A radical new plan in Australia aims to ban social welfare claimants from buying alcohol or engaging in gambling. It is being proposed by Andrew Forest, and the 244-page report is due to be reviewed by Australian PM Tony Abbott tomorrow. It is already generating a great deal of controversy as it basically means taking control of how people on welfare spend their money. The fact that the scheme is tied in with plans addressing the indigenous people of Australia is only adding to the controversy.
It appears that Andrew Forest has put a good deal of effort into checking out the feasibility of his plan. He has been in discussion with banks, supermarkets, and other involved parties. His plan is for those on welfare to receive a special welfare card that can only be used for certain purchases. If the person attempts to use the credit on the card to purchase alcohol or to gamble, the purchase will be denied. The plan will not apply to old age pensioners or war veterans. There is also the suggestion that families will be financially penalised if they fail to send their kids to school.
Some have greeted the proposal with enthusiasm, seeing it as a way of preventing unemployed people from having it too easy. Others have greeted it with a far less positive response. It is being viewed by many as unfair, unworkable, and potentially even dangerous. There is also unease with the fact that this card would mean that individuals are likely to be forced to shop in the supermarkets that are chosen as part of the scheme.
The purpose of this scheme is to discourage people from spending welfare money on alcohol and instead spend it on food for their family. There is also the hope that this inability to buy alcohol might reduce the incidence of alcoholism. On the surface, it seems to be a noble goal; however, how realistic is it? The risk is that people who feel they need alcohol to help them cope with life could turn to increasingly desperate ways to drink, ultimately making things much worse for those families who depend on welfare money.
This type of scheme could backfire in a big way, as it will almost certainly encourage the growth of an underground economy. This would mean individuals would be able to exchange their food credit for alcohol, meaning that they would be actually spending more on drinking than before. In other words, the families who are the intended benefactors of the scheme would actually be worse off.
Moderate drinkers may drink less as a result of this scheme, but this is probably not the type of person this strategy is being aimed at. It is doubtful that such a scheme would have much of an impact on alcoholism except possibly make the situation worse. At least some people will resort to brewing their own alcoholic drinks, meaning that they would be drinking beverages that are more dangerous.
There are many people in the UK who would approve of a similar scheme being introduced here. This type of solution can make sense to those who view people on welfare as untrustworthy, immoral, or lazy. Up until the Second World War, financial assistant was usually given in a way that would prevent the poor from squandering it on alcohol. It would be a shame if Australia or any Western country were to return to this way of doing things.