§ 6.44 p.m
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham rose to ask Her Majesty's Government when they will publish the Social Policy Research Unit's research on the Social Fund; and whether, in the light of the Social Security Advisory Committee's report The Social Fund; a new structure, they will restructure the Social Fund.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Government in 1988 introduced the Social Fund to replace one-off payments for cookers and the like to families on income support. The aim was to cut expenditure, to increase local office discretion and to target help on the neediest. It should be need-led not demand-led, said the Secretary of State. So loans displaced most grants, and loans now represent 70 per cent. of the budget. Local offices were given cash-limited budgets and their discretion was enhanced by abolishing independent rights of appeal.
§ Every professional agency and every charity working with families and children warned the Government. Never has a fund been so closely monitored for its effects on the poorest and neediest. Indeed, never have there been so many reports: from the CABs, from the Children's Society, from the local authority associations, from the Family Welfare Association, from the CPAG, from the Rowntree Trust, from the Social Security Research Consortium, from the Public Accounts Committee, from the Government's National Audit Office and, earlier this year, from the Government's own Social Security Advisory Committee.
§ Never have there been so many reports of such unanimity. What do they all say? They say that the Social Fund has been a disaster, even though it represents only half of one per cent. of the social security budget. It has indeed cut expenditure: after loan repayments, it is down to a third of what it was. However, it has not helped those in need at the time of their need. My criticism of the Social Fund is that it has met one objective—cuts—precisely by failing to meet the other, which is targeting help on those most in need. Had the Government listened in 1988 much misery and hardship would have been avoided, and had the Government listened in 1988 this debate and many others before it would not have been necessary. What further evidence do the Government need? Will they tell us?
§ I do not know what the York Social Policy Research Unit report, which is mentioned in the Question, will say, but the Minister does, because he has been sitting on it for some time. That is presumably because it damns the Social Fund still further. I understand that it is due to be published on Thursday. Will the Minister answer me just one question? Given that the Social Fund has saved money on single payments, what evidence is there that the money is going to people in the greatest need? And does the York report show that this is happening? I press the Minister to answer that question, because after all he knows the answer to it.1113
§ Expenditure on the Social Fund has been cut. Single payments in 1985–86 amounted to £334 million; the 1992–93 budget, after the pre-election bonus, was £302 million gross but only £130 million net after the repayment of loans is included. Those are, quite simply, cuts because most people in need are refused help. For community care grants the refusal rate is 73 per cent. and rising; for budgetary loans the refusal rate is 44 per cent. and rising. Even for those who need a crisis loan, often simply because their benefit is paid two weeks in arrears, the refusal rate is 17 per cent. and rising.
§ Even worse, such refusals are too often "a lottery"—not my phrase, but that of the Government's own Social Security Advisory Committee—because local office budgets are cash limited. If your cooker, your marriage, your partner, or your job expires, make sure it happens in September and not November. Equally, if as a single parent your wheelchair gets stolen and you live in the North-East you will have it replaced by the Social Fund; if you live in the South-East you will not. It is welfare by calendar, welfare by geography and welfare by chance, but not welfare by need.
§ Perhaps people are being refused help because they really do not need it. Is that true? Those on long-term subsistence level benefits experience routine poverty and are unable to afford, for example, to replace the cooker when it breaks down. For social security benefits to be adequate to cope with replacements of equipment and such extraordinary expenditure, benefit levels would have to be at a much higher level than this Government feel they can afford. Many other applicants need help when they face a life crisis: births and deaths, moving home, ending a job, losing a partner, or when the house is burgled or burnt down. Their expenditure increases at just the time when their resources have diminished. Their need too is surely undeniable.
§ Finally, there are those like ex-offenders and the young homeless who are waiting for their regular payments but are utterly destitute because they are paid two weeks in arrears. Does anyone doubt their destitution? We see it around us, and yet half of all pensioners and one-quarter of the sick and disabled who have applied for grants have been refused. Also, 80 per cent. of the unemployed and 20 per cent. of the single parent families who have applied for loans have been refused.
§ Let us look more closely at the reasons for refusal. A quarter of the refusals were decided because the applicants were not on income support or had not been on income support for six months. A 19 year-old girl, raped by her stepfather, was rehoused as an emergency by the local authority in a totally empty flat. She sleeps on the floor because she has not received income support for six months. A client with multiple sclerosis was discharged after two years in hospital with no furniture of his own but was refused help from the Social Fund because he was on invalidity benefit. In some cases that benefit is only a few pence higher than income support.
§ Another quarter of the refusals were decided because the applicants were deemed not to have high enough priority. Families and the single drop off the 1114 list when local office money runs out. A family with six children, including a pregnant 17 year-old, after two years spent in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, was offered housing by the local authority but was refused a start-up grant for furniture from the Social Fund because it was not considered a high enough priority. That Yorkshire family is currently taking it in turns to sleep in the two beds it possesses.
§ A single homeless man was allocated a council flat but was refused both a grant and a loan for furniture because the officer considered a single man could live in a hostel and therefore did not need a flat. The officer also considered that the man could eat out and therefore did not need a cooker. An ex-offender was refused money for clothing when he returned home to find that his ex-wife had disposed of it. His probation officer now believes he will never be interviewed for a job.
Even where applicants are in a high priority group, such as the disabled, they can be refused help for what officers regard as non-essential items. A tetraplegic young man was rehoused after a year in hospital and two-and-a-half years in residential care. He was refused a grant for a fridge-freezer, which would have reduced his need to shop as shopping for him was almost physically impossible, on the grounds there was no indication that,
without a grant you would have to enter residential institutional care".
§ Inquiries about grants are regularly fobbed off by staff who prefer to talk about loans. If grants are pursued, staff warn—I believe that is the polite word—of delay. Worst off are those who do not qualify for a grant and are too poor for a loan. Some 27,000 people, the poorest of the poor, were refused help for their poverty on grounds of poverty. A 20 year-old pregnant woman with a nine-month old child was refused a crisis loan because she could not repay it even though her husband had deserted her taking the benefit money with him. Until regular benefit was paid—it took a fortnight—she survived, pregnant and with a child in her arms, largely by begging.
