Income management, introduced as part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response in remote Northern Territory communities in 2007, has had no beneficial effect on tobacco and cigarette sales, soft drink or fruit and vegetable sales, according to research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Dr Julie Brimblecombe, Research Fellow at the Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, and coauthors conducted an interrupted time series analysis of sales data in 10 stores in 10 remote Northern Territory communities from 1 October 2006 to 30 September 2009.
They found that income management had no apparent effect on total store sales, food and beverage sales, fruit and vegetable sales and tobacco sales. Although the rate of soft drink sales declined significantly in the first six months of income management, sales increased markedly in the remaining income management period.
Dr Brimblecombe said the study also found that a marked increase in monthly sales for all outcome measures was associated with a three-month government stimulus payment period during the period of income management.
"We found that store sales increased markedly in association with the government stimulus payment, but showed no change with income management independent of the stimulus payment," Dr Brimblecombe said.
"The findings challenge a central tenet of income management - that people's spending habits will be modified in a positive way with mandatory restrictions on expenditure alone."
Dr Brimblecombe said it was unlikely that mandatory management of people's income would lead to purchasing of more fruit and vegetables when issues of availability, quality, affordability and home storage remained key issues.
"As a consequence of remoteness and high cost, Indigenous people in remote Northern Territory have been denied equal access to healthy and affordable foods and essential non-food items compared with the general Australian population," she said.
"Our data cannot be used to ascertain the relative merit of a budgeting tool ... or additional income on positively influencing people's spending, but these initiatives do indicate the existence of confounders that need to be considered in assessing the impact of income management on store sales."
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.