Those nasty Tories, they’re at it again. Now they’re trying to stigmatise benefit claimants by giving them special welfare cash cards so they can’t buy booze or cigarettes with their child benefit. That Dickensian Iain Duncan Smith was talking about the value of such a card on the lunchtime news, and has caused a bit of an uproar.
Except they’re not planning to do anything of the sort. I’ve just spoken to a source close to the Work and Pensions Secretary, who has completely refuted the idea that he’s going to bring a card in. The only hint he was making was that some vulnerable claimants such as people struggling with drug addictions might be better helped by a card, not every benefit claimant. The source says:
‘This is not something that is being considered, it is not in the pipeline. All Iain was saying was that if there is someone vulnerable,or someone who is on a drug addiction treatment programme and had children, would it really be helpful to give them money every month? But the whole point of universal credit is that we are saying we trust people on benefits: let’s not do down people on benefits, who have obviously fallen on hard times. A welfare cash card for all claimants would be completely untenable and would go against everything else we are trying to do.’
The furore has been stirred up by Alec Shelbrooke’s Ten Minute Rule Bill in the Commons yesterday, which did call for a comprehensive welfare cash card for out-of-work benefit claimants. Alex Massie shared some of his thoughts on these proposals with Spectator readers on this yesterday, and his point about this being an authoritarian approach to benefits is particularly strong.
The point of IDS’ reforms to the welfare system is not that claimants are treated from the start as though they cannot be trusted. A welfare cash card would mean someone on out-of-work benefits couldn’t learn how to budget as though they were on a salary. Duncan Smith has been pushing for the same principle to be applied to social housing tenants who have until now had their rent paid direct to their landlord. His argument has always been that the benefits system shouldn’t mollycoddle and institutionalise people, making them dependent on benefits. The welfare cash card would do this. And for someone receiving long-term disability benefits for a condition which means they cannot work, they would be consigned to buying what the state told them to buy for the rest of their lives. Anyone with a healthy distrust of the state should be very concerned about moves in that direction.