§ The Social Fund has constructed a policy of defer, deter and refuse. Only a quarter of those in need applying to the Social Fund for grants, and only half of those applying to it for budgetary loans, are helped. However, their distress and destitution do not disappear. How could that be otherwise? They still need a cooker and bedding. What do they do? For some their destitution is displaced on to social services and charities.
§ At a meeting of 36 charities convened in March by the Family Welfare Association it was found that half of the people in need it had helped had been refused help from the Social Fund. The association was providing income support because neither the state nor local authorities would do so. Indeed the association had had to close its lists for eight months as it was besieged by those denied help from the Social Fund.
§ For others their destitution was displaced into debt. The National Audit Office has reported that two-thirds of all families with children applying to, and being refused by, the Social Fund are in debt. 1115 Rent, fuel and loans all make a multiple debt the repayment of which pushed those families still further into destitution from which only a Social Fund grant would have relieved them. However, that was refused.
§ Destitution can disappear into the dodges of the immoral economy, for example, thefts from washing lines or shoplifting to order, and into the street markets of secondhand goods where people buy back what was stolen from them in the first place. That is why the report of the Government's own Social Security Advisory Committee, which calls for a restructuring of the Social Fund, is so significant.
§ The report states that families and others on benefit need mandatory start-up grants when they move into their home for the first time. Secondly, the report calls for more grants and less loans and for easier repayments on loans. The report states that the Government should especially reconsider paying benefits two weeks in arrears as that generates the need for crisis loans, thus putting a claimant into debt before he even starts.
Thirdly, the Government's own advisory committee insists that the Social Fund budget is inadequate and fails to meet legitimate need. Those are the words of the Government's own advisory committee, not mine. The report states that while an element of discretion is sensible, the present Social Fund is a lottery and,
the element of chance is unacceptable".
§ For the longer term, the Government's own advisory committee would like to see the Social Fund extended to others on low income, for example those on family credit and on housing benefit. Do the Government accept the report of its own advisory committee? I repeat my earlier question to the Minister. Does the York research, on which the Minister has sat for so long, confirm that those in need are not being helped as they should be?
§ The Rowntree Trust states that social work in the 1990s should be about care in the community, child protection and tackling young offenders. The Social Fund is deforming those aims. It ensures instead that social work is about containing petty criminality, debt management and aiding families in financial stress.
§ I have tried to make just one simple point which is that the Social Fund is failing to help those in legitimate need. The Social Fund's net discretionary expenditure is a third of what it was because it helps with grants only a quarter of those who need them. It does not alleviate deprivation and therefore people go cold, hungry, homeless or into debt. Will the Government restructure the Social Fund?
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, this is the second day running on which we have debated the reforms which are necessary to obviate the worst miseries caused by extreme poverty in this country. Yesterday we discussed the plight of those unfortunates with children who live in bed and breakfast accommodation. It was splendid that your Lordships firmly recorded their opinion on that matter. Today 1116 we are discussing the plight of those faced with special or unexpected calls on what may be referred to, not very laughingly, as their resources.
I shall spare your Lordships a repetition of my short recital of yesterday on the duty of government to relieve extreme poverty and on the duty of the Church to campaign for such relief, as I am still under the dwindling illusion that almost everyone is in agreement in principle with that. In saying that, I take great pleasure in welcoming the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham to our debate tonight. I first heard him speak at the opening conference of Church Action on Poverty. I have been associated with that body ever since. The speech of the right reverend Prelate was wonderful and it set the whole conference alight. It moved Church Action on Poverty to do some serious work. Let us hope that the speech of the right reverend Prelate tonight will have a similar effect on the Government.
The problem occurs when we come to the practical implementation of the necessary measures for helping people in debt. The Government seem to be so frightened that a few people will undeservedly find a way to benefit from any reforms that they become paralysed and unable to do anything. However, it is only fair to say that what is needed in this particular instance is not just a minor reform but rather a complete change of emphasis. There needs to be a change of emphasis from loans to grants.
The case for loans can be and has been well argued. It is a case against pauperism and against dependency. It is a case worth supporting when pauperism and dependency are avoidable. But our present economic system is such that a large number of the poor are necessarily dependent and necessarily pauperised. It is most important to stop that, but there is no danger of avoiding it by giving grants.
To digress, but not too far, one might think that we had learned a lesson from the way in which we had worsened the situation of the third world by a policy of loans. How much better and less expensive it would have been to have had a policy of outright grants in that field.
This need for grants is greatest in meeting the one-off needs which are experienced by any family in crises or even in the course of ordinary life. All of your Lordships are used to such crises, but most of us have enough reserves to enable us to cope financially with the daughter getting married, the husband falling ill, a burglary or—dare I mention it—the demand from Lloyds. However, we are talking of those who, often through no fault of their own—and I remind your Lordships and the Government that unemployment now and in the foreseeable future is not avoidable in certain parts of the country—have no resources, no cushion of any kind and who, if they are pushed by demands which their weekly dole is unable to meet, are driven into deeper debt, sometimes into crime and even to suicide.
Charities cannot meet that need. The noble Baroness has already mentioned the experience of the Family Welfare Association and its report on this matter. Charities rightly exist to deal with the unusual cases; here we are talking about the usual, basic cases. 1117 For such persons it is vital that we establish a system of grants, which are theirs by right as citizens of this country. The Government's own Social Security Advisory Committee's report goes a long way towards the establishment of such a system. We must hope for acceptance of that by the Government today.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Durham
My Lords, I wish to emphasise to the Minister who will reply on behalf of the Government and to the Government that the matter of reconsidering and at least considerably re-ordering the Social Fund is a matter of very deep significance in the life and cohesion of our country and society.
When the proposals for the Social Fund were in Green Paper form, and subsequently on their way to becoming the legislation which emerged from 1986 onwards, our General Synod Board for Social Responsibility, on behalf of the Church of England, commented among other things:We are concerned about the use of the Social Fund to meet special needs. Cash limits will introduce an arbitrary factor in its operation and there would be no appeal. It will mean that one claimant may qualify for assistance at the beginning of the financial year, but another, in exactly the same circumstances, fail at the end simply because the money has run out. This seems to us a potentially unjust system which will create hostility and incomprehension.The report of the Social Security Advisory Committee, and much other evidence, to some of which the noble Baroness referred, surely shows those fears to be justified by what has happened and what is happening in practice.
