§ 5. Rev. Martin Smyth
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what proportion of low and medium-priority claimants to social fund offices he expects to receive social fund grants in the final quarter of the current financial year; and what guidance has been issued by his Department to local offices.
§ Mr. Scott
Applications for social fund loans and grants are decided by social fund officers exercising their discretion having regard to the individual circumstances of the particular application. It is not therefore possible to estimate the proportion of low and medium-priority applications that will be met during the remainder of this financial year. Guidance to social fund officers is contained in the social fund manual, a copy of which is in the Library.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I welcome the news that 100 social fund offices have been extra money to deal with some of the claims. Is it not a fact, however, that some offices are 630 instructing officers to consider only higher-priority groups? Is not some flexibility required, especially in view of the recent adverse weather conditions?
§ Mr. Flynn
The Minister mentioned a responsible spending policy, but he need not look beyond the social fund to see what everyone else has recognised—that it is a fraudulent fiasco. Those in the greatest need are excluded altogether because of the loans demand, and many others may not receive any grant at all: it is a question of luck and of where they live, because it depends on how much is left in the local budget. Many offices have had to exclude whole categories of claimants from the scheme because their budgets are too low. In the face of soaring demands, inconsistencies, chaos and injustices, how can the Minister plan to cut next year's social fund in real terms?
§ Mr. Scott
We shall announce the allocations for next year in due course. I am confident that the social fund is a considerable improvement on the single payments system that preceded it; it contains some flexibility, perhaps best illustrated by the fact that, of the loans that have been refused this year, no fewer than 25,000 have been met by an award of community care grant.