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.