HC Deb 10 January 2000 vol 342 cc15-6
13. Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

If he will make a statement on the provision of financial support by his Department to the voluntary sector. [102941]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Bayley)

Voluntary organisations make an important contribution to helping families and pensioners, and to helping people into work. We are already involving voluntary organisations in the ONE pilots and the new deal, and we are establishing a children's fund to help voluntary organisations to do more to eliminate child poverty.

Mr. St. Aubyn

The rough sleepers initiative set up by the previous Conservative Government was an excellent example of how the private and voluntary sectors can be involved in helping those in our society who are most in need. For example, the Number Five project in Guildford benefited under that initiative. Will the Minister assure the House that this Government will give as much money to the initiative in this Parliament as was provided by the previous Government in the previous Parliament?

Mr. Bayley

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about this matter. The Department of Social Security's resettlement programme assists the voluntary sector to provide more than 4,000 bed spaces in more than 100 organisations. The statutory framework that binds the Department contains no general legal power to provide support to voluntary bodies. However, given that constraint, we will do all that we can to assist voluntary bodies.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the right people are more likely to receive the right benefit to which they are entitled if they are well advised? In particular, I refer to disabled people, so would my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the work carried out by local DIAL—disablement information and advice line—organisations? Does he also recognise that such organisations often struggle on from year to year unsure about local authority grants and lottery applications? Will he consider how he can further help such organisations to carry out their valuable work?

Mr. Bayley

I agree very much with my hon. Friend that the advice that voluntary bodies give to disabled people about their benefit entitlement is an extremely important part of the benefits process. As I said earlier, the Department of Social Security has no general legal power to help voluntary bodies. Other Departments have such general powers and they include the Department of Health, which puts more than £50 million into grants for voluntary bodies through its two main programmes which support such organisations.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Following what my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) said about rough sleepers, is the Minister satisfied that enough is being done to tackle the problem given that, to the untrained eye, there seems to be no obvious diminution in the number of people sleeping rough? During the period of the previous Government, the media made a great deal of rightful protest about that problem, but they are strangely rather silent about it now.

Mr. Bayley

The Government took, particularly over the Christmas period, a series of new initiatives to expand the support that we give for people, both inside and outside London, who are homeless and roofless. Such initiatives are part of the Government's overall strategy to tackle the problems faced by the poor.