Worra Dingbat – Why Would We Copy Food Stamps?

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Every time there’s a Clare Foges column I try to work out what it is that she’s for. Not in the sense of what she’s in favour of – always, but always, some silliness – but why is she? Is it to provide us with a warning of what not to do?

Her suggestion here is that we should have food stamps in the UK. You know, like the American SNAP program:

They should maintain the £20-a-week Covid-19 uplift to universal credit that is due to expire in April but they should start to give a proportion of UC money in food vouchers. Raise the idea of vouchers and there are some who will look at you as though you’ve just said workhouses were a jolly good thing. The very idea of giving vouchers instead of cash is cast as inhuman, cruel, a way of compounding the misery of poverty. If a voucher scheme were to displace cash benefits entirely this would be a fair criticism but my suggestion is that a proportion of the money should be paid in vouchers.

The argument against limited vouchers is that they make everyone poorer. Including the poor.

Humans beings value agency, this is something as true of the poor as it is anyone else. They desire and enjoy fulfilling the desire to deploy their economic assets as they wish. It makes people richer to do so.

Thus we see in the US system of food stamps that there is a black market in them. It is possible to sell the special, food only, money on the debit card to other people. Or, rather, spend that special food only money on food for them and receive cash back for yourself. The going rate is $1 of food only money to 50 cents of cash money. That is, people – at the margins perhaps – value unrestricted ration vouchers more than they value restricted ration vouchers. Cash instead of food only money.

No, these 50 centses are not then spent upon drugs. The most common purchase is a pack of diapers.

This extends to every other delivery of goods and services in kind rather than in a resource enabling the poor to purchase what they would prefer. Census, which monitors such things in the US, is quite clear about it all. The poor value the things they’re given at less than the cost of delivering it to them – unless it’s cash being sent.

sure, there are parts of the American experience which we would do well to import. But to try and take one of the bad aspects of their welfare system is to be entirely dingbat.

Foges used to write David Cameron’s speeches – explains a lot really.

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john77
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john77

Not all of his speeches – some of them were quite sensible

Spike
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Spike

Those 50-centses sometimes ARE spent on drugs. More to the point, gov’t had to STEAL them from me before it could give them to the poor person. Of course it would be more efficient to gift cash so the recipient could buy what he wants. But part of the sales pitch for this COERCIVE program was that it include a guarantee (or an obstacle) against the recipient buying drugs.

Boganboy
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Boganboy

You do remind me of the handouts to abos in Oz. The shriek is always for more, more, more, as you’d expect.

Back during the reign of evil Tony Abbott, he attempted to make this more palatable to the shorn by saying that he’d make sure the blokes just wouldn’t spend it on grog. I’ve never heard any more about it, so I imagine that the woke strangled it, as they do any even slightly sensible reforms.

Esteban
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Esteban

How do we know that diapers are the most common diversion? Some left-wing group asked people? Hey there, did you spend that money on drugs or diapers? No, no, honey, think again, which was it? No, no, one more time – ah, I thought that was what you did with the money.

Esteban
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Esteban

Also, as Spike notes, the rationale for this taking of my money is that we have someone who is desperate & this is to make sure they don’t go hungry. Not to make sure they can buy whatever the fuck they want.

Esteban
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Esteban

I have actually given a beggar a sack of food instead of $5-10. Because if they really are, as their sign says “hungry” food should be the answer. I’m not guessing whether they’re 1% or 99% bums, but if the gov’t insists we have to help them, I’m all in for limiting the “help” to food, housing, etc., not cash.

But, if you’d like to donate cash, be my guest.

Felicity
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Felicity

Tim, I agree with you, it is about agency. It’s also about dignity. If we are going to have social safety nets (which I hope most agree), it should not be conditional, that is, I should not impose my values on others. I am not arguing that it should be unlimited btw.

Spike
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Spike

You are welcome to fund a nonjudgemental social safety net. What you are talking about is seizing my money for it, and you are damn well going to get my values too, notwithstanding your bit of gaslighting in parentheses (that “most” should not step out of line and disagree). Charity works because ultimately it is conditional; the giver dumps the recipient if he keeps making the same mistakes and won’t be coached. Entitlements are charity without eye contact and they only breed resentment.

MrKing
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MrKing

Maybe short term social safety nets until you get back on your feet. Nothing long term even for “special” cases as it’ll just end up with everyone taking the piss (bad back on the sick for example). And yes, that does mean disabled people as well.

HJ777
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HJ777

Giving (more) money is cheap – no new bureaucracy or costs.
Giving vouchers has a substantial administration cost. You need to print them, decide where they can be spent, distribute them, and create a system for retailers to redeem them. A waste of resources.

Esteban
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Esteban

Well, then at least be honest with taxpayers & make sure they know that you’re going to hand out cash with no strings attached. In the U.S. the sales pitch for the welfare state has always been that we’re not giving winos money for alcohol.

Spike
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Spike

Note that there are no more physical “food stamps” in America; SNAP is now a “stigma-free” plastic card. No one will know – except we behind you in the check-out line, watching you pay for the permitted “essentials” with plastic before asking for a separate transaction for booze and eclairs for which you whip $100s off a roll. (Why should collecting alms be “stigma-free”?)

jgh
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jgh

Doesn’t SNAP also have the problem that too few retailers are prepared to accept the credits? I seem to recall reading somewhere that you couldn’t spend them in discount stores, only full-price stores. Cash I can spend at PoundLand, SNAP forces me into Tesco.

Spike
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Spike

I think you’re right, otherwise small markets wouldn’t have all the signs out declaring that they take it. I suspect there is the usual wasted time letting the bureaucracy vet you. But the supermarkets, which make it up on volume, all do.

sh
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sh

So we give Earl $100 in cash, and sadly he’s one of the very very rare irresponsible poor people, blows it at the racetrack & liquor store. I assume we have to give him another $100 tomorrow for food? Because agency & dignity?

Spike
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Spike

Yes, because government is acutely aware of the pitiable situation in which he finds himself – and uniquely unable to ask how he got that way or take time to find out. Legislated rights for fat people, cash for “broken homes,” a bonus for “treating Covid.”

Unemployment “insurance” takes the worker’s side (unless the employer wants to document malfeasance to escape a penalty surtax). So your uncontrollable need to speak truth to power in the workplace means that nothing is your fault.

Bongo
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Bongo

Well that gets complicated because the admission fee to the racetrack is kept low due to governmental policies on gambling but I’ve eaten at US racetracks and it is remarkably cheap. Meanwhile liquor prices are artificially high due to governmental policies on taxation of that.
Even though Earl is probably well fed, I suspect he is beyond governmental help and needs an intervention from his friends and relatives. Which would be easier if they weren’t taxed so much to support the governmental policies.