The report also pointed to what it called the alienation and indignity which many claimants experience in their progress through social service offices. Again, I fear, that continues to be true. Of course, it is important to emphasise that, as that report pointed out and as I know very well, that is not the fault of the social security staff but, as the report states, of a system which devalues those who receive state benefits.
That is the underlying point—the devaluing of those who receive state benefits. It seems to remain true, despite the issue of a Citizens' Charter, with supplementary charters, including one for those in receipt of benefits. The way the Social Fund operates, the way it is so seriously cash limited, and the way in which very poor people in desperate circumstances are forced to turn to it, does not suggest that those people are what one might term chartered citizens. The point I wish urgently to press upon the Government is: please at least heed the recommendations for a new structure for the Social Fund urgently and seriously. I suggest that any government needs to consider the effects of social security payments in general and of the Social Fund regulations and resources in particular with a proper mixture of compassion, control and respect for citizenship.
Behind the statistics, the directions and the financial decisions, as we have already been reminded, are people who in the vast majority of cases are in great need of compassion, even if it has to be limited by statistics and resource availability. Surely anyone who is in direct touch with social workers, clergy and 1118 active local citizens on so many housing estates and inner city areas, knows that behind the requests for a replacement for a cooker that has broken down or a pair of shoes that have been ruined is real and persistent misery, frustration and dull despair. Life in concentrated areas is very tough indeed.
A few days ago I attended a visit by a distinguished and gracious lady to an estate in my diocese. As she left the community centre she walked across the road and stopped to speak to a builder working on the building site opposite. The following conversation ensued. First bystander, somewhat wryly: "Oh, now she's talking to one of the ordinary people"—people like myself having been left on the other side of the road. Second bystander, like a flash: "Oh no, he's not ordinary, he's got a job". I think it very important not to be sentimental about that but to be aware that ordinariness for very many people is simply something about which most of us hardly have a clue.
Therefore, it seems to me that it is essential to remind those in power how great is the need for sensitive compassion and respect for the citizenship of all. Of course, it must go with control. We do not have limitless resources and we do not want people to be encouraged in dependence. However, so many people need a boost up, not a put down if they are to develop in responsibility and self help. I must testify to the immense resilience of so many poor people in pretty desperate circumstances as they struggle to make something of their lives. So surely the Government must let control be informed by compassion. Let it also be directed by some strong sense that all those people, too, are citizens, citizens who have rights as such to be given some chance of decency and self help when they are caught up in groups or areas of deprivation and difficulty.
I do not wish to take up time by citing facts and cases, though as I speak I can recollect seeing many faces and hearing many voices concerning these matters. The documentation on the need for change and expansion is surely well provided, and it is reflected also in the advisory committee's report. Therefore, I simply ask the Government to approach the matter of restructuring the Social Fund as a serious and urgent invitation to their compassion and as a challenge to them to take the charter of citizenship with full seriousness so that the controls can be opened up, resources enlarged and opportunities given for a compassionate response which will enable more poor and deprived people to know that they, after all, are also citizens. Especially I appeal for easing up on the matter of loans and especially crisis loans, so that desperate people are not pushed into more misery.
Such an approach of compassion to control for the sake of citizens would surely be a great contribution to enabling many of our poor to become what they so clearly desire: citizens who are active contributors to rather than receivers from our society.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said how much he was looking forward to the speech of the right reverend Prelate. He can now look back on that expected pleasure. I hope 1119 I do not exceed my standing when I say that most of us in this House would like to see him in the Chamber more often. We realise that he has some way to come but all the same in these days of modern travel we should like to see more of him. I think his bold spirit is indeed what is needed occasionally in this very mature place. I hope that he will, indeed I believe that he can, take it as the opinion of most of us in this Chamber.
I was told many years ago when I joined this House that there was only one rule, which was never to speak more than once in a day. I have already made one speech today and even asked a Question, which aroused a certain amount of interest. So I am banned from any further oratory. However, I have got a new average for a short speech. I notice that I spoke yesterday but for only two minutes. I shall not take much longer than that today, and hope that I shall not be in the position in which Professor Laski found himself when the then Mr. Attlee wrote to him and said, "A period of silence on your part will be welcome". Noble Lords may remember that famous message.
I speak to curry favour with the noble Baroness. There are worse reasons than that for speaking. Certainly I have been remarkably homeless for long enough. On the other hand the homeless have a great champion in her and in other speakers. So I do not think that many words from me are necessary.
I should like to give noble Lords one example from the New Horizon youth centre, with which I have been associated for 20 years, and ask your Lordships to reflect on it for one moment. In the autumn of 1991 New Horizon successfully placed a young homeless man aged 20 in a self-contained flat made available through the Department of the Environment, for the department's homelessness initiative. The young man had previously been staying in a hostel in central London. He was unemployed. His new home was an unfurnished one bedroom flat. New Horizon helped him to apply for a community care grant from the Social Fund but he was refused on the grounds that he failed to meet the criteria. New Horizon then helped him to appeal, as he clearly fitted what were understood to be the criteria—the one criterion being people without a settled way of life undergoing resettlement. His appeal was in fact refused on the grounds that people coming from care backgrounds would be given priority. He therefore lives in his new flat, which is empty except for a sleeping bag on the floor.
That is a case where a certain judgment was delivered about the priorities. It is easy enough to discuss priorities and no doubt they could be much improved. In my eyes the rearrangement of priorities only carries one a certain distance. I agree with those who think that as long as there is a cash limited fund, much need will be denied and in many cases much cruelty inflicted. I personally think that the fund has reached a position where a completely new start has to be made. I hope I have not said anything which will lose me the good will of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, has chosen an appropriate time to ask her Question. I am grateful that she has done so. Doubts were expressed, before the Social Fund replaced the single payments scheme, that funding would be insufficient to meet the needs of those most in need. Those much scorned doubters have sadly been proved right in their prognostications, as the report of the Social Security Advisory Committee so clearly demonstrates.
