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Will the Tories play the benefits card?
Mary Jackson, TUSC Mayoral candidate, Doncaster
Another bright idea that the Conservatives came up with recently is to pay people's benefits on a card that restricts what it can be spent on. This idea shows the contempt Tories have for the working class and their misunderstanding of 21st century life.
The idea was floated, in a parliamentary bill from Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke, to replace benefits payments with a welfare card. It was discarded before Christmas.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith distanced himself from the scheme (though he said he might consider it for registered addicts). But, two months later, thanks to the self-styled 'left of centre' think-tank Demos, it's again a possibility.
Demos says that the imminent arrival of universal credit is likely to accelerate the need for digital payment. It urges caution against routinely restricting use of benefits, but calls for a full public debate as to how any such restrictions should be drawn.
The original proposals would have restricted the use of benefits payments to prevent purchase of 'luxuries' such as alcohol, tobacco or TV subscriptions. Demos brought this back to the drawing board. But if they had any idea of the reality for benefit claimants they would be arguing for wages and benefits to be increased.
I work in an advice agency and help people manage their finances, often by drawing up a financial statement showing income and expenditure. People trapped into the cycle of unemployment and low pay, (topped up with tax credits), do not spend their money on alcohol and tobacco or subscription TV.
They spend money on food, clothes, water, gas and electricity bills, TV licence, travel to work for the low paid, school trips for the kids (though often they cannot afford to let their children go on trips). Rarely are 'luxury' items listed, overwhelmingly it's 'essential' debt like fuel or water bills. The truth is benefits are not enough to live on.
There are others who do have a TV subscription (still within the contract period so payments need to be made even if the service is cancelled), credit card debt, payday loans. But these mainly belong to people who had decent paid jobs but are part of the hundreds of thousands thrown on the dole by public sector cuts or through the recession since 2008.
The Con-Dem government has already put through council tax benefit cuts, tax credit cuts, housing benefit caps, bedroom tax, disability benefit cuts and the end of the social fund. We live with a scandalous lack of full-time work, falling wages and rising rents, energy and food costs.
This cannot be tolerated. A mass campaign is needed against the 'bedroom' tax and cuts to council tax benefit. So is a one-day general strike as a first step in protecting our, often quite dismal, quality of life and to safeguard essential services. It's time to stop the rot!
In The Socialist 27 February 2013:
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