Iain Duncan SmithThere has been much controversy in the United Kingdom over the past few years concerning the spiral of addiction in which a minority of those receiving state benefits find themselves caught up in. One of these addictions is gambling and at a recent Conservative Party conference the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith spoke of a government plan to introduce pre-paid cards which would replace cash payments for certain benefits claimants. He stated that some people with problems are unable to provide their families with the basics required for everyday life because they spend their state benefits on feeding their addictions to drugs, gambling or alcohol.

Spiral of addiction

The Minister has said that the pre-paid cards should help families where the parents have “fallen into a damaging spiral, drug, alcohol or gambling addiction.” It is hoped that the cards would help break the cycle of poverty caused by spending on addictions with families getting into debt with no means to provide food and other basic necessities. Initially the pre-paid cards would be provided to people with addiction or debt problems or both who would volunteer to accept their benefits in this way rather than as the traditional cash payment. The card could not be used to gamble or buy alcohol or drugs and would only be accepted in specific retail outlets. The initial trial involving volunteers will be aimed at those with addiction problems and if the scheme works well there are plans to introduce the pre-paid benefits cards in the whole country after four years.

Controversy over Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

The question of the effect of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals on the high streets of many British towns has been debated for some years now with opponents of the easy access to these gaming machines in betting shops claiming that they are increasing the number of those with gambling addictions. These machines allow gamblers to bet up to a maximum of £100 per spin on the casino style games on offer. Those opposed to the availability of the machines are campaigning for the maximum wager to be reduced to £2 as is the case for other gaming machines. The government’s proposed plan for pre-paid state benefits cards would prevent those with the cards from using them in betting shops and it would also be impossible to use the cards in off licence shops. It has been made clear that the cards would not be introduced for those on pensions or with disabilities and that they would be targeted at the minority who have problems with addictions to drink, drugs or gambling in the hope that these could break out of the spiral of addiction and poverty and return to work.