Why are MasterCard funding Demos to demonise disabled people?


9:00 am - October 22nd 2012

by Don Paskini    


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Max Wind Cowie, head of the ‘Progressive Conservatism’ project at Demos, argues that the government should take greater control over what people can spend welfare benefits on, if they have drug and alcohol dependencies, or if they are what he charmingly calls ‘the non-disabled, non-contributors’. It is a piece of third rate concern trolling about how punishing the poor is essential to save the welfare state, which ordinarily would be worthy of no further attention. But what’s interesting is who is paying for this ‘research’.

To deal briefly with his arguments, he asserts that this ‘is not about punishing the sick – it’s about enabling their recovery’, and that it ‘gives us a better range of tools to use in the battle to get people back to work’. No evidence is provided in support of either of these assertions. A quick search for reports on a similar scheme in Australia suggested that “There’s no evidence that there’s less gambling in the Northern Territory. There’s no evidence there’s less drinking in the Northern Territory.” Recipients reported that “It’s patronising and it stigmatises me as someone on welfare.” Similar problems were found when the UK government gave vouchers to asylum seekers.

The other argument in favour of this policy is it will be popular. Yet Demos’ own polling found that only 27% support greater controls over what long term unemployed people spend their money on. So it’s not even like the public are crying out to control the spending of the ‘non disabled, non contributors'[1].

So what’s really behind this? Part of it, no doubt, is that the government are interested in testing the feasbility of opening up this as a new front on ‘feckless scroungers’. But it’s not the government who are paying for this.

According to Demos’ website, ‘This survey forms part of a wider piece of research supported by MasterCard, exploring the role that prepaid cards might play in the delivery of direct payments and benefits’. Marion King, President of MasterCard UK and Ireland, said “The roll out of direct payments and the introduction of Universal Credit have the potential to increase financial inclusion, especially if the combined payment is loaded onto a pre-paid card…Prepaid cards can also provide local authorities with the ability to monitor and control spending where appropriate.”

If the government decides to introduce prepaid cards for benefit claimants, then MasterCard will be hoping to get the contract to supply them. So in order to try and get their hands on the government’s cash, they fund Demos to hold events at the party conferences and call for a debate about controlling how people on low incomes spend their money.

Most researchers would think that the subject of how to reduce drug and alcohol dependency, and how to avoid stigmatising and demonising people on low incomes are subjects which require careful, evidence based research. For MasterCard and Demos, it is an opportunity to make a few quid. Or as MasterCard might put it:

Funding Demos to hold events at party conferences: £10,000ish
Paying for polling to allow Demos to concern troll about public attitudes: £2,000ish
Getting a handout from government to supply pre-paid cards to disabled people and benefit claimants: Priceless

[1] If I were Wind Cowie, I’d think twice before urging greater government control over the spending habits of the ‘non contributors’ or ‘people who work for Demos on the Progressive Conservatism project’, as they are also known. If we’re going to get into a debate about who is offering a meaningful contribution to society, then let’s start with those who are getting good money to engage in pointless activity.

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About the author
Don Paskini is deputy-editor of LC. He also blogs at donpaskini. He is on twitter as @donpaskini
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Reader comments


Good piece. This is a ludicrously expensive way of achieving nothing that benefits anyone at all, compared to simply giving people the cash.

By the by, it’s worth noting that the Australian scheme was primarily designed as a way of addressing white bigots’ concerns about “lazy drunk Abos”, with 90% of those subjected to the NT scheme being of indigenous origin.

2. Chaise Guevara

Well spotted, Don. Hopefully we won’t have public policy on welfare decided based on what would be best for an FS company’s cash-card business.

This is sickening and illiberal. No doubt Tesco will be lobbying to be the only supermarket that would be allowed to use the payment cards.

Special pleading by the corporate welfare lobby.

Was wondering if this idea is against Trading Standards or whatever ?

Surely there are going to be many, many losers due to this policy if implimented.

It’s almost like discriminating against other businesses to say that these cards can only be used in certain ways and places.

Talk about total control freaks upon peoples lives. BIG Brother is well and truely on the move to dictating what we buy. It must feel like a crime to be unemployed.

5. Solomon Hughes

Really good piece: We’ve been here before , to an extent, with Sodexo and their “Asylo” voucher for Asylum seekers : That piece of profiteering from the weakest in society was partly defeated (although it lives on , I think, to a smaller extent) by a tough campaign, especially focussing on the companies behind it – thanks to yr good work, hope we can head off Mastercard’s attempt to win business at the expense of the poor.

Of course there is no reason why the prohibitions on the spending of benefits should stop there.

Once the technology is in place, it could be extended to include any debit or credit card and used, for example, to prevent the obese from eating fast food and to ration cigarettes and spirits to the heavy smoker and drinker.