The report is to be welcomed. It highlights the arbitrary nature of the Social Fund and the need for an adequate budget, though the committee stresses that throwing money at the problem will not provide all the solutions. From its inception, distribution of Social Fund loans and grants has been haphazard, dependent upon the size of the local budget and the time of the financial year. We all know that the needs of the poorer members of our society cannot be programmed to occur at specific times in a specific locality. The planners have got it wrong and even after four years' experience they have not managed to right the wrongs. The committee has made some very constructive suggestions which would go some way towards making the distribution of loans and grants fairer.
The fact that community care grants are discretionary undermines the community care policy objectives. There is an absence of a clear right to help when setting up a home on moving from institutional or residential care into the community. The SSAC's recommendation that grants should be mandatory in particular circumstances is to be commended, but I should like to add a word of caution. Before the amount of a mandatory grant is specified, the Department of Social Security should adequately research the cost, for example, of setting up home with minimum standard requirements. The fixing of the maternity grant at £100 without any allowance for increasing costs of providing for a new baby is an example of the failure of the fund to meet basic needs. Secondhand clothes and equipment are not easy to purchase, even with £100. It strikes me that the committee's recommendation of £500 for the community care grant sets the target too low. It is important that purchases of appliances such as cookers and fridges are made with guaranteed safety; and that guarantee does not come for a few pounds.
The recommendation for mandatory grants is limited, especially as all other circumstances are to be dealt with by loans. The stress on loans and the stipulation that a substantial part of the loan should be paid off before another is considered may well force applicants to live without essentials or force them into the hands of loan sharks.
If the committee considers that the cost of providing a bed to replace a cot for a child of 18 months or more should be met by a grant, I wonder why they do not include the cost of bedding. There is also the recurring problem of replacement clothing for those who, because of particular illnesses or disabilities, wear out their clothes far faster than the average person.
1121 Only last night this House debated the effects that homelessness has upon families. Would the Minister be prepared to take up the suggestion that loans should be given to enable clients to pay rent in advance, so that they can escape the horrors of temporary accommodation such as we heard about yesterday? He spoke about the action being taken by housing associations to provide low cost accommodation for the homeless. That is another way in which they can be helped. He could also help the young, single homeless, who do not appear in the statistics and about whom we are very concerned.
The power given to Social Fund officers to use their discretion when deciding whether or not to award a grant or a loan puts the officers in an invidious position. Criticism has been levelled at them for being unnecessarily harsh in their refusals. They have an extremely difficult task to perform. Dealing with individuals who are distressed and very vulnerable is never too easy, as I am only too well aware for I receive a considerable number of letters from people who believe that the system has dealt unfairly with them. To have to face a daily barrage of criticism from disappointed applicants must make a difficult task soul-destroying. Does the Minister consider that a system of entitlement to loans of particular amounts for particular needs would work more effectively and be seen by applicants to be fairer than the present system, where loans are awarded at the discretion of officials according to the level of their local budgets?
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, also asked when the research on the Social Fund by the Social Policy Research Unit will be published. The Minister will recall that, in his reply on 30th January this year to my Question for Written Answer on the same subject, he could not say when the report would be published. In view of the length of time that has elapsed, perhaps I may ask him whether there is any foundation to the rumours that the draft report was so damning that its authors were asked to rewrite it in less critical terms.
I have moments, albeit very brief moments, when I feel sorry for the noble Lord, Lord Henley. With increasing frequency he must stand at the Dispatch Box to defend the indefensible. I am concerned that the noble Lord may not be aware that in his stalwart defence of Government policy he does not always afford to noble Lords who have taken part in debates the proper answers to their questions and on occasions is very close to treading on the hem of discourtesy.
The noble Lord knows that I have tried to deal with the matter privately. I believe that he should know that noble Lords who take part in social security debates do so because they have a genuine anxiety for, and a good knowledge of, their subject. To come away at the end of a debate knowing that one has been given short shrift is not satisfactory. I have chosen my words very carefully and use them with the kindest of intentions. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, will take heed.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
My Lords, it is a tribute to the importance of the Social Fund as a topic that so many speakers have chosen to speak today. I 1122 am grateful to my noble friend Lady Hollis for raising the issue. I am not an expert on the social security system but it is clear from other speakers that the Social Fund has been a disaster. We have heard about the iniquity of providing loans in crisis to people who are on marginal incomes. I wish to reinforce the practical problems of running cash limited budgets when one is dealing with emergencies.
I had experience over many years of dealing with police overtime budgets and of trying to fit them into situations which one could not anticipate over a financial year. When one is dealing with the unpredictable, trying to cope with a cash limited budget does not work. One cannot spread the allocation evenly throughout the year. Crises do not occur according to regular seasons. Inevitably one either overspends at the start of the year, leaving nothing for later police emergencies such as public disorders, a murder inquiry or whatever, or one underspends carefully at the start of the year and therefore retains a lump sum at the end of the year. One is then obliged to dispose of that lump sum by spending it at that stage on items which may seem trivial or inappropriate for fear that one's allowance will be withdrawn the following year and that one will receive a lower cash limit. That lumpiness of expenditure inevitably produces the lottery effect that one has in the Social Fund. Rules are applied unfairly and unpredictably, and in the eyes of the applicants the scheme seems totally without rules or logic. The system is thrown into total disrepute.
Even if one applies objective criteria to the situation, the lack of consistency in the system inevitably makes it disreputable to the outsider. I therefore support the recommendations of the Social Security Advisory Committee that mandatory grants should be available for a very restricted range of people in particular situations. One can achieve the same financial rigour by applying clear rules as one can by applying cash limits. But people would know what those criteria were. They would know what the rules were. One would not have the effect of a lottery and uncertainty. People would not feel that someone else down the street had been treated more fairly than they were.
