HC Deb 13 July 1993 vol 228 cc479-80W
Mr. Stern

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he intends to publish his annual report on the social fund and the social fund commissioner's annual report; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Scott

Today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State laid before Parliament his annual report for 1992–93 (Cm. 2274). Copies have been placed in the Library. The report records that, for the first time, the annual total gross expenditure on all social fund payments exceeded £400 million—a doubling of expenditure since the first full year of the scheme. This includes nearly 1.8 million non-repayable grants and interest-free loans worth more than £314 million; and maternity, funeral and cold weather payments worth £87 million.

Now that the fund has been operating for a number of years, we are reaching a position where we can begin to assess with some confidence how it is working. As the annual report says, we have taken note of the research by York university's social policy research unit (SPRU), along with a number of other reports and our own close monitoring of the fund. We have seen no evidence so far to alter our belief that the basic principles of the discretionary scheme are right. Indeed, there is much in the latest report to confirm that the fund is working very effectively as intended in support of the wider pattern of social security benefits. Against this backdrop and in the light of the SPRU and Social Security Advisory Committee reports, we will be continuing to evaluate the effectiveness of the fund and to introduce operational improvements as required.

For the current year, we have increased the net discretionary budget by £5 million. This has enabled us to raise the gross budget by £44 million since April last year. Overall, since the discretionary fund began. the gross budget has increased by some 70 per cent. This substantial growth in funding demonstrates our continuing commitment in this traditionally difficult area of social security provision.

The social fund commissioner's annual report has also been published today and copies have been placed in the Library.