The recent Demos think tank report – which suggests that smart cards could be used to prevent tenants falling into rent arrears when Universal Credit is launched - is an astonishing piece of corporate blagging.
The report, which was funded by Mastercard, suggests that tenants worried about managing rent payments could have housing benefits loaded onto a smart card which they then use to pay their landlord.
This, they claim, will solve the problems that are likely to be caused by Direct Payments, which mean tenants can no longer have Housing Benefit sent to landlords. Instead Demos suggest the money is given to someone like Mastercard, who then put it on a smartcard for the tenant, who then gives it to the landlord. And
Mastercard Demos then presumably want to charge either the tax payer, or the claimant, for the privilege of this completely unnecessary middle-man.
The obvious solution, which is to continue to allow tenants to have rent paid direct to landlords, wouldn’t make Mastercard any money and so is not considered.
It’s unsurprising that poverty pimps are salivating at the thought of the introduction of smart cards or food stamps for benefit claimants. In Australia, where a similar system is being introduced, it has been estimated to cost a whopping $4,500 per claimant (none of which the claimant actually sees of course).
So far the results in Australia have been disastrous, with some stores operating separate queues for smart card customers further stigmatising the very poorest. Complex regulations for retailers have meant only large companies have opted into the scheme which means claimants are only able to shop at large chain stores. Economic apartheid and government approved shops are becoming the norm for the very poorest.
Mastercard aren’t the only ones desperate for a slice of lucrative government contracts should any compulsory income management scheme be introduced. Smart card firm allpay.net (@allpaylimited) have been cosying up to Alec Shelbrooke, the vile Tory MP who is furiously attention-seeking by trying to have smart cards introduced for claimants in the UK.
Iain Duncan Smith has not ruled out smart cards for some claimants, although the stated aim of Universal Credit is that claimants should manage their own money on a monthly basis. It’s not unthinkable that the bungling Secretary of State could find himself hoodwinked into attempting to introduce two completely opposing policies at the same time. He’s not very bright after all.
If one thing has defined welfare reform under both this and the last Government, it is the huge chunks of money being handed over to private companies. £6 billion to Work Programme providers, several hundred million to Atos for their flawed and brutal assessments, a tidy £20 million to Monster Jobs for a bodged website and a whopping £2 billion a year handed over to IT companies to design and run Universal Credit.
Yet still the vultures want more. As benefits are slashed and claimants queue at food banks, it’s full steam ahead for the rich on the welfare reform gravy train.
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