There are clearly situations such as setting up a home or coming out from institutional care in which people need mandatory assistance to obtain furniture, a stove and so on. It is important if we treat, for example, community care as a reality that a person should be given the wherewithal to stand on his own two feet so that he does not end up either returning to an institution or on the streets as a vagrant, prostitute or beggar. Similarly, in relation to domestic emergencies, which one cannot predict, there should be mandatory grants for people who have had their houses burnt out or flooded, or whatever. With tight, clear rules one can achieve the same degree of financial control as by having cash limits.
Cash limits may be appropriate for discretionary grants and lesser emergencies. But the concept of loans is suspect when one deals with people at the bottom end of the income gradient. I urge the 1123 Government to restructure the Social Fund in line with the advisory committee's report and the recommendations of the other speakers tonight.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Lady Kinloss
My Lords, I welcome the Unstarred Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. After reading the report of the Social Security Advisory Committee, The Social Fund: a new structure, perhaps I may say that it is a grave matter and of considerable urgency. The Social Security Advisory Committee recommends that a non-repayable grant should be linked to certain defined circumstances. I shall return to that point.
The present discretionary criteria are so strictly applied that only an immediate threat of loss of independence would qualify for a community care grant. Surely that is against the Government's policy of general community care, allowing more people to live in the community. I shall confine my remarks to a few points. I have grave misgivings as to the wisdom of granting loans to persons who are obviously already in reduced circumstances and would find repaying a loan a severe financial burden. They need a non-repayable grant, at least where it can be shown that it will relieve great hardship.
Until 1988, through the single payments scheme, help with the cost of deposits was available to people claiming supplementary benefit. However, under the Social Fund—which replaced the single payments scheme—help with deposits and premiums was specifically excluded. Therefore when the size of deposits was increasing sharply, help with deposits was withdrawn completely.
CAB evidence indicates that those two policies together are causing severe difficulties. A CAB in Sussex reports on a client who had been illegally evicted after harassment and violence from the landlord. He moved into bed and breakfast accommodation with cooking facilities for residents. But the client did not have any utensils. He applied for a loan from the DSS and was told that he could afford a can of coke, could he not, and that he could cut off the top and use it as a saucepan in which to heat food. But how does one cut the top off a tin without a suitable utensil? I realise that the officers are hard pressed but I find it hard to believe that anyone could give such a callous and unkind reply to someone who was already in considerable distress.
The suggestion made by the Social Security Advisory Committee in its report The Social Fund: a new structure, that the award of a non-repayable grant should be linked to defined circumstances, is to be warmly supported. Some circumstances that are listed are the setting up of a new home, a new move from institutional care and domestic emergencies. There are very strong arguments also for the provision of a proper bed for a child at the age of 18 months. It is vitally important that a growing child should be properly supported in bed. Likewise, there are strong arguments for grants for starting work when otherwise an individual would be unable to accept the offer of a job. Such payments depend on actual events 1124 and could be made mandatory and non-repayable. Will the Minister say whether daily travel costs to a job for at least a week will be met until a wage has been earned to enable fares and other needs to be met? There are also other considerations for some types of work, such as protective clothing or the acquisition of special tools. Those items all need to be paid for. If necessary, receipts could be required where a grant has been given or help has been supplied from the Social Fund.
The CAB has evidence that some of its clients are considered too poor to repay loans from the Social Fund. Therefore they are not given loans despite the fact that there is clear evidence of financial hardship. A clear case is cited in a report in Manchester. A 24 year-old client has no furniture in a rented home. She cannot afford a Social Fund loan because she is too poor on income support to repay the loan. But how does she acquire even the minimal amount of furniture that she needs? It is surely illogical for the Social Fund to fail to help the very people whose needs it was designed to help. Therefore will the Government consider a restructured Social Fund in the light of all the evidence of hardship? Research by the National Audit Office indicates that there is a growing number of people nationwide who are falling deeper into debt to the Social Fund, including those with multiple loans.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister to consider all those matters with sympathy and understanding. I ask too that loans should no longer be made to people who cannot be expected to repay them—rather, ought they not to be given outright grants? What may have been a right decision in 1989 is not necessarily right in 1992.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Hollis for introducing the debate. I remember that when the Social Security Bill, which set up the Social Fund, was going through this House noble Lords criticised several aspects of it. Many of us said that the idea of meeting social needs with a cash-limited budget was bound to cause real hardship and would not be workable. We also begged—I put it as strong as that—the Government to accept that the accent should be on grants rather than on loans. That suggestion too was rejected. We also tried to obtain the re-imposition of the independent review which was being withdrawn by that Bill. Many of us said that those in the poorest sections of the community would suffer most from the introduction of the Social Fund.
We received great reassurance on all counts. However, our point about a cash-limited budget was borne out because whether people receive a grant depends on where and when they apply. If they apply for a grant in an area which has already used its budget or if they apply late in the year, they will not receive it. I was glad that my noble friend Lady Hilton dealt with the question of what happens when one has a cash-limited budget.
All those points were made when the Bill was passing through this House. However, Ministers and their supporters proceeded to ride roughshod over the suggestions of Members of this House. The truth is 1125 that we have been proved right. I hope that the Government will realise that they have made a mistake and be big enough to say, "We got it wrong and we shall change it".
The Social Security Advisory Committee has given the Government a chance to change the situation because its recommendations will help. I hope that the Government will take them on board. I should like to go further than the recommendations. I believe that the statement that some people are too poor to be helped indicates the complete failure of the Social Fund. In saying that some people cannot be given a loan because they cannot repay it, the Government are saying that they are too poor to be helped. None of us would turn against a poor person in need merely because he could not pay us back. However, on our behalf the Government are doing just that. That is the most disgraceful side of the issue.
In consequence, people who could be housed if they were correctly helped are being allowed to be homeless. It is absurd to suggest that they cannot be given a loan in order to pay rent in advance. By lending them money the Government will enable them to take a home. Many landlords now ask for rent in advance. We all know that because it is the world in which we live—in fact, it is the world of which Members opposite are proud. That being so, we must understand that the way to help poor people who wish to move into such housing is to lend them money to pay their rent in advance. The refusal to do so is the quintessence of stupidity.
