In one of the strangest political alliances of our time Alec Shelbrooke MP and the 'think tank' Demos (in a project sponsored by Mastercard!) propose that people on benefits should be forced to use a special card that can only be used for expenditure approved by the state - the Welfare Cash Card:
There are lots of reasons to loathe this idea, here are just ten:
- Undignified - No society has eradicated unemployment; systems of income security are a necessary feature of all modern societies. A decent society seeks to reduce - not to increase - social stigma. But presenting your 'special' card, having it turned away or having it run out of credit in the shop will all damage your social status.
- Costly - We are told we don't have enough money to provide the poorest with a decent income, so how come we have enough money to set up a state-controlled debit card?
- Damaging - when people feel stigmatised their mental health suffers, this then leads to other (more expensive) social problems.
- Intrusive - What will the government do with this information? The claim is this will help build trust in the poor by showing that they don't 'waste money.' But inevitably this will open the door to further unjustified attacks on the lifestyle of the poor each time the government's report on 'Lifestyles of the Poor and Disabled' is published.
- Won't work - Most teenage boy knows how to get cigarettes and alcohol even when it's illegal. There is no way a Welfare Cash Card will stop people swapping goods or services for a beer or a fag.
- Contradicts human rights - Article One of the Declaration of Human Rights says "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." The Welfare Cash Card is a direct attack on equality, dignity and human freedom.
- Inconsistent - The government scrapped the Identity Card but would now create a special identity card - for everyone (except those who are over 65 and the wealthy who have just lost child benefit).
- Deepens poverty - Electronic cards create new costs for retailers who will then be tempted to create cash discounts or to increase the cost of purchases 'on the card.'
- Increases hate crime - Like a yellow star on your sleeve, bearing the Welfare Cash Card will further mark some people out to be the subject of prejudice, abuse and attack.
- It's just not British - I can't imagine anything more damaging to the best of our national traditions, beliefs and culture. This is the policy of a totalitarian state, not the land of the Magna Carta.
When we set up The Centre for Welfare Reform as an antidote to partisan and unimaginative thinking about the welfare state I never realised that we would have to engage with ideas quite as dim-witted as this one. I pray that the Welfare Cash Card is seen for the shameful ploy it is.