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Liberals should say no to IDS smart cards for the feckless

October 14th, 2012 Posted in Uncategorized by

The Telegraph reports today Iain Duncan Smith has asked his officials to see if so-called ‘problem’ families should receive their welfare payments on smart cards, rather than in cash.

The cards would only be able to pay for “priority” items such as food, housing, clothing, education and health care (though I am not sure what “health care” those issued with smart cards would be expected to pay for). The Telegraph reports he wants to “stop parents who are alcoholics or who are on drugs from using welfare payments to fuel their addictions”. A team of civil servants in his department have been asked to come up with proposals by the end of this month.

I worry deeply about this proposal, and on so many levels, not least that once this has been trialled on “some” of  the 120,000  or so “problem” families, it is almost certain to be rolled out to others. The Daily Mail (quoting a senior official) says smart “cards would not be for everyone claiming benefits but they could be used for extreme cases where people are not good at managing their lives..“.

How long before smart cards are deemed necessary for other benefit claimants “not good at managing their lives”; young mothers with a nicotine habit; parents who spend more on fast food than “they should”; families whose kids arrive at school with a bag of crisps instead of hallowed carrot sticks in their lunch box. And there is no need to limit the smart card scheme to benefit claimants with children, how about smart cards for the obese?  Indeed I am sure that some sneery bureaucrat or earnest health advocate could find a pretty good reason to put most benefit claimants on the smart card scheme.   Sounds ridiculous right now, but name me a Government plan that doesn’t have mission creep?

Who really believes that any Government would actually invest the time and effort required introducing a smart card system if this was in reality destined for just for those children whose parents are suffering from alcohol or drug addiction?

This measure is downright insidious. It will say that those on smart cards are feckless, irresponsible, selfish or just too stupid to know what is best for their children. It says they are bad parents, stigmatising and humiliating  them every time they visit an “approved store”.  Why not force them  to walk the streets wearing orange jackets and  hats saying “bad parent” and be done with it.

But it is worse than that. A smart card scheme will almost certainly require smart card readers and/or “approved outlets” where these cards can be used.  No point in a smart card system if the shop can sell you anything it has on its shelves. Either the stores will need to be on a Government “approved list” and agree not to sell a list of forbidden items to the card holders, or at the very least the purchases made will have to have a bar code such that information is somehow be fed back down the line to Big Mother (and the computer says no).

Whilst I am sure that Asda, Tescos, other large retail outlets  (and indeed the IT giants behind the Smart card system) will all bend over backwards to facilitate this scheme, what of the small independent shop keeper of market trader? They almost certainly have neither the time, wherewithal,  or language skills to go through the bureaucratic nightmare that will almost certainly be entailed in complying with this scheme.  And I don’t know about your local market, but at mine only 2 out of about 30 of the stalls even have credit card machines.

The consequence of this scheme will be to place a huge number of outlets off limits to those forced to use such cards for at least part of their purchases.  Rich and middle income parents are able to call into the market at the end of the day to pick up the fresh fruit and veg bargains, but the poor who have used all their cash* and left only with their smart cards til the end of the week will effectively be barred.  I can pop into my local (Polish) shop to grab a bottle of wine but my neighbour forced to use a smart card can’t go to the same shop to buy some potatoes for supper because our shop is not part of the scheme or the potatoes are not bar coded?

(* Undoubtedly the scheme would have to have some split of cash to card ratio, so that not all benefits would be via the smart card scheme. But all of the above becomes an issue as soon as the cash has been spent).

We have laws , and child protection agencies, to deal with neglect. These are surely more than enough to tackle child malnutrition/abuse. And where there are parents spending benefits on their addiction rather than putting food on their kids plates, the idea that a smart card will solve this problem is just naivety. What is to stop them buying food on a smart card and selling it at a loss for cash to others to feed their habits? Desperate people do desperate things – and if they do simply buy food on a smart card to sell it at a loss – that simply means less money left over to feed and clothe their children. The answer has to be to assist with the underlying problems of the addiction not seek to outwit them with how you deliver them their benefits. You will never outwit an addict.

Sadly I do not think this is even about outwitting the addict in order to improve the lives of their children. And if it was a “smart” card would not be the answer to the deeply complex issues surrounding addiction.

