Report blasts cashless welfare card trials
THE auditor-general has blasted a Federal Government evaluation of its controversial cashless welfare card trials, suggesting the Government had little chance of knowing whether the cards were a success.
An initial year-long trial of the card involving about 2100 welfare recipients in the East Kimberley and Ceduna in South Australia from late 2014 cost more than $18.3 million.
But an Australian National Audit Office report released yesterday found taxpayers were unlikely to ever find out if the trials benefited those communities, as the Department of Social Services’ monitoring and evaluation was “inadequate”.
“There was a lack of robustness in data collection and the department’s evaluation did not make use of all available administrative data to measure the impact of the trial, including any change in social harm,” the audit found.
“As a consequence, it is difficult to conclude whether there had been a reduction in social harm and whether the card was a lower-cost welfare quarantining approach.”
The cards quarantine 80 per cent of trial participants’ income support payments on to a Visa debit card that cannot be converted to cash or spent on alcohol or gambling.
The Government claimed last year the cards were having a “significant positive impact” on alcohol, drug use and gambling as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the trial would be expanded to WA’s Goldfields.
The auditor-general’s report notes that while “aspects” of the wider rollout of the card were informed by learnings from the trial, the tests were “not designed to test the scalability of the (cashless debit card) and there was no plan in place to undertake further evaluation”.
With the trials costing about $12,000 a participant, the report also criticises the Government for not evaluating key operational measures such as efficiency or cost.
WA Greens senator Rachel Siewert, who has campaigned against the trials, said the “social experiment” should end.