Considering: The Benefits Card

Screen shot 2014-10-02 at 23.14.02My social media feed reeled in outrage at the proposed Benefits Card. I wanted to do some simple research and learn from our big cousin the U.S. who have provided food stamps to their poorest citizens since 1977. Ultimately I would love to help those at the bottom of my heap so we shouldn’t dismiss an idea too quickly. In 2014, 14% of US population are on food stamps (Statistic Brain) or 1 in 5 (according to Money CNN) some areas up to 24% Washington (surprisingly). Working age people are main recipients (sounds like people on food stamps may have jobs but the hours/pay is so low that food stamps necessary to survive, not enough jobs go around too) the fastest increase in claims are from people with some college training. 7% of claimants have college degrees. A news article on Huffington News reported that part-time professors with no job security are frequently on food stamps between contracts.

The large number of US claimants [46,670,373], the large annual bill [$71,800,000,000] is a result of a weak and heartless economy that fails even those with jobs, not a feckless generation! The unreal but true list of things you cannot buy with food stamps (may vary state to state) Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco Any nonfood items, such as: pet foods soaps, toilet roll , sanitary products, nappies household supplies vitamins and medicines food that will be eaten in the store hot foods (no donating to soup kitchens then?)

Quote from Susan Kerr regarding food stamps and sanitary products.

“The women who came to the thrift store that I ran asked for rags, which they washed and used in lieu of disposable items. They then burned them or buried them, because they didn’t have the laundry detergent to get them clean again. Have you ever had a day when you didn’t have five on hand? What would you do if you got your period? What would you do if your 14-year-old got her period and it was a school night and you did not have any cash for another two days?”

In Texas claimants are tested for alcohol and drugs risking being ineligible for one year. (Apparently people on food stamps still get drunk and hammered! – How? Do addicts need food anyway?).

Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters

Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters

The Benefits Card was proposed at this years Conservative Conference, Iain Duncan-Smith introduced a scheme that would protect families from certain dangers and ensure well-being. “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 should go to support the wellbeing of their families, not to feed their destructive habits. To that end, Conference, today I can announce that I am testing prepaid cards, onto which we will make benefit payments, so that the money they receive is spent on the needs of the family – finally helping break the cycle of poverty for families on the margins, change we can be proud of. In all of this, our undertaking is hardly a small task – indeed, the easy option would have been to paper over the problem… opting instead for a sticking plaster or another patch-up job.” Iain Duncan-Smith (Conservative Conference 2014) The roll out of UK benefit cards would be national and 120,000 families have been identified (Perhaps you’ve seen that figure before). Are these 120,000 the  ‘Families with Multiple Problems’ (FMP)? Falling into at least five of the following seven categories:

  • No parent in the family is in work
  • Family lives in poor quality or overcrowded housing
  • No parent has any qualifications
  • Mother has mental health problems
  • At least one parent has a longstanding limiting illness, disability or infirmity
  • Family has low income (below 60% of the median)
  • Family cannot afford a number of food and clothing items

Ooh, my childhood scored 5 out of 7! But these categories are deprivation not the addiction, debt and abuse suggested by IDS. There is a correlation between deprivation and anti-social behaviour, high medical needs, truancy, and thus… a government price tag.

Laying About © Alice Mill

Laying About © Alice Mill

I’ve heard that kids in UK schools get some stigma if they have free school dinners. Currently, to receive some kind of benefit (child benefit, working tax, child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, DLA etc) you get labelled ‘benefit scrounger’ ‘living off the state’. I can imagine the sort of language benefit card users will get > underclass, scum, problem people, problem families to add to the feckless, workshy and lazy handles. “Look there, that feckless layabout has cash. Must have stolen it, the bastard.” Whilst I would support helping those who are struggling to manage their benefits, the benefit card would create more problems than it solves (you cannot top-up your mobile, you cannot catch a bus, buy the kids new shoes or purchase cheap things from a car boot sale, nevermind getting household things fixed or replaced?) You are unlikely to see Jobseeker-Smackheads suddenly eating 5 a day (surely a significant amount drug use is funded by crime?) …because the projects that actually target these problems cannot deliver effective services and reach out to those 120,000 because short-sighted funding policies mean they are struggling to rehabilitate or prevent this crisis. With Benefit Cards you are unlikely to see 120,000 problems get sorted. You are likely to see a rise in crime, anger, shame and a cementing of a underclass. I reckon my over-educated, mentally ill, single-parent would have delved deeper into an alternative economy (some call it crime), anything to create a bit of extra cash, anything to feel normal.

“Let’s build a Britain we are proud to call home…for you, for your family, for everyone.” David Cameron (September 2014) “Yeah David. Let’s create loads of well paid jobs!” Alice Mill (October 2014)




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