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May 17, 2010

Macklin’s twists truth on income management

Jenny Macklin has dismissed a new study revealing the government’s income management policy is not making an impact on tobacco and health food sales in indigenous communities. The study's authors hit back.

We are the co-authors of a study published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, which shows that the federal government’s income management policy is not making an impact on tobacco and health food sales in remote community shops in the NT. Smoking and poor diet are responsible for much of the health gap between indigenous and other Australians.

We are concerned that indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin has responded to our study by highlighting the results of the government’s evaluation. She has told journalists that the government intends to press ahead with plans to roll out income management more broadly, and has appeared to dismiss our findings.

The evaluation cited by the minister was based on interviews with 76 income management clients in four communities, telephone interviews with 66 store operators as well as interviews with business managers and other stakeholders across several locations.

This is poor use of qualitative research to answer a question that essentially requires quantitative data: are people buying more healthy food as a result of income management?

Our study provides that quantitative data. It used sales data to measure how much was being spent each month across 10 stores in the Northern Territory, 18 months before and 18 months after income management was introduced. In contrast, the government’s evaluation report of income management and spending relied entirely on people’s perceptions in a large number of interviews.

We confirm store managers’ claims that there was no change in people’s spending on tobacco.

However, in contrast to the government report, we found that spending on food and drinks and fruit and vegetables did not change with income management. Soft drinks sales increased.

The one time during income management that spending went up for all store commodities was when people actually had more money: at the time of the government stimulus payment.

Telling people of low income how they can use 50% of their income may make no difference to their spending, but giving a lump of cash does.

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(Source: Medical Journal of Australia — click to enlarge)

The government’s evaluation report claims that “the main benefit identified [of income management] was the increase in the amount of money spent on food for community members, especially children”.  This is now questioned by our evidence.

Even its minor claims of improved food choices, more fresh and more healthy food being purchased, are linked to the new licensing of stores in these communities — not income management.

Continued income management in remote NT Aboriginal communities and its extension to all welfare recipients does not seem to fit with the government’s credo of evidence-based policy.

Whilst the government’s defence of income management with only very shaky evidence has been controversial, gaining little support from public health experts, it has received applause for its work on prevention, and smoking in particular.

It has allocated $100 million to indigenous tobacco control, using the limited local indigenous research but extensive international evidence from other contexts.  Its recent decisions to increase the tax on cigarettes and to restrict tobacco companies’ advertising using cigarette packets are also likely to reduce indigenous smoking.

But attempts to tackle indigenous people’s poor diet have not been as coherent and are off to a shaky start.  There is no funding for either the COAG food security initiative or the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan.  The government is yet to respond to the 33 recommendations of the Senate inquiry into remote community stores.

But store licensing, which is setting minimal standards in remote stores in the NT, and the funding of 100 new indigenous healthy lifestyle workers are welcome and positive steps.

Less welcome is the reluctance to consider food subsidies. Yes, they are expensive and difficult to monitor, but there is increasing international evidence that modifying price and monetary benefits, such as food stamps, help to improve the diet of economically disadvantaged groups.

As Amanda Lee and colleagues have stated, we need rigorous testing of economic solutions to increase access to healthy food in remote communities.

Skirting the real issue of affordability and poverty, while defending and extending income management policies, may delay improvements in indigenous people’s poor diet and the government’s pledge to  “close the gap”.

*Dr Julie Brimblecombe and Associate Professor David Thomas are from the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin

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83 thoughts on “Macklin’s twists truth on income management

  1. jimmyjojo

    Yuwalk wrote :

    Simply because people find ways of getting around the system. Like buying power cards and selling them for cash. The conclusion I draw is not that 50% of income was spent on these patterns, but that the loopholes in income management mean people find ways to spend pretty much the same anyway.

    I sorta agree but income boost from the stimulus spending shows that everything except tobacco (which dramatically spiked) stayed in the same proportion i.e they just bought more coke but in the same ratio to say fruit/veg as always happened.

    IN this sense, tobacco is suppressed under IM since it spiked so much under more income. But the absence of a similar spike in other categories suggests that they aren’t suppressed in the same way by IM. Indeed it suggests that since nothing much changed once more income became available then basically that’s the level of consumption they’re comfotable with. Yep 8L of coke and 4KG of spuds per head is more than enough.

    But there are many other food sources in communities other than outlets. People drive in supplies, get geese and fish and turtle, fly stuff in as well when coming back from town. so its also naive to conclude that 8L of coke and 4kg of spuds is the total picture. It’s too complex for that.

  2. Liz45

    JIMMYJOJO – I don’t have the time to answer each one of your comments or responses. I do object to being called “she” though! Is that necessary? I’ve provided a name, so use it!

    The fact about the priests and teachers etc that I referred to in NSW was this; they didn’t have their incomes quarantined or their homes taken from them. Even if they’re found guilty of alleged crimes(some have been charged with 20 and more offences) they still won’t lose their homes, land nor will their dependants be told how to spend their money. That’s the point! If govts want to start metering out a different set of rules and standards for people they deem to be ‘different’ our whole society will break down.

