Once again those veritable champions of the poor, the disadvantage and the unemployed, the Tories, have come up with another scheme that sounds vaguely good and claims some noble ideal but simply serves to keep those dirty peasants in their place.
Prepaid Benefit Cards
A few years ago I was taking part in a debate on the future developments of society as AIs and robots made ever increasing numbers of people useless and created permanent ‘Dole’ classes of 50% or more of the population. The measure of state control that arose from that debate was the use of ‘Dole Debit Cards’ that were paid by the state and were then limited in some way.
The more totalitarian the state the greater the restrictions. By limiting where the cards could be used it became possible to trap the Dolee’s into parts of the cities where they were out of sight and out of mind, after all if they didn’t have private transport and the cards didn’t allow them to travel outside of their area you created ghetto’s.
Now a few years later I see the Tories are proposing exactly the same thing and it will have exactly the same consequences.
This goes hand in hand with Universal Credit which is slowly arriving and is still packed with technical and implementation flaws. The idea is to take the six different benefits and tax credits that are being combined into one payment by Universal Credit and then paid in the form of a prepaid card that has restrictions on what can be bought and where it can be used.
IDS, a well known champion of the poor and the unemployed said:
"I have long believed that where parents have fallen into a damaging spiral - drug or alcohol addiction, even problem debt, or more - we need to find ways to safeguard them - and more importantly, their families, their children, ensuring their basic needs are met.
That means benefits paid, I always believe, should go to support the well-being of their families not to feed their destructive habits.”
All very noble and well intentioned apart from the minor consideration that the number of people who buy alcohol and cigarettes before food is a tiny number and if this card is made universal millions of people will be directly trapped by it.
Let me run through a few of the major problems.
Firstly there is the social impact, the stigma directly associated with being one of the Tories hated enemies, that is to say poor or unemployed or on benefits.
Walk into a shop, put stuff in your basket then go to the checkout and pay with your ‘Prepaid Benefit Card’ which is likely to be a highly visible sign that you are some sort of peasant or beggar that depends on the government for money. I am just guessing here but I’m thinking these cards will be run by Visa or some other such company and will prominently display the DWP or government logo and the words ‘Prepaid Benefit Card’ in some gold or high visibility letters just so no one can miss the fact that the person using the card is a benefit grabbing thief or cheat.
Breaking Godwins law here but there was a society and a government some years ago that decided to make people carry obvious symbols of their status in that society. These cards are not as obvious as yellow stars on the clothing but when you are standing in a queue in a supermarket and you get out your ‘I’m a benefit grabber’ card where everyone behind you can see it you are achieving the same social segregation and shaming.
Next we have the aspect of controlling the peasants. By restricting what can be bought and what cannot be bought by these cards and by removing the freedom of cash the State, that is to say the government of the day, can exercise almost total but very subtle control over the poor and the unemployed.
Which supermarkets and shops can you use the card in? This is open to abuse and corruption since the government can amend this list when it wants, be nice to the Tories or you may find yourself off the list. It’s all very well blocking the purchase of cigarettes or alcohol but what about the occasional user, the person who has a pint or two with their friends on a Friday evening. Or someone who smokes a few cigarettes a week if they get stressed.
What about the hunt for bargains that take those on benefits or restricted income to the car boot sales and markets in search of something that’s cheaper than the supermarkets, sorry luv we don’t take plastic. You have no option but to shop in the approved outlets paying the prices the government forces you to pay.
How far does the restriction go, clothing, toiletries, a book or DVD as a treat once a month. A bag of crisps and a can of drink to go with the DVD, how about sweets or treats for the children. You are totally at the mercy of whatever jack booted fascist is in charge of the benefits card that week and if they are having an eat healthy campaign then so are you, regardless of cost.
How about travel. How far are you allowed to travel, is a staycation considered acceptable this year or not. Can you use the card for bus or train tickets and if so are you restricted as to how far you can go.
Next we have the usual Tory and Political class problem, greed and corruption. By restricting where the cards can be used and on what the more favoured suppliers gain significant advantage. After all if it is fixed to certain shops or supermarket chains regardless of who offers the best deals then people are forced to pay those prices.
The likes of Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s are right at the top end of costs for products, well not compared to say Fortnum and Masons but I’m guessing that these cards will not work there to keep the dirty beggars out of the rich peoples shop.
So if the cards cannot be used in the Lidles and ASDAs where prices are much lower the card holders are trapped into paying higher prices.
What about all the small shops that don’t take cards unless you spend £10 or more, they are cut out completely from all small purchases. But then they don’t have much to offer the Politicians so who cares about them.
This is open to huge abuse, has your supermarket chain donated to the Tory election fund for 2015, Oops, maybe you should reconsider that quickly.
I mentioned above that these cards would be run by someone like Visa, the government doesn’t have the ability to run a national card scheme and I’m sure one of the big card companies would be delighted to take this on, for a few hundred million a year.
Then we have technical problems. This is a biggy, the really huge one that is going to make this idea a multi billion pound waste of taxpayers money and the point where it will fall apart.
Now the stated purpose of the card is to stop the buying of alcohol or cigarettes with benefit money, so how do you do that? You can create a list of approved shops and anyone not on the list cannot access the card for payment.
So that’s your specialist wine and beer shops done and the few specialist smoking shops. But how do you block the sale of the restricted goods in a supermarket or shop that sells food and beer.
In the big supermarkets with separate smoking sections the staff can be told not to accept the cards and it then becomes incumbent on the supermarket to enforce the use of the cards properly. But what about a self service checkout, half a basket of bread and baked beans and eggs and a six pack. The annoying machine pings as you swipe the shopping and then comes up with a total, the card goes in the slot and the cost of the shop is compared to what is on the card. At no point does the card company become aware of the exact contents of your shop, just the final cost.
So how is this going to work in supermarkets, well that would be where those billions would be thrown away in yet another pointless doomed to tail, government IT project that make some favoured IT company a vast profit. Again.
The supermarket and shop systems would need to check every item on the shopping list and then allow the use of the benefit card, speaking as an IT guy, this is not a simple system, will cause immense problems for the supermarkets and shops who will be forced to adopt new software and procedures of lose the custom of every person on benefits in the UK.
This will be costly in time and money. If it even works, which I doubt.
Then we have one final point which has not been mentioned but which fits well with the current Tory drive to control and monitor everyone who is not a rich or powerful donator or old school chum.
Card purchases can be tracked, every single person on benefits will have their weekly spending logged, how much they spend, when and in which shops. Meta data that I’m sure will be used by the likes of May and the GCHQ for some purpose that will suit them and not the rest of us.
Cash payments are relatively traceless, if you want but something and have the cash that is up to you. Fancy a takeaway, grab that tenner in your wallet and get one. After all once the cash is gone its gone.
With the card, are you going to have someone in the DWP monitor your spending, is your bi weekly walk of shame going to include a review of your shopping habits on the card? Can you be sanctioned for wasting money on a take away form a well known chain of burger or pizza shops when the government thinks that is a waste of money?
The reason given for this may be good and helpful but this is IDS and the Tory government behind it so you know full well that the good reasons will vanish and every bad reason will jump out as soon as this begins.
This whole idea is flawed, both technically and from a financial aspect. It is open to abuse, it is ready made for corruption and corporate greed and graft. It will make peoples lives more difficult, more restrictive and more easily monitored and controlled.
So a fairly standard Tory idea that will either fail to appear, fail to work or turn into something far far worse.