT intervention.

"If this program or any other program is to be expanded, then I would make a plea for higher quality data such as this to make sure we evaluate it properly."

Federal Minister for Families and Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin disagrees with the key findings of the report.

"I think it's very difficult to compare the results from these stores across the board to the rest of the Northern Territory," she said.

"I do think you have to also take into account the analysis from the larger study that looked at 66 stores, which found there was an impact, so we'll look at all of the evidence."

The Government plans to eventually roll out the income management program nationally. Ms Macklin is adamant the expansion in the Territory will go ahead.

"I accept there are different conclusions drawn from different studies, but if you look at the analysis done as a result of the stores inquiry which we published last year, the very significant consultations with Aboriginal people, the majority of whom certainly want to see income management continued," she said.

"They think it's helpful for their families and certainly we have a number of welfare groups who do see that income management is a useful tool."

But the National Welfare Rights Network is urging the Government to wait.

Its president, Kate Beaumont, says there is still not enough evidence about the benefits of income management.

"Yes, there are some people who are supportive of income management and it has made a difference," she said.

"Although to have blanket income management, as in what is proposed in the NT, so what goes beyond those who were previously income managed, just there's no reason for it and there's no evidence base for it.