“Can’t do it, the computer says you’ve already had three packs this week”

OR

“Sorry, but in order to comply with the new anti-binge drinking legislation, I am unable to serve you another round”

Even better, shopping prohibitions could become part of the criminal justice system with drunken behaviour punished by alcohol bans and speeding offenders punished by curtailment of their petrol allowance. Paedophiles could be prevented from ever getting an internet connection.

Of course to make the above work properly, cash would have to be phased out but this is probably overdue anyway. And doing so would have the ancillary benefit of raising tax efficiency and obliterating the black market and benefit fraud.

In conclusion, this idea represents the perfect synthesis of the impulse of government to control the behaviour of its citizens and the need of corporations to make excess profit from a captive market.

Seems to me it’s unstoppable!!!!

Oh yes. And presumably benefits claimants choice of food would be limited to the “savers” ranges?

“If the government decides to introduce prepaid cards for benefit claimants,”

Finally something I agree upon with Don although for a different reason.

Cash benefits enables the recipient to purchase what is most valuable to them. Not what some politician thinks they should value, but what is valuable to them.

Thus giving people £25 in cash is more valuable to them than giving them £25 in restricted spending vouchers. In and of itself this makes benefit recipients poorer. Which just isn’t the aim of the game at all. Keeping the cost to hte taxpayer the same but lowering the value to the recipient? A very stupid thing to do.

We can actually see this in the US system. Much aid there is in kind: food stamps, rental vouchers etc. And the Census statisticians do indeed acknowledge that the value to the recipients is lower than the cost of provision. Precisely because it is in kind.

Of course this also applies to a great deal of government services as well: the government spending taxes on diversity advisers instead of leaving the money fructifying in the pockets of the populace. But let’s not go there just now.

8. Chaise Guevara

@ 7 Tim

“Thus giving people £25 in cash is more valuable to them than giving them £25 in restricted spending vouchers. In and of itself this makes benefit recipients poorer. Which just isn’t the aim of the game at all. Keeping the cost to hte taxpayer the same but lowering the value to the recipient? A very stupid thing to do.”

It could be argued that the value to society (which is paying for the benefits) is higher if the benefits are spent on food and school gear rather than fags and booze.

I’m not sure if I’m in favour of such a system even if it’s driven by good motives rather than a way for a credit-card company to make more money. But it’s a lot less black and white than you’re making out here.

Was wondering if this idea is against Trading Standards or whatever ?

I suspect the ‘whatever’ you’re looking for is the Truck Acts of 1831 to 1940, the modern successor to which is to be found in the Employment Rights Act 1996.

These outlawed the use of truck system in which people were paid at least partially in tokens that could only be redeemed only in company-owned shops, which is near as dammit when the Tory’s pre-paid card system for benefit claimants amounts to.

It’s also perhaps worth pointing out that the closest thing we have to a ‘truck system’ these days are the milk tokens that families on certain benefits can claim to pay, notionally, for infant formula milk but which, in practice, can often be freely exchanged for a wide-range of other goods at many corner shops and independent convenience stores.

Small retailers, on the whole, don’t care what you buy as long it gets paid for one way or another.

Yeah – we had wreck the benefits system to save it.

Unity – yes, I spent my milk tokens on groceries; fruit and veg mostly, as we weren’t the biggest milk drinkers on the planet. But at least small local shops accepted the tokens – as someone else mentioned; where would people be able to shop with this benefits card – Tesco or the local street market where the food is often cheaper?

Absolutely appalling idea. There is nothing new about schemes like this and the political intention is always to ‘ send out ‘ an implicit message that people are being punished. The habits and behaviour of people at the bottom of the income scale has obsessed the puritans for the last two centuries. This is just their latest electronic harebrained scheme to enforce the living of ‘ wholesome ‘ lives.

Agree with Pagar that this is just an extension of the state trying to control the consumption choices of their citizens.

Agree with Tim that benefits in kind make the people you are supposed to be trying to help worse off. Furthermore, if BIK are traded and they always are then the recipient is even worse off because a large part of the consumer surplus supposed to be for the recipient is captured by someone else.

Agree with Unity that this is just a form of the old truck system that used to exploit mining communities by paying them in script that could only be spent in the overpriced company store.

Bonus points for the first moron to say that it could be a way to ensure that spending is kept ‘ local ‘ and thus making local communities better off. A bit like imbecilic local currencies.

14. Shatterface

The possibilities for surveillance are endless: I mean, if a claimant is claiming as a single person but purchases a microwavable meal for two then you know they’re up to something.

I admire the contributors above who have been universally appalled.

I’m appalled too. But I am compromised; how do I address such stupidity without acknowledging that somewhere behind it, there may be an argument?

16. So Much for Subtlety

6. pagar

Once the technology is in place, it could be extended to include any debit or credit card and used, for example, to prevent the obese from eating fast food and to ration cigarettes and spirits to the heavy smoker and drinker.

