I feel sick thinking about being forced on to cashless welfare. It's so insulting

Nijole Naujokas
I feel sick thinking about being forced on to cashless welfare. It's so insulting. This government is consumed with telling poor people how to live. Why do you care how I spend my money?

When it comes to listening out for government announcements on welfare, I am something of an old hand. It becomes a kind of compulsion when you are reliant on Centrelink payments to survive; scanning the headlines to see what other monstrosity they will foist upon you is necessary, and also incredibly dejecting.

Finding out about the current government’s push to put all welfare recipients on the cashless welfare card made my stomach drop. I felt physically sick every time I thought of it, and still do. For a few days, I had to stop scanning the headlines.

For those who don’t know, the cashless welfare card is a card that is issued to welfare recipients where 80% of your money is locked onto the card. Only 20% can be accessed for cash. The original form was the Basics card, pushed onto remote Aboriginal communities during the Intervention and framed as a solution to social problems. Andrew “Twiggy” Forest came up with this newer, flashier version with all his non-existent expertise in social work. I know nothing about mining. I guess this means Twiggy would welcome my non-existent expertise in his billion-dollar business. Don’t worry Twiggy, my suggestions on how you can stop wasting money are on their way to you posthaste. Oh, you don’t want my instructions on how to spend your money? Yeah. I don’t want yours either.

Related: Cashless welfare card: how does it work and what changes is the government proposing?

It is frequently touted by certain MPs as “just like an Eftpos card, except you can’t buy alcohol or gambling products”. I cannot tell you how many times I have felt enraged reading this absolute falsehood. Having watched the progression of the cashless welfare card in Australia and listening to people who are on it, nothing could be further from the truth.

Eftpos cards don’t stop you buying goods online. Eftpos cards don’t stop you buying things second hand. Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, garage sales: these are all off limits to someone on a card. For someone like me on Newstart (now called Jobseeker’s allowance), this can be an absolute disaster if I don’t have access to ready cash. If my fridge breaks down, I can buy one second hand for $50 online. From a big appliance store, it can cost $400. Using large amounts of money requires the approval of Indue, the faceless corporation making $10,000 a year per person for administering my money. Please wait kind stranger, hold onto that fridge, while I go begging Daddy Indue for permission to use my funds.

Eftpos cards don’t make me feel like Oliver Twist.

I am struggling to describe the anger I feel when forced to contemplate a future on a cashless welfare card. Anne Ruston in her latest interview claimed it was a “financial literacy tool”. Excuse my language, but what a bloody insult to me and every other person relying on Centrelink payments. We are not poor because we have trouble managing money. We are poor because payments are so low on Centrelink it requires financial gymnastics to survive. We don’t magically lose financial literacy just because we are on payments. How stupid do you think we are? It is the highest insult to tell the poor they could just stop being poor by budgeting.

Living on Centrelink payments forces me to budget incredibly carefully, and I am damn good at it. It is an intricate ballet of moving money around like dancers on a dance floor, ensuring they don’t crash into each other. I have a mental tally of which bill is due when and I move my money accordingly. I use a prepaid mobile. I buy secondhand goods. I dumpster dive. I use charities when necessary for food.

Do you know what doesn’t help? Having restrictions on my money. Being told where to spend my pittance of an income is just cruel. Having had relatives go through domestic violence, I am aware of the financial control exerted on them in violent relationships. Being denied agency and control over your own funds wears away at you, to the point where you start believing you can’t do anything. It is not a way to encourage financial literacy. It is financial abuse. So why is it now a government policy?

If you have never been on Centrelink payments it is very difficult to describe the lack of power and control you feel when you see announcements like these. Imagine that your only form of income is at the whim and mercy of a few men and women in a room, whose daily accommodation budget for Canberra is more than what you get in a week. You are told you are incapable of managing your funds lest you waste it on booze or drugs or gambling. Never mind that you actually don’t have these issues. Would you feel angry at being labelled a drug-addicted spendthrift incapable of managing your funds?

We see politicians like Bridget McKenzie misusing money yet no one has suggested she go on a cashless welfare card. Yet this government seems consumed with telling the poor how to live. In the immortal words of Regina George from Mean Girls: “Why are you so obsessed with me?” When the country is dealing with bushfires raging, people and animals dying, and the threat of floods, why do you care how I spend my money?