SOCIAL welfare claimants should be banned from spending benefits on "luxury" items like alcohol, cigarettes and satellite television, a British Government aide has said.
Alec Shelbrooke said that claimants should be paid welfare via electronic cash cards that could only be used to buy essentials like food, clothing, energy, travel and housing.
Mr Shelbrooke, a Conservative MP, is a parliamentary private secretary at the Northern Ireland Office,
He made the suggestion as a backbencher in the House of Commons, but ministers are understood to be looking at similar ideas.
Mr Shelbrooke has drafted a Bill that would change the law to allow welfare payments to be made on a new “welfare cash card” whose use could be restricted by the Government.
"Introducing a welfare cash card on which benefits will be paid, claimants will only be able to make priority payments such as food, clothing, energy, travel and housing. The purchase of luxury goods such as cigarettes, alcohol, Sky television and gambling will be prohibited,” Mr Shelbrooke told MPs.
"When hard-working families up and down the country are forced to cut back on such non-essential, desirable, it is right that taxpayer benefits be only used for essential purposes."
His Bill has no realistic prospect of becoming law, but the idea of a welfare card is gaining support in Conservative circles.
Iain Duncan Smith, the work and Pensions secretary, told Conservative activists earlier this year that he is examining whether the law can be changed to specify how claimants spend their benefit money.
Mr Duncan Smith is understood to have instructed officials to look at systems in place in Australia and some US states.
One idea under discussion in Whitehall is for the 120,000 problem families who were identified in the Government’s riots review to be given the smartcards.
Advocates say card systems help claimants live responsibly and make proper use of welfare payments. Critics say the schemes demonise those who receive welfare.
Mr Shelbrooke insisted that restricting claimants’ spending options would actually improve the public perception of people who get welfare payments.
"We need to stop the damaging perception of all benefits recipients as being financially reckless."
He added: "If taxpayers are safe in the knowledge that claimants can no longer purchase [luxury] items 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 hand-out. It is now time to modify the system so that this socially destructive state-funded way of living is no longer an option."
James Kirkup Telegraph.co.uk