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Card Shark

The worst thing about this idea, apart from all of it, is that it controls people. By giving them one option you can manipulate people will have no choice but to shop where the government likes. If that isn’t the nanny state – or even communist Russia – I don’t know what is. But it’s ok when it comes to social security because the recipients are not people. So not only do we have the worst kind of state intervention, but we have the government categorising people as less than people.

Surely this is in breach of competition laws – probably those pesky EU laws the Tories conveniently want us emancipated from. Laws that tell us we can’t eat prawn cocktail crisps or dictate the curvature of our vegetables – or so the gutter press claims. Of course that’s nonsense. But telling people where they can shop is ok? Giving a massive boost to particular businesses is unfair surely – especially when the government claims to be a proponent of the free market.

The idea of ‘welfare cards’ cannot be workable, even though similar schemes exist in other western countries, like America and Australia. So much for the First World!

Locally it would require that public transport providers fundamentally adapt their onboard ticketing systems. I have yet to travel on a bus or any mode of public transport (including taxis and trains) that has the facility to accept payment in anything but cash. How then will people even get to the supermarkets they will be forced to patronise? Do the Tories plan to subsidise the technology? Only recently did First Bus abandon their card system (you brought a ticket in the form of a card – you still had to pay in cash) because it continually broke down. They have never had the means to allow card transactions to buy tickets and I’m not sure this would work. Requiring people to input pin numbers, wait for however long for the payment to go through (requiring a connection of some sort to the server), is ludicrous.

There is no way this can work and I would assume that a welfare card would have to function like a debit card; that is, requiring money be topped up somehow from the DWP – though how that works is another matter entirely. The alterative would be a card with a fixed amount that is then disposed of and a new one issued each time the benefit is due. I can’t fathom how much that would cost – at the very least there’d be a market for cards with value remaining. Somewhere the law of unintended consequences is going into overload.

What do they plan on allowing people to buy? Will it be only food and clothing? Where will clothing be allowed to be procured? Will it all be Tesco? What if Tesco don’t have what you need in your size while someone else does? Will it be Primark and their – let’s be honest – sweat shop supply chain?

None of this even touches the moral aspect; the infantilising of a whole section of society. All so another group of benefit recipients can scare the middle classes into voting for them on the issue of ‘controlling’ welfare spending.

What about the account system required? Will every single claimant required to use a card have to have an individual DWP bank account set up to store the money in order to access it and put it on the card/or make payments? How else can it work: if the money is preloaded (presumably like the prepaid iTunes cards and the like) what happens if the card is lost? You’ve just lost your week’s money!

What are the costs of processing card payments? I can’t use my debit card to buy things from the local convenience store because shops like that have a minimum spend that’s required to avoid bank charges. Big supermarkets can ignore these costs (or likely don’t even get charged given how much business goes through their tills). Is it reasonable to assume there would be a charge? Someone’s going to be making money out of this scheme, it won’t be the taxpayer! They won’t be printing cards and operating payments gratis.

What happens if the PIN number used is forgotten? If you’re an addict I would imagine forgetting things, however important, is probably not uncommon. Why should you be punished for it? If PIN’s aren’t used then where’s the security? How would you know if I’m using my card and not one I’ve stolen – and you don’t think people will get stolen, or robbed or burgled? Get real! I would think these cards make you more of a target and are themselves hardly secure: all your resources are on one card. If it’s lost or stolen you are screwed; can you expect that to be resolved quickly?


  1. Nice summation of the pitfalls any smart card scheme would encounter there.

    I can quite confidentially say this scheme will not happen. There are so many problems inherent to such a scheme I doubt even IDS would be so stupid as to push it through. I know there are trials in the offing, but these are small-scale and entirely voluntary; there will never be a time when this is mandatory for all claimants.

    I know I come across as over-confident here, but I am certain this will never come to pass. That doesn't mean IDS won't be trying his level best to make the unemployed, disabled and low-paid people's lives a misery, but I doubt smart-cards will ever happen.

    1. I cannot see it happpening either, there are way too many issues. Another important point I didn't cover (it didn't occur to me until later, which isn't a big deal since I'm not the secretary of state) is debt. If the claimant owes money or has a contract of some kind, even something they can ordinarily manage out of their benefits, they will be stuffed. Even if you only have to pay the bank a few quid each month, this change will force you into court and then what? Will judges be able to deduct what you owe from source (the DWP) before it gets put on your card, or will they be forced to call in bailiffs and have your house reposseded? This whole thing creates massive problems.

      Unfortunately we cannot account for the belligerent stupidity of a man like IDS. It just demonstrates how out of touch these idiots really are. I pay a couple of quid each month to the Socialist Party, that isn't going to be possible via prepay card! So not only is this scheme potentially in breach of competition laws, it impedes my participation in a proper democracy!

  2. If making a law about the unemployed, a good rule of thumb would be-if this applied instead to blacks or Jewish people, would it be seen as racist or Anti Semitic? If yes, then it's a bad idea.

    1. It most certainly is a discriminatory policy - why not apply these cards to all areas of life? That of course isn't going to happen, despite corporate excesses far outweighing the apparent 'cost' of welfare.

  3. It looks like the pilot project has been cancelled due to a lack of volunteers willing to take part.

    1. Thanks for the link. THough it's troubling they say they have used the cards before so it seems the idea is these cards aren't linked to an account, but are preloaded like the iTunes cards.

    2. If the plan is for these cards to be pre-loaded what would happen to any money left un-spent at the end of the week/month? Would that money carry over or would it be lost, which would mean those with such cards would be left out of pocket potentially.

    3. Indeed.

      I would assume it would be 'spend it or lose it'.

      I have no idea how any of this could work at all.


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