In an attempt to manage income and limit spending on alcohol, gambling and drugs, the cashless debit card was introduced in Ceduna, South Australia in 2016. Anthropologist Eve Vincent has spent considerable time in the town and region and has spoken at length with participants to find out what it's like on the frontline of a major welfare reform experiment.
The Cashless Debit Card (CDC) quarantines 80% of working age recipients’ income support payments in selected trial sites. This paper concerns the lived experiences of Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals subject to the first CDC trial in the Ceduna region of South Australia. This paper centres the voices of those affected by the trial, using narrative interviews to highlight recurring themes: complex shame responses to being a part of the trial; local perspectives on circumvention of the card’s restrictions; CDC holders’ comments on two existing processes: the Wellbeing Exemption Clause, which might result in an applicant exiting the trial and the Ceduna Region Community Panel, which is empowered to assess applications to vary the split of restricted and unrestricted monies. To date, non-Indigenous participants in the trial have been disproportionately successful in pursuit of either these options. Finally, I consider the reasons why some research participants express support and enthusiasm for the CDC and why others bitterly resent its introduction and effects. Those most opposed to the card can be understood to advance a critical analysis of the card in social and historical terms.
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