‘Ban benefits claimants from spending handouts on alcohol’: Tory MP calls for law change to prohibit state welfare being spent on non-essentials

Cash card

Benefits claimants should be banned from spending welfare handouts on alcohol and cigarettes, a Conservative MP has said.

Alec Shelbrooke wants to prohibit benefits being spent on luxury items by introducing electronic cash cards which could only be used for essential items such as food and clothing.

The cards would be similar to a chip and pin debit card but with a blocking function for non-essential items, the MP for Elmet and Rothwell told the House of Commons.

If people on benefits were to be prohibited from buying non-essential, desirable and damaging (NEDD) items, Mr Shelbrooke believes the public’s perception of welfare claimants would improve.

Mr Shelbrooke, a parliamentary private secretary at the Northern Ireland Office, said the plan would end the ‘damaging perception’ that those who claimed benefits were scroungers who sponge off the state.

‘When hard-working families up and down the country are forced to cut back on such non-essential, desirable items it is right that taxpayer benefits be only used for essential purposes,’ Mr Shelbrooke told the House of Commons.

Although the Bill drafted by Mr Shelbrooke has no realistic prospect of becoming law, the idea of benefits cash cards was raised by Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith during the Tory party conference earlier this year.

Australia already uses a dedicated spending system where the ‘Basics cards’ scheme was launched nationwide in October.

The cards can only be used to purchase ‘priority’ items such as food, housing, clothing, education and health care.

The government puts the money electronically on the card once a fortnight, when people receive their benefit payments.

Mr Shelbrooke said: ‘If taxpayers are safe in the knowledge that claimants can no longer buy NEDD at the taxpayers’ expense then the concept of welfare will be viewed once again as a responsible way of getting back on your feet.’

‘That was what the welfare state was intended to be: a safety net in times of need, a hand-up, not simply a handout.’