HL Deb 25 April 1989 vol 506 cc1148-9

2.44 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps are being taken to monitor the operation of the social fund, and whether they are satisfied that the objectives of flexibility and care in the community for vulnerable groups are being achieved.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, the introduction of the social fund is the first time that the social security system has specifically directed help to supporting the policy of care in the community for vulnerable groups. I am pleased to report that 152,000 people have been helped with community care grants in the social fund's first year. We have of course fulfilled our pledge to monitor the whole of the social security reforms, and the social fund is no exception.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of some of the studies that have been undertaken by voluntary organisations in the field, notably the Child Poverty Action Group? It would appear from them that the poorer people who are being offered loans frequently fail to qualify because they are not able to afford the repayments. They are therefore considerably worse off than they would have been under the single payment system. What steps are being taken to train SFOs in the work now required to ensure that people are offered community care grants rather than loans when that would be more appropriate?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes, indeed, I am aware of the recent report of the CPAG on the subject. But of course that is not specifically in the terms set out in the Question; namely, regarding care in the community, which is a grant function, as it were, of the social fund.

The social fund officers are given guidance and were given it at the very beginning. I agree that the guidance has been overcautiously drafted. We have already advised social fund officers to be flexible in applying guidance to individual cases, and work is almost complete to revise existing guidance in order to make it clearer that it should be applied flexibly, sensitively and with imagination. That will be published, as the original guidance was.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, as regards the survey on the social fund, is my noble friend able to say, as he has done previously, who is helped? Is there also a survey as to the people who have not been helped under the social fund, and how is that being monitored? Many poor people, many homeless people and many single-parent families are unable to set up a home because they have not been able to obtain help from the social fund.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, our objective has always been to target help on those most in need. The noble Lord may laugh, but that is not a new policy. It applied in much the same way under the old single payments scheme. However I accept that it is an unfortunate fact of life that, whenever a line is drawn, some will always fall on the wrong side of it.