And what would the downside to this be? Once someone has failed the basic test of adulthood – being able to look after themselves – they need looking after by someone else. Why should we have an irresponsible system where the totally feckless, having shown they cannot look after themselves, are left to go feral? Baby P is the result. If my brother was out of work and lived with me, I would not let him eat himself into obesity, nor smoke himself to death, nor drink himself into oblivion. If he wants to do those things, he can get the f**k off my couch and get a real job. Why should I care any less for anyone else?

@16. So Much for Subtlety: “And what would the downside to this be?”

The logical position from SMFS is to kill or to permit people to die.

And what would the downside to this be? Once someone has failed the basic test of adulthood – being able to look after themselves – they need looking after by someone else.

According to the state, we have all failed the basic test of adulthood and need to be looked after- see drugs policy or minimum pricing of alcohol.

I would have thought the downside of allowing ourselves to become infantilised by government should be obvious.

Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, an aide to shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, said she backed the idea, in principle, of using pre-paid benefit cards to encourage people to make healthy eating choices by offering discounts on fruit and vegetables, for example.

It was not to long ago under Brown’s rule that Labour decided to look at vouchers and other means of ensuring the sick and the disabled did not spent to much.

The differences between parties are now smaller then ever before.

20. So Much for Subtlety

18. pagar

According to the state, we have all failed the basic test of adulthood and need to be looked after- see drugs policy or minimum pricing of alcohol.

I would have thought the downside of allowing ourselves to become infantilised by government should be obvious.

I agree. So we need a better state and to refuse to allow ourselves to be infantalised. But on the other hand people on benefits have infantalised themselves. They have refused to do the main thing an adult, especially an adult of a particular gender, ought to do. Take care of themselves. As a proposal for all people, we can agree it is outrageous. As a proposal for people who can’t care for themselves, actually it makes sense.

21. tigerdarwin

Funny how the Tory nasty tendency witter on about their lives were being interfered with by Labour, i.e. hunting, speed cameras etc but when it comes to the weakest in society well that is OK.

22. tigerdarwin

|@ 6 pagar

”Baby P is the result.”

Hold on a minute, things like this were going on in the Victorian times. Thea cases from the thirites and the sixties which are fairly well known.

Baby P has got nothing to do with benefits.

23. Chaise Guevara

@ 21 tigerdarwin

“Funny how the Tory nasty tendency witter on about their lives were being interfered with by Labour, i.e. hunting, speed cameras etc but when it comes to the weakest in society well that is OK.”

Stop taxing my beer! Jail cannabis users!

Although I should be fair and point out that this type of hypocrisy is far from being Tory-specific.

24. Chaise Guevara

@ 22 tigerdarwin

“Hold on a minute, things like this were going on in the Victorian times. Thea cases from the thirites and the sixties which are fairly well known.

Baby P has got nothing to do with benefits.”

Ignore him. SMFS likes to make unreasonable and offensive accusations against things he doesn’t like. It’s just attention-seeking behaviour. See also that comment above about how taking care of oneself should be done especially by “adults of a particular gender”.

He’s sitting there going “Oh, please someone be offended by my stupid comments, pleeeaaase!” And what do we call that sort of thing?

@ SMFS

As a proposal for all people, we can agree it is outrageous. As a proposal for people who can’t care for themselves, actually it makes sense.

So you are arguing that those who are already in danger of being infantilised by the state should have yet more choices made for them in terms of how they are allowed to spend their benefits?

And that’s going to make them more, rather than less, likely to stand on their own feet?

Seems implausible.

Sounds more like you you’re pissed off that it’s your money they’re spending and you don’t like the thought of them spending it on a nice glass of stella or a spliff.

So basically anyone on benefits should not be able to have any luxuries. Not even a pint! Nah coz they are spending the money of the HARD WORKING decent taxpayer who reads the Daily Mail!

It won’t just be the benefit claimant right wing gob sxxxxs who will applaud such a scheme but also “liberal” neo prohibitionists who will hail it as a great way to stop the poor from “binge drinking”.

28. Chaise Guevara

@ 27 Dan Factor

“It won’t just be the benefit claimant right wing gob sxxxxs who will applaud such a scheme but also “liberal” neo prohibitionists who will hail it as a great way to stop the poor from “binge drinking”.”

I propose raising the legal drinking age to 25, and putting 400% tax on cider, alcopops and clear liquors.

(Bet you can’t guess what age I am or what I drink!)

Chaise. Middle aged

30. Chaise Guevara

@ Dan

Youngish, but I’m above 25.

I generally find that people’s solutions to binge drinking tend to end up as “Heavily penalise everyone except me”. I’ve seen someone deliver my “proposal” above straight-faced: basically listing a system where people who are younger than him, or like different drinks to him, get banned from drinking or hit with punitive taxes.

