Should claimants be paid vouchers to stop spending on 'vices'?

People smoking and having an alcoholic drink

Should benefit claimants be prevented from spending the money given to them by the state on alcohol, gambling, cigarettes and other "vices"?

A poll commissioned by think tank Demos suggests most people would support such a move.

But the findings have been met with horror by anti-poverty campaigners, who have questioned whether the British public really feel that way, or whether they have been denied the full facts on poverty by the government and certain newspapers.

Alison Garnham, director of the Child Poverty Action Group, said the poll, in which 59% agreed the government should control what people spend their benefits on, should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

"In the United States in the 1960s, welfare rights campaigners argued for food stamps for certain groups on the basis that some of them were alcohol abusers, but it's not an argument that ever took traction in the UK because people would find that offensive.

"I think we have a very different culture. I just don't think it would be acceptable in the same way," she told a Demos fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference.

'Cool card'

In the United States, people on "food stamps" are given a pre-payment card that they can use to buy food and other essentials - but not luxuries such as alcohol and tobacco.

Demos poll

  • 59% agreed the government should control what people spend universal credit on
  • 77% said yes to monitoring people with a substance or gambling addiction and 69% for those with a criminal or anti-social history
  • 68% agreed the government should stop all recipients from spending their benefits on gambling
  • 54% agreed with the government stopping people spending their benefits on unhealthy items such as cigarettes or alcohol
  • 46% opposed benefits being spent on branded goods such as Nike trainers
  • 38% backed a ban on buying junk food and 35% on holidays
  • Poll was carried out by Populus Data Solutions, based on a survey of 2,052 adults and paid for, in part, by Mastercard

The introduction of the Universal Credit next year, which will see six work-related benefits rolled up into a single payment, potentially opens the door to a similar system in the UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron has not ruled out exercising more control over how claimants spend their money, although there is no suggestion, so far, that food stamps will be introduced in the UK.

Some, including Mastercard, which sent along a representative to the Demos fringe meeting, are pushing for the combined payment to be loaded on to a pre-paid card.

If such a card were to be introduced, explained Matthew Mayo, Mastercard's head of business development in the UK and Ireland, claimants could be blocked from using online gambling sites, for example, but not from buying booze at a supermarket.

Cards could also be used to incentivise healthy behaviour, he added, and some local authorities are already experimenting with such a policy.

In the London borough of Camden, primary school children on free school meals can apply for a "Cool card", which entitles them to £15 a month worth of activities such as drama tuition, climbing wall and martial arts.

'Feckless' claimants

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.

But she rejected the "obnoxious" suggestion that "feckless" benefit claimants blew all their money on "fags and booze", instead of feeding their children.

Like Alison Garnham, she feared controlling what benefits are spent on would rob the poor of control over their lives and add to the stigma of being on benefits.

Start Quote

The reason they are poor is because their parent is a cleaner or a care assistant not because they are a drug addict or an alcoholic”

End Quote Alison Garnham Child Poverty Action Group

What alarms Labour politicians is that voters appear to have stopped thinking of benefits as social security - something they pay into for use in hard times - but rather as a charity handout to the poor, and that this will fatally undermine the welfare state.

One of the most striking findings of the Demos survey was that 18-24-year-olds were one of the most likely age groups to call for government controls on how benefits are spent.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne agreed that a majority of people thought benefit recipients were lazy and did not really want to work.

Campaigners like Alison Garnham argue that the public attitudes have been influenced by tabloid caricatures of benefit scroungers when, in fact, the amount paid to out-of-work people had gone down, in real terms, over the past 40 years.

"Six out of ten poor children live with a parent who is working. The reason they are poor is because their parent is a cleaner or a care assistant not because they are a drug addict or an alcoholic," she told the Demos meeting.

"It's generally desirable for claimants to have control over their own money, not paid on their behalf to somebody else. So I find myself asking why would the state want to have more power to interfere with how this money is being spent?"

"There will be a small group of people who have trouble budgeting or who are alcoholics, for example, but there is some really good evidence that poor families are very good at budgeting their incomes."

Demos deputy director Claudia Wood said the think tank would be staging a similar debate in Birmingham next week at the Conservative Party conference, which, she added, might produce a very different response.


