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This morning’s article in Eureka Street scratches an irritating itch. On behalf of my local church, I receive occasional calls to help out families on hard times. My training has me quickly assessing the level of need, its genuineness and the appropriate response. Often it’s the choice between organising a food parcel or accompanying the person to the supermarket and saying “OK – get what you need to the tune of $xx” I’m far more comfortable with the first option – I maintain control and I decide “what is good for the other.” The second option is scary. It’s “unprofessional”; I have ceded control; the person’s choices will most certainly not be my choices, they might even go over the limit I have set. Yet this is often the choice I take. Why? The person’s dignity and sense of self in these instances seems to be as equally important. I note that the local food bank we support also majors on the “dignity” principle as it provides refreshments and conversation to those who come to make up their food parcel. The Eureka Street article highlights the contrast between sound economic management in government offices and the human interface of welfare agencies that oppose compulsory income management on the very grounds I have mentioned.

In my local church setting, I have noticed our most stringent economic managers soften and bend and become most generous and self-giving when face-to-face with genuine human hardship. Perhaps the proposed implementation of a wider policy on compulsory income management might soften if administrators and policy makers spent more time on the front-line with welfare and community development workers.