Thursday 28 March 2013

Please spare some of your outrage for this

What with secret courts, immigration and now the snoopers charter, it is understandable if Liberal Democrat members’ anger is all used up on civil liberties issues at the moment.

But please spare some of your anger for this: the introduction of food stamps:
“Food stamps” arrive in Britain next month, when tens of thousands of vulnerable people will be issued with food vouchers in lieu of money to tide them over short-term financial crises.
Rather than, as now, offering a cash loan, most councils will from April offer new applicants who qualify for emergency assistance a one-off voucher redeemable for goods such as food and nappies.
Many of the 150 local authorities in England running welfare schemes have confirmed that they will issue the vouchers in the form of payment cards, which will be blocked or monitored to prevent the holder using them for alcohol, cigarettes or gambling.
In a perceptive piece in today’s Guardian, Suzanne Moore contrasts this news with the middle class obsession with food evidenced by the boom in TV cookery programmes. (It’s more food voyeurism than cookery; we can see from what’s on offer on the supermarket shelves that the middle classes aren’t cooking more but are actually relying increasingly on ready meals). She reveals that the switch from cash assistance to vouchers is not about saving money but imposing a moral view:
In this world of endless gastronomy, the superstar chefs say eat seasonally and simply. Again, this requires dosh. Choice costs. So what so we do for genuinely poor people? We take away even the most basic of choices. We infantilise them. They are not our problem any longer, but charity cases.
In order to treat people like this one must first vilify them. This has been the coalition project from day one: the immorality of those on welfare is the basic recipe. Repeat after me: austerity removes autonomy. We turn the vulnerable into villains, but even the most rabid rightwinger must pretend that little children should be fed. Do food stamps achieve this? This may indeed be the most ineffective way of administering aid. Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economics professor thinks so. In the past 40 years the use of vouchers and stamps has grown hugely in the US, but dependency has not stopped. Putting money into people’s hands may actually stimulate the economy, but that remains abhorrent to this government, except in its bizarre sub-prime house buying fantasy...
If you accept poverty is the fault of poor people themselves, then you can refuse them choice or money, because you believe they cannot be trusted to spend it properly. Let them eat crappy cake while the rest of us carry on stuffing our faces with ever more exotic ready-meals. Or just say no to this sickness. Fasting is in after all.
How do you take even more away from people with nothing? You strip them of even the most basic of choices, that’s how. The notion of food stamps in a still wealthy country makes me gag. Swallow this and you will swallow anything. But that taste at the back of your throat is pure bile.
Oh, and if you still think that food stamps are justified because otherwise the poor will only waste their benefits on cigarettes and alcohol, the evidence suggests otherwise.

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