So I just semi-lost-my-cool on Twitter over the Basics Card. Only "semi" because I wanted to rip a few threads ;-) Out of respect for my fellow Tweeter however, I did hold back a tad, and am going to write in further detail here why I feel the Basics Card is a stupid fucking arse idea that will demoralise and dehumanise Australians.
For those that aren't aware, the Basics Card is a part of Income Management - a strategy of the Australian Government to manage the money of Welfare Recipients. It started as blatant racism, however it has progressed to class warfare. Income Management is where 50% of your regular welfare payment, and 100% of any bonus payments, are managed for you. That is, you are forced to spend this money on what the government deems is appropriate - housing, food, clothes, medical, etc. As a part of this scheme, you may choose to be issued with a Basics Card - a card that works in the same way as an EFTPOS card.
Except for one tiny flaw.
It is only available at certain businesses.
Issue number one: Lack of choice.
Scenario - you need to buy food and the only money you have is on your basics card. The only business in town that offers use of the basics card is the most expensive grocery store. Already expensive food just got more expensive. You are penalised for being poor.
Scenario - you need medical supplies in the middle of the night and no chemist will take the basics card. You are shit out of luck.
Scenario - you need to supply your family with a gluten free diet and the local markets are cash only.
Payments can be arranged in advance to businesses that do not sign up to accept the Basics Card - but it takes time. That's fine if you're buying a fridge. Unless your fridge just broke down and you need a new one today. You knew it was coming and you've saved up but... no store will take your Basics Card. Damn! Plus - how do you organise such things with things like the local markets?
Actually, in all honestly, this lack of choice thing is more a pain in the arse than anything - after all, you still have the 50% of your regular income in cash to play with. However - that's not really the point is it? Life gets complicated. It's fine for you and I to sit here and say "well, she should have been prepared for her baby to have whooping cough on a Sunday night by having a spare $50 cash for taxi's and medication"... but we don't have to live her life. We don't know if she already spent that $50 on Saturday on a medical emergency for her other child. There is many a mother who has walked into emergency saying "nope, today it's the other one" to an inquiring nurse. The Basics Card limits choice. It limits options. And in some worst case scenarios, it's going to limit health and safety.
Issue number two: Segregation
Those who rock up to the register to pay with a Basics Card and those who don't. For people who live in the city, this may not seem like a drama. For those that live in a small town with only 30 people where everyone knows everyone else's business anyway, this also may not seem like much of a drama. However there are some people who are going to be mortified.
A couple of months ago, a woman whom I had never met, abused the crap out of me in the grocery store. I was buying groceries with my husband, and I had my walker with me. She abused us, accusing us of "ripping off the system" - even though she had no evidence of any kind that we were on any kind of payments whatsoever. For all she knew at that time, we could have both been on holidays from our very high paying full time jobs. I ended up breaking down in tears, and one of the ways in which I consoled myself was to say to myself that she didn't know anything about me and she still said all that shit.
If I'd had to pay with a Basics Card, she would have known for sure. Then what would she have said? How would I have felt? Do I deserve that? Do I deserve to be ridiculed in front of a store full of people because I have a disability? What sort of looks is the mother of three going to get? Heaven forbid one of them should have Autism as well... The looks THAT mother gets are already bad enough. And the comments. Every time you leave the house. Every. Single. Time. Ugh.
Issue number three: You can't travel
Australians gets pissed off at the idea that they are working full time and can not afford to travel overseas while other Australians are on welfare and are travelling overseas.
I get their point.
And then I think about it.
Nobody seems to give a rats arse about pensioners using pension money to go overseas, but let us forget that hypocrisy for a moment, and let us bag out Newstart instead. $489 a fortnight. I live in a small to modest size country town. Rent here starts at $240 for a three bedroom house or unit, divided by three (people) and then times by two (weeks) = $160 a fortnight. Food would easily be $100. Electricity, phone, transport, insurance, medical expenses, clothes, toiletries, heaven forbid the occasional meal out - and I'm thinking - whatever it is that these guys are missing out on in order to save enough to go overseas, who the hell am I to stop them? If they decide that eating nothing but fucking rice for three years is worth a trip to Paris, then good luck to them, because I sure don't have the palette or stamina to put up with rice for that long.
