HC Deb 16 May 1994 vol 243 cc544-5
9. Mr. Hutton

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment he has made of the operation of the social fund.

The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

Our assessment is that the social fund is working extremely well in targeting resources on those people most in need of help. Nearly 9 million awards totalling £1.5 billion have been provided from the discretionary fund since the scheme started. Even so, we routinely monitor the operation of the fund and continue to introduce improvements as necessary.

Mr. Hutton

Does the Minister agree with the Social Security Advisory Committee that structural changes are now required in the operation of the social fund? Will he ensure that if someone satisfies the criteria for the award of a grant or loan, that person will receive help notwithstanding any financial constraints that would otherwise deny it?

Mr. Scott

We take careful account of the Social Security Advisory Committee's advice. We improved the social fund, particularly its management, in April this year. Although it is in the nature of a discretionary fund that not every application can succeed, this system is much better than its predecessor, which was doubling in cost every two years.

Mr. Matthew Banks

How much has the social fund cost to set up and how many millions or billions of pounds have been awarded? Does my hon. Friend agree that loans rather than grants have been an effective way to provide most where the need is greatest?

Mr. Scott

As the years of the fund's operation have passed, it has become increasingly clear that loans are an acceptable part of social fund provision. As of the end of last year, £1.5 billion had been expended on the operation of the social fund since its inception.

Mr. Bradley

Is the Minister aware that the social fund is failing homeless people? Has he read the latest report by citizens advice bureaux in Scotland, which shows that people are locked into hostel accommodation because they are not receiving grants or loans for essential household items such as cookers and bedding? As that is the only source of help for such homeless people, should not the Minister review the situation urgently so that people can set up home, which is preferable to languishing in hostel accommodation?

Mr. Scott

It cannot be the sole responsibility of the social fund to accommodate everybody who is rehoused. Social fund loans are available to those who go into unfurnished accommodation. Local authorities can also assist in certain circumstances.