There are also those who are just above the level of family support but who are just as much in need as those who are in receipt of family credit. In that respect I go beyond the recommendations of the Social Security Advisory Committee because I believe that they too should be considered. In addition to accepting the committee's recommendations I hope that the Government will accept that discretionary grants should be available to people in that position.
In introducing the Bill, John Major said that there should be a residential discretion to give grants which will ensure a decent life in the community for the most vulnerable groups. I hope that his Government will act in that spirit. The committee's recommendations need to be put into action as does the possibility of making grants in the way that I have outlined. The ability and the power to wipe off the loans if people have difficulty in repaying and then to give grants should be part of the system. Although we need to increase the budget, it is important that there should be a contingency fund centrally and locally so that those in need can be helped. I hope that we shall hear an encouraging answer from the Minister.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for introducing this important and timely Question. I am looking forward to hearing my noble kinsman's reply. I have often had occasion to admire the courage with which he stands up to the hordes who come after him on this subject. I am reminded of a verse that used to be recited to us at school. It described how: 1126In days of Roman cricketHow well Horatius kept the wicket".In this profession we make our wishes to each other at the beginning of the Summer Recess rather than at the New Year. What I wish for my noble kinsman over the Recess is better policies to defend.
The Government have been a little unwise, from their point of view, in delaying the report of the Social Policy Research Unit's research on the Social Fund. We know that it was in the hands of the Minister before 11th May but we do not know how long before. On 8th June the Minister's right honourable friend Mr. Scott told my honourable friend Mr. Kirkwood that the report would be published before the Recess. It is a pity that it has not been published just a little more before the Recess so that it was available for this debate.
The reason why I say that the Government have been unwise is that the delay may well give rise to suspicions that may be quite unfounded. It could lead people to wonder whether the research is a great deal more critical than it perhaps turns out to be. It may lead people to wonder whether it has been more carefully edited than is the case.
In that context, the Government were unwise not to accept the amendment to the Health and Medicines Act 1988 which urged them to abandon the rule that academic research should not be published without the prior consent of the Secretary of State. We have an example here which illustrates why that rule may diminish the credibility of the academic research, and may do so undeservedly for all we know.
I should like also to ask my noble kinsman whether the Secretary of State has considered the effect on the finances of the University of York. Every university now is financed through the research assessment exercise in proportion to its publications, so that every publication means money. For that publication to be counted for the research assessment exercise, the Secretary of State would have had to write to the University of York by 30th June to say that it had been accepted for publication. I should be glad to know whether he has done so.
I turn now to the formal business of the Social Fund. One of the major disagreements between us, which needs exploring more than it has been, is what proportion of need we think arises in the form of single emergencies giving rise to a need for single payments. Last year the Social Fund accounted for 2.7 per cent. of the total social security budget. I shall ask whether there are any noble Lords in this Chamber for whom, in their last year's budget, emergencies, accidents and casualties amounted to as little as 2.7 per cent. of their spending. I do not regard myself as a particularly unfortunate person but for my part the figure was rather nearer 10 per cent. in what was not an extraordinary year.
I am very much in agreement with the opinion of the seventh report of the Social Security Advisory Committee that the budget is inadequate. This year it is £302 million, should like my noble kinsman to clarify how that is calculated because I am not sure 1127 how recycled money—repayment of loans fed back into the fund—is calculated. Is the recycled money included in that £302 million or is it additional to it?
The Child Poverty Action Group has described that process as recycling money from one set of income support recipients to another. That is accurate. It gives rise to a considerable burden of debt, as has been mentioned. It means that people are borrowing privately in order to repay Social Fund loans. Therefore, I ask my noble kinsman whether he will add one more to the qualifying purposes for a Social Fund loan: the repayment of Social Fund loans.
Following the remarks of my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley, I ask him further whether the Government have learned anything in that context from the problem of rescheduling third world debt. Do the Government see any sense in the principle of proportioning the total size of the budget to the total pool of people who have to draw on it, because the number of people on income support has risen most remarkably. It seems to continue to rise and with more people demanding money from the fund, inevitably there will be less to go round.
I ask my noble kinsman to think again about the rates and period of repayment. Many people find it cheaper to borrow money through catalogues at greater ultimate cost because the payments are spaced out longer in more manageable, immediate instalments. I take what I admit is an extreme example. A citizens' advice bureau in Cheshire found somebody repaying £13.57 per week from benefit of £33.60, leaving him £20.30 on which to live. I do not believe that my noble kinsman will say that that is adequate.
The problem of deductions exacerbates that further. There is a rule that deductions should be restricted to 15 per cent. but as my noble kinsman explained to me in a Written Answer on 20th May, for which I thank him, that excludes gas, water, electricity and overpayment of benefit. I regret that I was not able to speak in the debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Ezra last week because I should have said a good deal about deductions of benefit, particularly for repayment of water charges. If people on benefit are finding that their utility bills are increasing as fast as mine they are probably in great difficulty; and that seems to be the case.
I agree with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, that it is curious to say that people are too poor to be helped through the social security budget. I had supposed that the basic purpose of the social security budget was to relieve poverty. I have never heard from any government spokesman any coherent justification of why it is right to have a system in which people are said to be too poor to benefit from the social security system. I cannot get my mind round that. It does not make sense.
We have gone into the problem of variable entitlements in different parts of the country on previous occasions. I give a couple of examples of the kind of thing which happens. In the office in Edinburgh East Lowlands the budget has been overspent by 11 per cent. The result is that there is 1128 nothing available from the Social Fund for heaters, pots and pans, crockery, essential home repairs, pushchairs or prams, fridges, washing machines, tables or chairs or utility reconnections. One wonders exactly what is available from the office in Edinburgh East Lowlands.
Another Scottish CAB found a family of two parents and six children playing box and cox at the task of sleeping in two beds. I thought that we were rather more concerned about child abuse than that. It seems a most unsatisfactory arrangement. I agree with the Social Security Advisory Committee that that type of variation between areas must be regarded as unacceptable.
Even more importantly, I believe that the system creates a bottleneck. It is making it much harder than it needs to be for people to climb out of dependency on benefit and to get back in employment. The Prime Minister, speaking to the Adam Smith Institute on 16th June, said that he wanted the state to offer a hand up and not a hand out. I have no problems with that statement; I agree with it entirely. However, I do not see how the Government's policy is providing that.
