Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Benefits Smart Cards.. what do you think?

I don't usually blog about politics but yesterday I saw a tweet that made me really cross. It was referring to Iain Duncan Smith and the idea to pay peoples benefits using a prepaid card and limiting what it can be spent on so if someone buys something non essential it will be stopped. 

The government appear to hate people who claim benefits and sees them all as lazy scroungers and the likes of The Daily Fail and Channel 4 are happy to run with that idea by publishing benefits bashing articles and making programmes like Benefits Street. Of course there are some who do abuse the system but the vast majority don't. You know the people who aren't able to work due to illness or the people who have been made redundant after working in the same job for 20 years or single parents who have split from their long term partner, the person they thought they would be with forever. These people aren't some separate breed, they are just normal people and anyone could end up in these situations.

Anyway back to IDS and his 'smart' cards. It is currently being trialled on a voluntary basis before being rolled out. The idea is to stop people spending money on the likes of alcohol,cigarettes and gambling because of course only poor people do that. I can see how on paper the idea looks good but the flaws are plain to see. 
  • Where can the card be used? Will people be able to use it on market stalls(the cheapest place for fruit and veg and better quality) or local convenience stores(no need for public transport when you just need a loaf of bread). Doubtful, market stalls deal in cash. More likely it will be restricted to certain shops lining the pockets of big companies.
  • Could it be used online? I personally do my main food shop online as I find it saves money, I'm not tempted to buy extras because they're on offer and as we don't have a car it is far easier for us to have it delivered. When it comes to non food items better deals can usually be found searching online. 
  • Who decides what is acceptable to buy? Who determines what an essential is?
  • Could a black market be created for these cards? Or could those with a real reliance on alcohol or gambling turn to petty crime to get cash the way those addicted to drugs often do? 
  • What if there were technical issues? We have all seen banks have issues where people are unable to use their card.  Will people be left without food? 
  • If all money is on this card how will bills be paid? Will it again only be able to go that the card will track what p to certain companies or will small companies accept it too? If on a prepay meter we are back to the issue of local convenience stores accepting the card. 
  • What about the working poor, those who work but are on a low income and benefits top them up. The majority of people claiming housing benefit are actually employed. Are they allowed to choose how to spend their money or will they also be limited? Are they entitled to a drink at the weekend? 
Apart from the above it is demoralising and stigmatises people on benefits and gives them even more of a label. I really fail to see an economic benefit in this scheme and I worry that this kind of scheme will do more harm than good. If IDS is so worried about people dependent on alcohol why not increase funding to support them out of that dependency? But of course that wouldn't be such a popular policy with Tory voters.

I found this research from the Red Cross interesting. There is card system in place for Asylum seekers and this research highlights various issues, some I've mentioned above and some others too.

Imagine going into a shop and having to pay with this card, so everyone knows you are on benefits. Imagine being told after a long and crappy week that you weren't allowed a glass of wine or on your birthday you couldn't have a couple of beers because you were unlucky enough to be made redundant and have been unsuccessful at find another job as yet or because you work but don't earn enough. Yearly tradition of putting a pound on the Grand National? No, sorry you can't do that either.

What's coming next for benefits claimants? A big badge saying scrounger handed out when you dare enter the job centre? 
Perhaps we should trial the cards on MP's who are paid with tax payers money? I'm pretty sure they wouldn't be happy with that idea.

What do you think about the benefits smart cards?