    Aboriginal people lived OK before the invasion and colonisation by the British – we’ve picked up where they left off – that’s why there’s so many destroyed people – some still have not received wages for work they did decades ago. How many others, including yourself would allow that to happen? Then imagine if you were treated like they are on a daily basis. It’s just BS to refer to some aboriginal people, and then treat then all accordingly. Used to happen to women too, still doesn in many quarters, doesn’t make it right! Even in the British Parlt, it was accepted, that aboriginal people never relinquished their lands. there’s been horrific massacres around the country, and the war against indigenous peoples lasted for 100 yrs. Read some of Henry Renolds books, or Demons at Dusk by Peter ???(forgot) about the massacre at Myall Creek.

    I helped buy a home once – marriage broke up and it’s a fact, that women always are disadvantaged/discriminated against in this area. He bought another home, I couldn’t afford to, as I wasn’t fit for work due to an acquired work related serious and disabling injury/disease. Mature aged women, whose only income is the pension are one of the most impoverished people in the country, according to a govt inquiry – that’s why Rudd increased our pension last year. In almost 12 yrs, Howard didn’t, except for the pittance in Mar and Oct. There are millions around the country living in govt provided homes/units etc. That’s the responsibility of a civilized and wealthy country. I was a worker and paid taxes, in fact I still do – everyone does due to GST, petrol, goods and services etc.

    Food prices are horrific in the NT. The quality of fruit and veg is often very poor – at best stale, sometimes obviously rotten? As for cigs etc, who introduced them and grog into the communities. At one time, a person couldn’t run a ‘community’ store if they didn’t also sell grog? There are lots of whites who are alcoholics, but they’re usually treated as they should be – they have an illness.

    If there’s even a suspected case of child abuse, physical and/or sexual, it must be reported. Teachers, doctors etc must report – that’s mandatory. Then, qualified people gently carry out their investigation. Even if a child only HEARS abuse, it is now treated as child abuse, and the child must be removed from further danger. NSW has just instigated laws plus financial assistance of many million, so that women and kids can stay in the home, while the perpetrator(overwhelmingly, the male) is the one who has to leave! Hurrah! At last! Women have been fighting for this for years and years? I know, as I’m closely related to women’s health centres.

    Poverty brings about misery and malfunction. The thing here is, that the poverty was preventable. there are many aboriginal people who are educated and living full and rewarding lives. I understand, that there are now 50 aboriginal doctors in the country – this is very exciting.

    The educational necessities are not the same for aboriginal people in too many communities. Only weeks ago, the 7.30 Report clearly showed the differences in just one area – the building was not air conditioned, and a fulltime teacher was not available. You make glib pronouncements when you don’t research nor do you show much compassion and understanding. I freely admit, that although my life as a woman, a worker, a mother and a senior person is different to that of a man – it would be a damned sight worse if I was black! Racism is a reality. We need educational programs to get rid of that, and the Rudd govt should lead the way by bringing back the Racial Discrimination Act, and reinforce it!

  3. Yuwalk

    Jimmyjojo said
    “I sorta agree but income boost from the stimulus spending shows that everything except tobacco (which dramatically spiked) stayed in the same proportion i.e they just bought more coke but in the same ratio to say fruit/veg as always happened.

    IN this sense, tobacco is suppressed under IM since it spiked so much under more income. But the absence of a similar spike in other categories suggests that they aren’t suppressed in the same way by IM. Indeed it suggests that since nothing much changed once more income became available then basically that’s the level of consumption they’re comfotable with. Yep 8L of coke and 4KG of spuds per head is more than enough.

    But there are many other food sources in communities other than outlets. People drive in supplies, get geese and fish and turtle, fly stuff in as well when coming back from town. so its also naive to conclude that 8L of coke and 4kg of spuds is the total picture. It’s too complex for that.”

    I think your reasoning is fairly spurious. With my stimulus money I bought a new netbook. Something that was a bit of a treat that I would not of got if it wasn’t for the stimulus money. I don’t think you can draw the conclusion with any honesty that income management is having a suppressing effect on tobacco just because it went up with stimulus money when other things didn’t in proportion. Else the line in the graph would not have been going back to normal at 20-24 months.

    If you are going to make that assertion you really need to say why tobacco was back to normal 6 months after income management and before the stimulus money. To me that pretty clearly and empirically show no suppression. Income management is simply not precise enough with too many loopholes to address problems that are multifaceted and unfortunately income management has the added negative of also causing psychological harm.

    I am also not sure to your point about other sources of food? While it is definitely true that people get food from many places I don’t see how using a breakdown of stores sales data is then not sound statistically? So yes there are other sources of food, but no this does nothing to the validity of using store sales as a measure of food consumption.

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