Paragraph 46 of the Social Security Advisory Committee's report states:We have found, particularly in Northern Ireland, that the lack of adequate cash can preclude a person from taking up a job offer".Surely that is the opposite of what we should all be working for. That is why I agree with what the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, said about work related expenses—tools, uniform and travel for interviews. Surely those are practical matters with which to help people. I agree also with what the noble Lady and the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, said about deposits.
It is a familiar and sensible remark: no home, no job; no job, no home. That produces people like the person found by a citizens' advice bureau in north London who was sleeping on the streets with no income but the income support personal allowance. People cannot obtain employment while they are in that situation. They cannot climb out of that situation until they have access to housing. That means they need a deposit. The Government are therefore forcing people into dependence upon benefit, which is the opposite of what we all want and of their declared policy.
However, the Government are right that there is such a thing as a dependency culture. However, they do not understand what it is. There are few people who want to be on benefit. In a dependency culture one ceases to have hope, one ceases to think, like the person mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who said he was not normal, he had a job.
When one loses hope of getting out of a situation, that is the time to begin adjusting to it—a process the 17th century described as "kissing the rod." That is what a dependency culture is. It is what happens to people if they are not given a decent opportunity to leave the benefit situation and obtain work. To stop the dependency culture we need more hope, which means more opportunity. In that context I cannot think of anything more likely to increase the dependency culture than the rule that one cannot 1129 obtain help from the Social Fund until one has been on benefit for 26 weeks. Anyone who knows anything about unemployment knows that one's best chance of obtaining work occurs in the first few weeks before the rot of discouragement has set in. The 26-week rule tells people to, "depend a little longer, please." In fact it is encouraging the dependency culture.
I make only one final point. My noble kinsman will undoubtedly raise the question of cost. I agree that he is right to do so. One must calculate the cost and the cost-effectiveness of a new scheme. One place where he could easily look for the money is the rule of paying income support in arrears. That places a quite unnecessary strain on the fund. In a Written Answer yesterday— for which I thank him—he said that that was taking £7.6 million out of a budget of £302 million and 20 per cent. of the budget for crisis loans. That is a wasteful use of money. We should save it.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble kinsman for finding some savings for my right honourable friend. I am sure that he will take note of those comments.
My noble kinsman and the noble Countess, Lady Mar, praised me for defending what the noble Countess described as the "indefensible". I have no problem whatever in defending the social security provisions and social security system that exists in this country. In terms of the safety net provisions built into our social security system, we probably have the most comprehensive in the European Community. Of that there is no doubt.
As I mentioned yesterday, our social security system costs £70 billion a year. That amounts to expenditure per week of £25 on every man, woman and child in the country. Most importantly, it is a social security system that costs each individual taxpayer and national insurance contributor £10 per day. Those are large sums of money. It is right that we should always bear in mind the cost of any new provisions suggested for the social security system.
I note also the accusation made by the noble Countess, that I treated her with less consideration than she deserves. On these occasions and on general social security debates I attempt to answer as many of the more important points as possible. But it is important to bear in mind the constraints of time. However, on the occasions when I do not answer noble Lords or the noble Countess herself, I hope that I shall be able to write to them on some later occasion.
Many hard cases have been cited. I do not intend to deal with any of the individual cases mentioned. It would be wrong to do so. But it is always easy to find emotive examples; that ignores the good points of the fund and the large number of people the fund has helped since it was started with awards to over 5½ million different people and expenditure of over £1 billion.
I should say also in response to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who said that it is a system which devalues people on state benefit, that we share his concern for the individual. The fund, like the 1130 rest of the social security system, is geared to encouraging individual responsibility; hence, income support plus loans allows those on income support to budget like other people. In specific circumstances grants are on offer where other external events intervene.
It has been the nature of successive schemes for meeting exceptional needs to attract a degree of attention and controversy which is in marked contrast to the necessarily limited role of such schemes in the overall provision of social security benefits. That indicates to me both the importance of the subject, particularly to those who are eligible to receive those payments; and at the same time the difficulty of managing a scheme of this nature, which is at the extreme edge of the social security system, making payments for unusual and exceptional needs by means of discretionary and difficult decisions. Meeting the needs which do not fit into the regulated structures is even more difficult than addressing the general problem of providing for regular needs.
The Social Security Advisory Committee's report—referred to by many noble Lords—looked in detail at the current scheme, the Social Fund, and has made many valuable points. As I said last March in response to a Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, we welcomed the report, particularly its endorsement of many of the principles on which the Social Fund rests; and its acknowledgement of the excellent service which Social Fund officers provide. We must take into account the Social Policy Research Unit report before we can respond in detail to the report of SSAC.
When the fund was established, it was clear that it would be essential to have reliable and detailed information about how it was operating. Many statistics are collected by the Department of Social Security, and those provide the essential information needed to monitor how the fund is operating on a day-to-day basis. But the knowledge that that basic information would need to be supplemented, to help us evaluate the new policy approach in 1989, prompted us to commission the Social Policy Research Unit to carry out that major research study. The aim was to provide us with a detailed and statistically valid source of information, which could be used to assess the general impact of the new Social Fund scheme. After thorough planning, the main fieldwork was carried out in a sample of 39 office areas involving nearly 2,000 respondents in the summer of 1990, and an exhaustive analysis of the research data was conducted throughout 1991. That has been a detailed and extensive study, yielding a wealth of data. The findings are correspondingly complex, and the report will clearly need to be thoroughly examined.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, is aware that I replied to him in the form of a Written Answer to announce that we will publish the report following examination by Ministers. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, claims that the report will be published on Thursday. I cannot comment on that. But I can reassure the noble Baroness that it will be published as we promised before the Summer Recess.
The noble Countess, Lady Mar, claimed that the SPRU report was allegedly so damning that it had to 1131 be rewritten. I can assure her that the production of the report has gone very smoothly. The research done has been conducted by an independent—I underline that word "independent"—body; namely, the Social Policy Research Unit at York University. We shall publish its findings in full.
