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Chapter 2: The Healthy Welfare Card

We must use the power of the market and business incentives to deliver the jobs to eliminate disparity and the high barriers to employment entry for individuals.

Are mainstream services being held to account? Are responsibilities being fully enforced and accounted for? Is there sufficient glare of public scrutiny on their performance? Not yet. And are they failing our first Australian brothers and sisters? Yes, but don’t blame them. We are all in a sense, at least by association, guilty of the soft bigotry of low expectations. Where this has translated into areas of very low performance—like, for example, very low, continuing and systemic school attendance—it may even be called the racism of low expectations.

Andrew Forrest

Almost half of all working age first Australians rely on welfare payments as their main source of income, compared to only 17% of all Australians.

The Healthy Welfare Card introduces a new system to support welfare recipients to:

  • manage their income and liabilities
  • save for the occasional bigger expenses like Christmas or school camps
  • encourage welfare income to be invested in a healthy life.

All individuals and families benefit from a stable financial environment where regular bills and rent are paid on time and there is food on the table, allowing them to concentrate on other concerns including returning to work and raising and educating their children.

We need to make the necessary changes to Australia’s welfare system to empower individuals to use it as it was intended. Welfare is provided to help people build healthy lifestyles and make the best choices they can for themselves and their families—particularly their children. It is a social safety net of last resort and should never be a destination, or support poor choices.

Income management was widely regarded as very helpful for vulnerable people, enabling them to manage their budgets, save for expenses and stay in stable housing. However, it is complex, it can be considered paternalistic and comes with a cost that renders it unsustainable and unsuitable for broader application.

While income management is useful to stabilise an individual’s circumstances, it can make transitions off welfare and into work more difficult. An alternative that provides similar support for welfare recipients but includes them in the country’s mainstream banking and financial services system will do much more to build financial literacy and independence.

This review would like to thank Coles, Woolworths, Metcash’s (IGA), National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Westpac, ANZ Bank and eftpos Payments Australia Limited for their assistance in evaluating the proposal for a Healthy Welfare Card. Australia’s own EFTPOS system has stated that it can adjust its scheme rules to fully implement the Healthy Welfare Card recommendation with the above participants through a combination of technical and operatorassisted solutions. These will enable welfare recipients to purchase the goods and services required to maintain healthy lifestyles, yet block those goods and services—such as alcohol, drugs and gambling—that damage health, family wellbeing and ability to enter or return to work.