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Australian Government May Make People On Welfare Take A Drug Test To Get Benefit

It may be something of a stereotype, but, when some think of the unemployed, they can still have an image of a slovenly, dishevelled individual drinking or taking drugs.

It is true of course many people on benefits may use narcotics and consume alcohol to excess, but is it unfair to suggest everybody out of work is a worthless layabout living off society? There can often be a stigma on living with unemployment, and a controversial pilot scheme being introduced in Australia has brought this issue to light.

Drug Tests For Unemployed

This comes with the news the Australian government has announced its intention to ask people receiving welfare to undergo drug tests, while at the same time bring out a cashless debit card plan. This is part of its attempt to stop those living off state benefits from using the cash to buy alcohol and gambling at the bookies. However, these proposed reforms of the state social security system have not been without criticism from some quarters. There is a feeling it may victimise the unemployed and people struggling with alcoholism while failing to help the jobless return to work.

Despite the backlash, the conservative Liberal-National coalition government intends to press on with the legislation, especially as it is one of their initial policy pledges since retaining power, after winning re-election, back in May. The Australian government has also been vocal about its resolve to raise employment levels and reduce income tax.

The new social security legislation plans on building on a current trial, where people on welfare use a cashless debit card, reducing their capacity to spend their benefit on drugs, alcohol or gambling. The new pilot scheme will see four in five of welfare payments may only be accessible via the debit card, where it can only be used in specific, registered establishments, like shops. For instance, if you were planning on nipping down the pub, you couldn’t use the card to pay your bar tab. However, one of the criticisms levelled at the legislation is that the cashless debit card restrictions are generally enforced in parts of the country where the majority of the population on welfare are indigenous to Australia, be they Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. Leading many to accuse the policy of having racial overtones or being guilty of profiling.

Part of a $10M Plan

As part of the $10,000,000 project, the Australian government intends to make up to five thousand people on welfare undergo drug tests, looking for traces of substances like marijuana, ecstasy, and methamphetamine. If they fail, the welfare recipients will be asked to undergo drug counselling, while their payments are put under what is known as ‘quarantine’, utilising the cashless payment card. What’s more, anyone who does not agree to take a drug test will have their benefits cancelled.

The prime minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, may consider his reforms an important aspect of a larger so-called “compassionate conservative” welfare plan. They call it part of an ongoing agenda to assist alcoholic unemployed people with recovery and get back in the workforce. However, some have designated the drug testing and cashless debit project a violation of human rights. It has been deemed a further stigmatisation of the poor and unemployed, making people already ashamed and embarrassed about living off welfare feel even worse.

Some have also called the policy unproven after a similar trial was almost set up in the United Kingdom nine years ago, but a government agency found the policy unconvincing, too simplistic and could potentially exacerbate the situation, so it was cancelled.

The policy has also been criticised by certain sections of the medical profession, many who feel they had not been consulted on the draft legislation, while others questioned the ethics of the trial and wanted no part of it.

This is considered part of the problem the government faces getting its reforms voted for in parliament. It requires the backing of independents in the State to make its legislation law. So, it remains to be seen if its controversial policy passes, where people on welfare may have to take a drug test to keep receiving their benefit.