This has all the hallmarks of Victorian paternalistic disapproval from the high and mighty about how those below them live their lives. It is a punishment for bad behaviour, not a solution to a problem. And when they have finished with addicts, other people perceived as “not good at managing their lives”  will face the same scorn, oppression and humiliation if they do not comply.

11 Responses to “Liberals should say no to IDS smart cards for the feckless”

  1. LH Ld Elon Says:

    Tories are doing these kind of polices, to escalate crime levels, then they can bring in new laws, typical tory polices.
    Lots will have nothing to lose, as they are being squeezed already.

  2. Frank H Little Says:

    Why am I reminded of “truck shops”?

  3. Psi Says:

    And then when it “stigmatises” the “problem families” they will apply it to every benifit. (Though if it is for the feckless, perhaps it should be applied to MPs salaries and expences)

  4. Chris Oakley Says:

    I can understand why many people would like to see action taken over “problem” families who sponge of the state but I have to agree with you Angela. This would be the thin end of a rather unpleasant and repressive wedge. Liberals of any kind should certainly oppose it but the track record of the parliamentary Liberal Democrats does not encourage me to believe that they necessarily will.

  5. ad Says:

    How long before smart cards are deemed necessary for other benefit claimants “not good at managing their lives”

    If they are good at managing their lives, why are they on benefits? I’m not sure it is possible to support welfare and oppose paternalism simultaneously.

  6. guy herbert Says:

    This is not just a bureaucratic wet-dream, it is an appeal to the punitivity of the public. Politicians and officials are promising to bully people whom the general public resent. Again.

    Similar things have been done before… within the last decade, in this country, to asylum seekers:

    It will also appeal to those political groups who are cheerleaders for rationing of one kind or another, the advocates of “smoking licenses”, the “personal carbon allowance” fans. There is something in it for every authoritarian taste.

  7. Melody Says:

    Excellent blog post Angela – you have hit the nail well and truly on the head. It is such a sad state of affairs that state sponsored bullying has become the norm -turning us against each other at every twist and turn.

    This is another slippery slope we must attack. Government is creeping into our lives in every way, meddling, refining, restricting, lecturing. If we don’t stand against this now, they will be justifying smart cards for the purchase of ALL cigarettes, ALL bets at the bookies, ALL drinks we purchase etc within a decade – and it will all be for our own good and for the wider health benefits it brings society. God help us all.

  8. Lynne Says:

    If these problem families prefer to spend the benefits they receive on their addictions rather than on feeding their children. Shouldn’t the children be taken in to care? Neglect is surely child abuse.

  9. Melody Says:

    Lynne you are right -laws already exist to protect children – and if there is neglect /abuse in a household with one or more addicts then put the children somewhere safe until the addiction problem can be resolved. It is the addiction that is the problem surely?

    This scheme makes no sense.

  10. Devil's Kitchen Says:


    “Government is creeping into our lives in every way, meddling, refining, restricting, lecturing.”

    That is because the vast majority have invited the government vampire into their homes—most notably by greedily sucking on the state’s cash teat (if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphors—and there are more to come).

    As I have consistently pointed out over the years, the British people have quite willingly put themselves in hock to the state—financially and morally. In exchange for not having to care or pay for, for example, their own health or their own children, the majority of the British people have happily abdicated responsibility for both.

    Yes, the government is an evil, thieving, nosy, paternalistic busybody—but many of us recognised that. Unfortunately, those who don’t—those who believe that the state is mother and father—are in the majority and keep voting for governments who promise them yet more money for nothing (and chicks for free).

    And because this majority believe that the state is mother and father, they believe that the money they get comes without strings. They are fools to believe it, and we all suffer with them: indeed, more so, in fact because it is from us that the state pilfers the cash in the first place.

    And so we also subscribe to the benefits and take the state’s tainted cash; because aren’t we, after all, simply taking our due? Are we not reclaiming a small amount of that money stolen from us in the first place?

    And thus the entirety of the British people prop up this rotten edifice—and continue to invite the vampire into their homes…


  11. Robert Says:

    I went to work on a Monday morning, climbed up out side of a floating Oil tank at a refinery, then fell to the floor an accident, but still even with that, after 31 years of work, today I would be called work less feckless lazy work shy.

    I do not know the answer to the banking crises or why labour started the reforms of welfare in 1997 I do know this I did not cause the banking crises not claiming £96 a week that’s for sure.