Archive for December, 2012

An Email to Alec Shelbrooke

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Yesterday Alec Shelbrooke MP tabled a bill to introduce the ‘Welfare Card’. I believe this to be a further worrying development in the Conservative war against the poor. I felt I had to bring a few of my concerns to Mr Shelbrooke’s attention. I realised after sending this that I did not raise the question of purchasing toys for child development, birthdays or christmas or how people on limited incomes, who usually buy replacement white goods second hand in a cash transaction are meant to replace a broken cooker or fridge. I apologise for any important points I didn’t raise. If you feel that you can make further points please do email him before the second reading of his bill. If Mr Shelbrooke takes the time to respond I will update this blog with his response.

Hello Mr Shelbrooke,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to me. From the outset I should state I am not in support of this card and believe this, the Universal Credit scheme and almost every other Welfare Reform to be ill-conceived and ill-considered. I had a listen to your speech and have a number of points and queries I’d like to raise.

You suggest that there will be no stigma attached to the introduction of this card. Is it your intention that the card will look exactly like a standard debit card or do you have designs for it to be clearly different, as with the Australian ‘basic’ card model which defines the user as someone on benefit and has been the cause of humiliation for many people at the checkout . This detail I believe is very important as dignity is something that you, I have no doubt, wish to allow the claimants.

You wish to limit the use of the card to ‘essential’ items. I’m very keen to know what you consider to be essential items? You stated food and clothing but made no mention of paper products. Will people be allowed to purchase daily newspapers, writing materials, stamps and other stationary?

Would this card system allow the user to buy from any supermarket with a card machine or would it limit their use to the big three or four and prevent shoppers from seeking a better deal in discount stores such as Aldi or Lidl. One may look down the nose at Aldi or Lidl, considering Tesco or Asda to be the main shops of choice but I can assure you that as a family with 2 full time earners and 1 part time earner we cannot afford to shop regularly at any of the bigger food shops. My years of budgeting have taught me to analyse and compare and since changing my shopping habits I have saved well over £1000 a year in food bills. I cannot imagine it would be in the tax payers interests, therefore, to limit the use of the card to the more expensive stores.

I have a concern that the shops and outlets which cannot afford the use of card machines will be destined for certain failure. Independent news agents, corner shops, market stalls etc would not be able to survive the drop in income that may occur due to this proposal. The lifeblood of Britain is its market towns and its corner shops. One cannot state enough that anything that does not safeguard the identity of small towns and high streets in Britain should be rethought. Is the government going to freely supply card machines to all small shops and market stall holders so that they can continue to benefit from the custom of all of their potential customers? If so am I paying for those card machines?

How would parents pay for clubs such as youth clubs, sports clubs, brownies, scouts, st johns ambulance and many other great character building clubs that run on a subs basis? Are we to say that things that give children an outlet and a focus are a luxury too? I don’t think they are, in fact, I believe in a home where there is no working role model (whether by choice or misfortune) that such clubs become even more essential to those children. And whilst I realise that most poor and underpaid families can rarely afford to give their children money the importance of them being able to do so cannot be underestimated. Parents need to reward their children and children, especially teenagers need to feel like they are part of society and having some sort of income is essential to meet their needs. As a tax payer I do not resent the idea of unemployed or low-paid parents being able to treat their children by allowing them to make independent purchases. I’m sure you remember going to a record store to buy your first LP or going to the youth club disco or summer trip. These are important steps in any child’s life, whatever their background.

If a low earnings family wish to take a budget-conscious holiday such as a camping holiday how can they do so without the physical cash to pay for it? Are we to say that non-working and low-paid working families do not have the right to expect a holiday? Do these children not deserve a holiday?

The suggested uses of the card you mentioned included paying fixed costs such as rent, energy, tv licence etc. Will this be money that is ring-fenced on that card so it can only be accessed by a different pin number? This would prevent the monies for these fixed costs being accidentally spent by people who may have no head for figures, no experience in budgeting etc and who have an unexpected cost in their month (for example broken heating, car troubles, etc). If a family uses the money that should be paid to landlords for other items then their housing will come into jeopardy. I believe that the monthly payments intended under the universal credit and this card will, together, cause a huge rise in homelessness amongst families and will, as a result of this, lead to greater costs to the tax payer in the way of emergency housing and rehousing.

Will any of these families be offered budget advice and guidance?

How can these families use the card to pay for taxis? Many families in the low/non income bracket cannot afford to pay for a car and rely on taxis to bring home their weekly shopping. Not every person in Britain lives within walking distance of a supermarket and if they are unable to shop at those places and get their heavy shopping home then they will be forced to use smaller and more expensive ‘convenience’ stores, which as you know, is a poor use of anyone’s budget. Most private taxi firms do not have EPOS machines in their cars and the costs of introducing them to all private taxis would be prohibitive and only be productive to the EPOS manufacturers and the banks.

I am interested in what entertainment items would be allowed using this card. Would people be allowed to buy books and music or should all poor people be culturally bereft? Would they be allowed to use the card to pay for a trip to the cinema or theatre? What about theme park entry for those families who will never be able to save for any kind of holiday but taking a day trip to Blackpool or a theme park would help shape their children’s memories. Would they be able to purchase broadband? If not would broadband be supplied for free to households who need to use this card? I ask because we have seen a huge increase in library closures under both this and the last government and the only access to the internet which many people in the low income bracket have is in the library. The United Nations tell us that internet access is now a human right. How will this right be supported if the card does not allow broadband to be purchased or a free service supplied to these households. How are these people who rely on Universal Credit to access those credits without the access to the internet. I believe that any changes in the way monies are paid to people being supported by tax payers money must be considered carefully to avoid unnecessary infringement of human rights and dignity.

I understand that the Australian model of the welfare card, which has come under both praise and heavy criticism has not reduced gambling in the Northern Territories where it has been tried. I also understand that thoughtless implementation of the scheme means that the card user is unable to make very basic purchases such as jeans!

I believe that the Australian scheme allows the card a certain amount of money for things like alcohol and cigarettes and does not disallow them entirely and this is an important thing. By over-parenting the recipients of welfare the government does not make the recipient more responsible it reduces their personal choices and personal freedom. By implementing this card you will be implementing an unequal system where those who are fortunate enough to have jobs that pay enough are allowed to make all their own choices and those who do not have a job or are exploited in low paid jobs do not only have the humiliation of being in that situation but are also ‘monitored’ by the state to make sure they are being good boys and girls. For my money, and it is my money you’re spending, I have no issue with people who face poor job prospects and endless days of rejection having a drink occasionally or having a cigarette to manage what must be intolerable stress. I have no problem with them trying to make the most of that money by bartering with the second hand shop or market stall. I believe that, if implemented this card system will further increase the distance between rich and poor and further alienate the people from their government. If your government is the ‘working person’s government’ why on earth would you suggest that low-income earners should be forced to use these cards?

My parents are live long Tories, but increasingly since the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition has been in place there are changing their minds about what makes a good government, or rather your government is changing it for them. I will never be a Tory for almost every reason I can think of, however that does not negate my views on your bill. Please take my questions in serious consideration. I may be a wage earning fully independent member of society but I have been in a place where every penny counted and my dignity needed to be intact for me to move forward.