Moral disgust, financial discipline and efficiency: Smartcards and 21st century welfare.

During late 2012 a debate began on the discussion board of a group I belong to. It focused on developing local currencies and promoting local businesses through Smartcard technologies. What concerned me wasn’t the technology, but the attitudes that seeped casually around the edges of the discussion about the necessity and inevitability of smartcard use for welfare recipients, alongside a morally ambiguous justification for the control of other people’s expenditure via smartcard technology. I felt angry at this liberal iteration of the disciplining of the ‘out-of-work poor’, but also painfully ignorant about the background to the broader issues. This prompted me to do some research into the genesis of Smartcards. This first post summarises some of the policy background and current uses that I’ve discovered; subsequent posts will explore other aspects of the prepay landscape.


Smart Cards entered our collective consciousness during autumn 2012, as Ian Duncan Smith (IDS), Work and Pensions Secretary, unleashed his attempts to discipline Britain’s ‘troubled’ families. In unveiling his proposals at the Conservative Conference October 2012, IDS framed them as ‘better value for taxpayers’ money’, but, in his rhetoric, cast doubt on the lifestyle of all benefit claimants:
I am looking […] at ways in which we could ensure that money we give [benefit claimants] to support their lives is not used to support a certain lifestyle.[Telegraph 13.10.2013]

MP Alex Shelbrooke, in his (rejected) private member’s bill, December 2012, provided a glimpse into the underlying moral and punitive attitudes towards benefit recipients amongst the Tory heartlands, when he argued for a ‘welfare cash card’ to limit spending to absolute basics.  UKIP then jumped on the benefit bandwagon, reiterating the demonising narrative that benefit recipients are financially reckless and spending ‘your’ hard-earned taxes irresponsibly.

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