More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    If you have paid tax since leaving education and down on your luck, made redundant etc then NO , you have a right to claim. If you have never worked, have children to support your lazy lifestyle then vouchers like in USA all the way. having been a taxpayer and made redundant and wanting to work, seeing the scummy junkies get everything is soul destroying when your about to loose your home etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    154 A car would be a luxery aswell they would have a travel voucher for public transport see this would have environmental benefits aswell the schemes a no brainer get on and do it politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    good idea. If these people are poverty stricken then the money should be spent on food. Not sure about vouchers tho perhaps they should be for various supermarkets [lidl cheapest] as a swipe card with claiments name /address/photo/fingerprints. Any illegals should then be unable to claim so return to original country. cleric with aid of solicitor is claiming illness,let solicitor pay NHS costs

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Who gets to decide what the vices are, that recipients will not be allowed to spend their benefits on???
    "One man's meat is another man's poison."
    It's supposed to be a free society, where adults decide for themselves. Or is that only if you don't receive benefits???

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    People on living on Benefit are still members of our society, not some subclass animal like beings. Jesus what next with this Government? Start forcing benefittess and those disabled into interment camps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    109. Steve Mansey

    Oh... Lets all remember that the reduction gives £5000 to everyone on the highest tax rate.

    Cynical or what!

    What are you talking about?
    If your referring to the 50% tax rate going, please explain how someone
    earning £151,000 gets £5000. Are you cynical or what, a Guardian reader?

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    It's frightening how benefit claimants are being dehumanised like this. No one would ever try to tell a waged person how to spend their money, even if they're a child abusing alcoholic, but someone ends up on benefits for whatever reason and they should lose the right to choose?

    Remember it could happen to you any time, in the current financial climate!

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    What a terrible idea! How would an out of work mother pay for her child to participate in out of school activites or buy a small birthday present for a party or even give her child a small amount of pocket money to enable them to learn how to manage their own money - you can't use the minority who abuse the system to punish those who really need it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Hate to tell you but this is already in place in many parts of Australia and is looking to be rolled out across the country with some success.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    I get most comments refer to people capable of work who choose not to but people need small things classed as "luxuries" to help their frame of mind.Of course benefits shouldnt be spent on alcohol/drugs,but to take ur child on a day out or a dvd/book to help ur frame of mind is essential.People have abused the system but most are genuine.Please dont forget that.fraudulent claimants are a minority

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    'Mastercard, are pushing for the combined payment to be loaded on to a pre-paid card.'

    And just how large will MC's FEES be for that little exercise? How much in admin costs will this scheme involve if introduced,& is HMG prepared to forgo any tax revenues lost if claimants can't buy alcohol any longer?

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Abolish all benefits....there aren't any in Singapore. There is full employment because people take any job, and the birth rate and crime rate are very low.
    I don't care what your qualifications are, or what job you think you deserve...if the tax payers are keeping you , then you should take any job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    @ 147.ronnieboy1
    1 Minute Ago
    all you people working are a bunch of mugs making the rich richer.

    To a large extent, true, and that is also a problem that needs tackling and right now. But I would still rather be employed rather than living off the employed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Harriet @153, they wouldn't have to hand over food stamps. They could each have a credit card to be electronically credited each week, after they had completed their social duties - street cleaning etc. These days one has an anonymous card payment facility at almost every supermarket. Where is the difficulty?

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Demos Staff overview:
    Danny Alexander :MP
    Demos Advisory Council
    Jon Cruddas:MP
    Demos Advisory Council
    Vince Cable :MP
    Demos Advisory Council
    David Laws :MP
    Demos Advisory Council
    George Osborne :MP
    Demos Advisory Council

    Guess I know where this Propaganda comes from now
    THINK TANK my Arse!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    And why should my hard earned taxes be used to allow people to drink alcohol and smoke for free?

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    I would wager this kind of attitude is fuelled by the various media outlets focusing on the people who dont want to help themselves rather than those that do. I do not think taking away anyones given right to think for themselves can honestly be put forward as a way to improve the situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Incidentally, I don't own a TV, and when I said bad jobs I meant "black market" jobs, the ones the cons like you to have where tax payers money is exhtorted, below the minimum wage, and they like to try to force you to claim benefits at the same time. Increasingly there seems no point trying in this country. Incidentally I'm least important for gov. help because they save more helping criminals

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    This idea separates benefit claimants from rest of society, does not allow them to take responsibility, which is one of main objectives of Universla Credit

    It removes billions of pounds which would be spent in many shops not allowed to accept.

    Think tanks are staffed by a few privileged cranks coming up with crazy extreme ideas to get noticed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Any one who has watched Judge Judy will know how the Government are thinking. They, like her, are completely out of touch with real people some of whom cry themselves to sleep each night in worry about how this country is changing and the next hair brained scheme. How can a person who spends more on a bottle of wine than the average person has to spend on a week of food know how to govern?


Page 70 of 79


More Politics stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.