I’m surprised the scheme isn’t more popular actually, given the complaining being done by many people about the possessions benefit claimants appear to have. It’s all a consequence of people being told that benefits are ‘taxpayers’ money’, which leads them to act like it’s their money rather than the claimants’.

But the ways in which people get ‘taxpayers’ money’ are vast, so unless the govt are going to start policing other recpients of public money and services (what are you spending that child benefit on? Are you sure you need that GP appointment? etc), they are just going to look like they’re punishing unemployed people.

32. So Much for Subtlety

22. tigerdarwin

Baby P has got nothing to do with benefits.

On the contrary, Baby P had everything to do with benefits.

25. pagar

So you are arguing that those who are already in danger of being infantilised by the state should have yet more choices made for them in terms of how they are allowed to spend their benefits? And that’s going to make them more, rather than less, likely to stand on their own feet?

I expect it will make them a lot less able to stand on their own feet. But it will make being on benefits less attractive. People on benefits are a lost cause. We can’t do much for them. But we can and should persuade people not to go down that path.

Sounds more like you you’re pissed off that it’s your money they’re spending and you don’t like the thought of them spending it on a nice glass of stella or a spliff.

Stella? Well I am mildly offended at their choice of beer, but as someone who has repeatedly pointed out that moderate drinking makes Britain a better place in every way, no, I do not mind them having the odd pint. Any more than I would mind my brother, if he were sleeping on my couch, having the odd pint. Drinking himself to death? No. A spliff? Certainly I am offended. It is a crime. Such people ought to be in jail.

26. Dan Factor

So basically anyone on benefits should not be able to have any luxuries. Not even a pint! Nah coz they are spending the money of the HARD WORKING decent taxpayer who reads the Daily Mail!

Yeah, pretty much. We are called on to care for others who are unfortunate. But we are not called on to wrap them in luxuries. I have no problem with a pint. I don’t see that as a luxury. But pretty much everything else? Sure. Because, as you say, they are spending the money of hard working decent tax payers.

33. Chaise Guevara

@ SMFS

“Any more than I would mind my brother, if he were sleeping on my couch, having the odd pint. Drinking himself to death? No. A spliff? Certainly I am offended. It is a crime. Such people ought to be in jail.”

Such people who happen to be on the wrong side of an arbitrary rule? In our society, booze is legal and dope ain’t. In another, hypothetical society, booze is banned and dope is legal. I don’t see much difference between these societies, except that theirs would probably suffer less Saturday night violence.

I’m getting the impression that you’re blurring “legal” with “moral”.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Nautilus in Red

    MasterCard encouraging the idea of restricted pre-paid cards so it can skim money from the welfare budget? @libcon http://t.co/0qvyx6yu

  2. Nautilus in Red

    MasterCard encouraging the idea of restricted pre-paid cards so it can skim money from the welfare budget? @libcon http://t.co/0qvyx6yu

  3. Jason Brickley

    Why are MasterCard funding Demos to demonise disabled people? http://t.co/zlbG5bcS

  4. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Why are MasterCard funding Demos to demonise disabled people? http://t.co/GYVVc8Vv

  5. eChurch Blog

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  6. Richard Exell

    I wish I'd written this: Don Paskini asks Why are MasterCard funding Demos to demonise disabled people? – http://t.co/B38EMzvu

  7. Stephen Boyd

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  9. Colin-Roy Hunter

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  10. Colin-Roy Hunter

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  11. Steve Glover

    Forcing "problem families" to have their benefit delivered by card: priceless! http://t.co/PvbkIYFL

  12. Stew Wilson

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  13. Elinor Predota

    Forcing "problem families" to have their benefit delivered by card: priceless! http://t.co/PvbkIYFL

  14. AJ

    Why are #MasterCard funding Demos to demonise disabled people? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/1HFgFE7G

  15. BevR

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  16. BevR

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  17. BevR

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  18. paul and lynn hewitt

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  19. paul and lynn hewitt

    Why are MasterCard funding Demos to demonise disabled people? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/aZjTaF9f via @libcon

  20. caMORON's enemy

    Why are MasterCard funding Demos to demonise disabled people? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/aZjTaF9f via @libcon

  21. caMORON's enemy

    Why are MasterCard funding Demos to demonise disabled people? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/aZjTaF9f via @libcon

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  23. Annie Bishop

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  27. Rick B

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  28. David Rose

    Why are MasterCard funding #Demos to demonise disabled people? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/lrBQypjT via @libcon

  29. Guy Bailey

    Why are @MasterCard funding Demos to demonise disabled people? http://t.co/VLpUVGUx

  30. Guy Bailey

    Why are @MasterCard funding Demos to demonise disabled people? http://t.co/VLpUVGUx





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