People visit their dying relatives overseas - are we really getting pissed off over that? Especially when it's usually the dying relative who is paying for the trip?
Just a little side note if you'll allow - the person I want to bitch slap is the fool with a disability who lives with his parents and thinks that the Disability Support Pension is more than enough because HE gets to go overseas twice a year. Yeah? Either his parents are wearing a lot of his costs, or his disability costs jack shit, but I'm raising two kids on DSP, and it's no fucking picnic!!! If it wasn't for friends, we would be on the streets!!!
We all have different priorities. I spend a lot of time with Autism families. Some feel that iPads are out of their reach and others feel that they are necessary pieces of equipment. I feel that if we can afford one on a good month (that is, no other emergencies or big bills), then most people who are working should be able to at least consider it - IF it is a priority. But the thing is - I have no right to tell them that they should be selling their big car to buy their kids an iPad any more than the public has the right to tell welfare recipients what they can do with their welfare money.
And that's it really. "Should" people be spending their money on housing, food, clothes, etc??? Of course they bloody well should. I haven't made up my mind yet about Income Management. Income Management isn't the issue that was stated in the Tweet.
The Basics Card is all sorts of fucked up. For all sorts of reasons, both practically and philosophically. No doubt about it.
Not to mention that this doesn't go anywhere near actually addressing the ACTUAL problems. Lack of health, lack of health care, lack of education, lack of employment opportunities, lack of support in relocation to pursue better employment options, lack of mental health care, lack of social supports, lack of housing, discrimination, etc, etc.
Just before I sign off...
Issue Number Four: To tie in all the others - it's just derogatory.
The Centrelink website states that you can volunteer for Income Management if you are unemployed, to help you adjust to living on a lower income, by providing assistance with budgeting for rent and bills. Yes, because someone who last week was a teacher earning $45000 so this week needs assistance as $45000 isn't enough to quickly build a decent savings account, needs help doing simple mathematics. It's like that Bachelor of Education just flittered away in the breeze.
Being unemployed doesn't equal being a fuckwit. It equals being unemployed. Are there a few Australians out there that need a bitch slap and made to wake up to the reality that you need to pull your weight in the world? Yes. However, there are Australians and media who need far more of a bitch slap to stop them obsessing over a handful of people and making life a living hell for so many good decent people in the meantime.
Note: I am not writing this as someone who will be using a Basics Card. Income Management seems to be mainly targeting those on "the Dole" and "Single Parent Pension" - the two types of welfare Australians love to hate. I can't imagine a day when Australians with a Disability will sit quietly by while they are told that they can not manage their own money simply because they have a disability. It simply will not happen. On the off change however that it does, our mortgage is over 50% of our payment, so we'll use it for that. The issues I've described will not affect me. When I hear of how they are affecting others however - decent people - I listen. I empathise. Sometimes I cry. It's hard enough to live as I do - always having this cloud above me that I don't "earn my own way" - the feeling that I'm "bludging" - being abused in supermarkets, having notes left on my car, altercations at daycare over parking spots, hell, the other day, some lady nearly ran into my wheelchair, then had the fucking balls to tell me I needed a learners permit for it!!! - Current affairs shows do their shows on disability welfare cheats and I want to invite them over for a week to see what it's like - not just a few minutes - but a whole week. Get the whole picture. And still - the cloud over me is better than that hanging over a single mother or a twenty-something on Newstart. For now, at any rate. The Coalition is looking to change that I hear :-(
Life can downright suck for some people. No one wakes up in the morning and chooses this life. The Basics Card isn't going to fix anything, and it's going to hurt people. The only good thing about it is that it makes White Australia feel better, knowing that their tax dollars are to the pockets of mining companies, where they belong.