This paper examines North–South linkages in the politics of contemporary food assistance and social welfare, and in particular the normalisation of poverty and humanitarian crisis caused by increased digitalisation, privatisation and individualisation of aid or welfare. Migrants and displaced populations are considered as extreme cases and we examine how these policies and practices are leading to the growth of a global precariat who are constantly on the edge of survival (or death). We use Sudan, India and the UK as case-study countries which have seen persistently high levels of acute malnutrition or rising levels of hunger (as in the case of the UK), as well as the introduction of new digital welfare systems. Digital practices often aim to improve access to food and form a key part of humanitarian and welfare assistance, thereby creating digital welfare states. In the past decade Sudan has seen a shift from emergency food aid to digital cash interventions, including the establishment of a new national cash-based Family Support Programme (FSP). India’s Public Distribution System (PDS) has been undergoing digital transformation since 2010. In the UK, welfare has been digital by default since 2012 and from 2016 assistance for asylum seekers is provided through biometrics and debit cards. The Covid pandemic has accelerated processes of digitalisation across all three countries. In this paper, we argue that digitalisation has not addressed hunger, but instead is likely to lead to exclusions and invisibility of the already politically marginalised groups. Additionally, a number of troubling political and economic questions linked to identity, surveillance and profit have been subsumed in the larger debate about efficiency and accountability in provisioning. On the other hand, evidence of protests and organised struggles indicates a growing opposition to the digitalisation of bodies and lives.

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ISS Working Papers - General Series
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International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Jaspars, S., & Sathyamala, C. (2021). Digital bodies and digitalised welfare: North-South linkages in the politics of food assistance and social welfare (No. 687). ISS Working Paper Series / General Series. Retrieved from