The Coalition are pushing for welfare recipients to be tested for illicit drugs.
The government hopes to trial drug testing on 5000 recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance over a two-year period. If the proposed bill is passed it would mean that those who test positive for illicit drugs would be put on “income management”.
Income management puts up to 80% of a recipient’s welfare payment on a cashless card, only allowing this money to be spent on “necessities”. It is not possible to withdraw money with the card or to use it to gamble or purchase alcohol.
The government claims that this type of cashless welfare system make drugs less accessible and forces recipients to better manage their money. But there is no evidence to support these claims.
The cashless cards can only be used at government approved stores, such as Woolworths and Coles. These supermarket giants often charge higher prices for goods than many smaller local shops. In remote areas it also means that people often have to travel great distances to buy basic items.
Those struggling on welfare payments do not need the government to tell them how to spend their money. They need good quality jobs with decent wages. And those with drug related health issues need access to proper healthcare and support.
According to the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 people are unable to access treatment every year.
The support system for those struggling with drug addiction is hugely underfunded. The government claims it will put an extra $10 million towards a treatment fund, but this wouldn’t be enough to fill the huge gaps that exist.
They need to give up the idea of drug testing people and put that money and more towards the health system. Not only will drug testing not create a single job, but it will cost a fortune.
The actual cost of administering the drug tests is between $500 and $900 per test. That works out to between $2.5 million to $4.5 million just to cover one test per person on the trial. But they plan to do more tests and say they want to expand the trial.
In addition to being a waste of money, there is no proof that tests play any role in reducing drug dependency. For example, New Zealand drug tested around 40,000 welfare recipients each year and found that only 0.3% to 0.5% of people tested positive.
This is much less than what is found in the general population, which makes sense given most welfare recipients couldn’t afford a drug habit in the first place.
The government’s real motivation is not to help people but to push them off welfare. Unemployed people already have to adhere to lots of strict rules and regulations just to receive the tiny amount of $40 a day.
Humiliating drug tests would only end up demoralising a layer of people who would inevitably give up on payments and seek help from their friends and family.
The other side of this policy is the government’s attempt to scapegoat welfare recipients.
Rather than admitting that there are just not enough jobs being created they prefer to paint the unemployed as “dole bludgers” who rort taxpayer money to spend on recreational drugs.
The government says that welfare is not a replacement wage, but it should be. For every vacant job there are at least 15 people looking for work. If the system cannot provide everyone with a decent job and wage, they should be given a replacement income.
Corporations should be taxed at a higher rate to pay for this, given that they are the ones making profits from our work.
Obviously, this would be resisted by the bosses. Not only would it eat into their profits but it would remove their ability to play those of us who have jobs off against those who don’t. Unemployment and more competition over jobs also helps them drive down wages.
Any one of us could find ourselves unfortunate enough to be out of a job, especially as recession looms. Workers and the unemployed need to fight together against all attempts to scapegoat the unemployed, and for higher payments and more rights for all welfare recipients.
By Kai Perry