An independent assessment of the effectiveness of the Cashless Debit Card trial in the Goldfields region of Western Australia determined it is “working well”, with reports it has reduced harmful levels of alcohol and drug use, and gambling.
In the Goldfields, Cashless Debit Card participants said the technology was having a positive impact on the health of their communities, with many respondents observing falls in alcohol and drug abuse, criminal activity, domestic violence and public anti-social behaviour.
Dr Tim McDonald, chief executive of Minderoo Foundation’s Generation One initiative, said the report’s findings echoed what the team had heard when engaging in the Goldfields region, and with other communities trialling the technology.
“The researchers heard from community members, like we have, that the Cashless Debit Card is resulting in better outcomes for Goldfields kids,” Dr McDonald said.
“By lowering damaging levels of alcohol and drug use, community members can make healthier financial decisions. These healthier choices ultimately improve child welfare and reduce anti-social behaviour, benefiting the whole community.”
The University of Adelaide researchers found the region had “significant social, welfare and economic issues” before the trial commenced in March 2018 and many community members identified the Cashless Debit Card as “a potentially appropriate and positive option to address these issues”.
“Overall, stakeholders and participants considered that the implementation of the CDC in the Goldfields region had gone particularly smoothly and was working well,” the report found.
“Respondents identified certain groups of people for whom the CDC was working particularly well. These groups included people with drug and alcohol problems who were commonly reported to be reducing their consumption and spending more of their money on food, clothes and other essential goods.”
The researchers found the effect on children was particularly significant, with fewer children in the care of inebriated adults and fewer incidences of violence requiring children to be removed from home. Children were described as happier and in better health, with schools reporting improved student attendance, and notably fewer children reported as being on the streets at night.
One respondent noted: “Now this cards comes in, you actually see parents walking their kids to school. Buying their kids lunches, where it wouldn’t happen before that, you know, the money was just going, going on alcohol, going on drugs.”
Respondents also raised potential areas for improvement, including technological concerns. Minderoo Foundation’s Generation One initiative acknowledges the need to continuously improve the technology and would encourage government to work with stakeholders to define and implement advances.
It comes after a coronial inquest into the suicide deaths of Aboriginal young people recommended earlier this month that the Cashless Debit Card be offered to the entire Kimberley region of Western Australia. The call for the Cashless Debit Card technology to be considered to help stem a spate of youth suicides in the region came as part of a suite of 41 recommendations.
“Within a matter of weeks, two independent sources have identified the Cashless Debit Card as an effective tool in helping to stem the issues causing such harm in our communities,” Dr McDonald said.
“The communities trialling this card must be listened to – they want this technology and recognise the positive impact it has. Additionally, there are other communities interested in trialling this program, but cannot do so without an Act of Parliament being passed. This is incredibly onerous and alternative means must be explored.”
The University of Adelaide report is based on in-depth qualitative interviews with 66 representatives from 59 stakeholder organisations, and 64 Cashless Debit Card participants between June and October 2018. It was commissioned by The Department of Social Services.
Its findings reinforce an earlier independent analysis of the Cashless Debit Card trials in the Ceduna and East Kimberley regions, released in September 2017, which found the technology helped to reduce alcohol, drug and gambling use by up to 48 per cent.