Smart cards and silly proposals

Earlier this week a Conservative MP proposed a ten minute rule bill to issue claimants with smart cards that would stop them from buying unapproved items like alcohol or cigarettes.  I ignored this at the time, because it’s hardly worth taking seriously, but this morning it’s reported in the Mail and the Sun that Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, thinks it’s a good idea. He’s quoted as saying: “I’ve been looking at this process to figure out whether it’s feasible, how would it work, how does it match with legal obligations, so we’ve already been examining this”.

He can save the expense, because we already know. The voucher scheme for asylum seekers is “ineffective, inhumane and results in unnecessary suffering.” That comment comes from a detailed report by the Refugee Council. The scheme left people hungry, unable to pay for necessary services, exposed to hostility in shops and looking for ways to subvert the system.

The way vouchers are used and abused is obvious. Anything marketable can be sold. Some traders will pass off some illicit goods like cigarettes as food; people will go to the supermarket with their friends and exchange food for cash or other goods; drug dealers will get their clients to exchange goods for the drugs. Among asylum seekers, 79% reported that they swapped vouchers to buy items they couldn’t otherwise get, and 68% said that they got less than the face value of the voucher as a result. It is hard to imagine that claimants with drug dependencies will demonstrate a higher level of compliance.

Further note, 9th February 2016:   A report from Georgia in the USA offers a neat demonstration of the principle that ‘anything marketable can be sold’:  the cards are beng traded criminally at a discount.  The DWP issued a contract in 2015 to test how such a scheme would work. The answer is: just as you’d expect.

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