The era of vouchers for the poor is very nearly upon us.
From next year, impoverished families who need a crisis loan to help them over a domestic disaster will be lucky if they get cash. Instead, they will probably be issued with a special Tesco or Sainsbury’s “storecard”, usable in a limited number of stores.
Some cards will be restricted to prevent the purchase of cigarettes and alcohol.
The move from cash to vouchers – which will also see recipients who need help to replace a broken fridge, say, being given chits redeemable only in acredited local furniture recycling projects – will come in next year when the social fund, currently administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), is devolved to local authority level.
Social fund vouchers will be one of the most visible aspects of the switch, which was introduced as part of the Welfare Reform Act. They are destined to become totemic signs-of-the-dismal-times, along with foodbank parcels.
Vouchers may please and shock people in equal measure. Either way, the locally-administered social fund has the potential to be a welfare disaster in the making, not least because the total budget available for social fund help is being cut at a time when demand from potential recipients is likely to soar.