My noble kinsman asked whether my right honourable friend the Secretary of State had written to the university allowing it to clear the report for publication so that it could be included in the returns of the research assessment exercise. Clearance has been given for the report to be published, but I regret that I cannot tell my noble kinsman whether that has enabled it to be included in the returns for the research assessment exercise. So far as I am aware, that will be a matter for the university to arrange. I understand the importance that he attaches to that point from the point of view of York University.
In considering both the SSAC and the SPRU reports, if I may refer to them by their initials, and the many others which have been written about the Social Fund, we must not forget that it was introduced because previous schemes had failed. It has always been—
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I am not sure whether he is leaving the actual detail of the SPRU report which we are awaiting, but, if he is, will he be so kind as to answer the question which I repeated twice? Will he comment on my suspicion that the SPRU report will find that the Social Fund expenditure is not helping the most needy?
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I made it quite clear that the report is about to be published. I do not intend to comment on it before its publication. The noble Baroness will have to wait for its publication, which, as I have said, will be before the Recess.
Perhaps I may continue with the reasons for the introduction of the fund and the fact that it was introduced because all previous schemes had failed. It has always been an extremely difficult job to find an effective but simple system for meeting exceptional needs at the fringes or edges of the social security system, and we were pleased to note that the Social Security Advisory Committee acknowledged that in its report. I believe that it has also been generally recognised that the old single payment system was open to abuse: for example, too many single payment awards were going to a small and disproportionate minority of those who were eligible. As I said in response to a Question last March, about 80 per cent. of the money was going to about 17 per cent. of eligible claimants.
A system for helping people on the lowest incomes with exceptional one-off expenses has to be fair both to the people who use it and to others on lower incomes who have to manage without extra help. We believe that the Social Fund has achieved both these aims by encouraging people to manage on their income support with the help of interest-free loans when they have exceptional and large expense which is difficult to cope with. What is more, the repayable 1132 loans, together with the budgetary framework of the fund, have succeeded where previous schemes have failed in helping large numbers of people with their most essential one-off needs while keeping public expenditure under control.
I do not accept, as has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley and others, that the solution to this problem is the conversion of loans into grants. The cost of, in effect, reverting to what was the old single payment scheme would be enormous. I suspect that it might be as much as £172 million just in the first year. That is only the beginning of the replacement of loans with grants and that would inevitably lead to the growth in expenditure which we experienced under the old system.
There is clear evidence that the fund is providing extensive help for those people who need it. As I said earlier, since the start of the scheme, nearly 1 million non-repayable community care grants have been awarded and over 4.5 million interest-free loans. The total cumulative expenditure, including the regulated maternity, funeral and cold weather payments, now exceeds £1 billion. The initial budget of the discretionary part of the scheme for 1992–93, set at £302 million, is almost 32 per cent. more than the original 1991–92 budget. Expenditure on this part of the scheme has increased by 35 per cent. in real terms.
I give an assurance to my noble kinsman that these are gross figures and not the net figures which he was thinking of. The important thing about those figures is that the money is being recycled. It can be allowed to reach more and more people. I fail to see how, as my noble kinsman put it, anyone can find it cheaper to repay a commercial loan than the interest-free Social Fund loan. Does my noble kinsman wish to intervene?
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I believe the explanation is simple, is it not? There is a longer period of repayment.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I simply do not accept that. If there is no interest to pay, then in the end it is going to be cheaper. The noble Baroness and others quoted the SSAC report and referred to the Social Fund as being a lottery. Again, that is something I dealt with during Questions last March. By definition the fund is meant to respond to individual needs. The whole point of it is that it is not meant to be a regulated scheme. Total consistency is only possible in the kind of system that we had under the single payments scheme. That scheme was abused and many needs were not met. One needs to allow discretion to individual Social Fund officers so that they have flexibility to meet the needs which are most pressing.
The noble Baroness also asked what evidence there was that money was going to those with the greatest need. Again, one of the main achievements of the fund has been to set responsive, discretionary decision-making within a budgetary framework which ensures that the highest needs are met. Again, that is unlike the old scheme, which operated under rigid, inflexible rules.
The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, and others, observed that there was little help with job offers. I believe the claim was that some job offers were being 1133 forfeited because of the lack of financial assistance. We believe that it is more appropriate for the employer, rather than the state, to help the newer employee with work related expenses such as tools, clothing or fares to work. Many of the more responsible employers do that. The Social Fund is mainly intended to help people who have to continue to manage on income support rather than those who are about to start or return to employment.
We have made a commitment to pilot a number of back-to-work bonus schemes in certain inner city areas for the long-term unemployed in an attempt to provide additional assistance in getting people back to work. The noble Countess, Lady Mar, talked about the inadequacy of the maternity payment. It is intended only as a contribution towards the expense associated with a baby and we believe that £100 is a reasonable contribution from the state. However, it is an event which, in normal circumstances, can be planned for and help is often given by the wider family. Also, help is available in the usual income support rates and the extra premiums available on the birth of children.
The noble Countess and, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, asked for help for people in terms of rent in advance. At the moment the fund can already help people with loans for rent in advance. But what it does not provide help for is deposits or what used to be called "key money". In the past, as many noble Lords know, that system was grossly abused. Landlords and tenants colluded to obtain money and costs certainly were spiralling.
As I mentioned at the start, it must be remembered that the Social Fund is only a small part of the Government's benefit provision. Weekly income-related benefits such as income support, housing benefit, community charge benefit and family credit, are the main ways in which the Government help people who have insufficient resources to meet their living expenses. One of the main aims of the 1988 reforms was to encourage people to budget for regular 1134 living expenses such as food, fuel and clothing, and for the replacement of household items out of their weekly income without extra help from public resources. Our monitoring of the scheme suggests that people are generally managing on their benefit and very few grants or loans are used for food or other everyday needs other than in a crisis.
We have focused more resources on the income support schemes since the research for these reports was carried out. In April 1992 income support rates were increased by 7 per cent.—that is nearly 3 per cent. more than the retail prices index over the same period. On top of this, the premium for older pensioners was raised at a cost of £60 million in a full year. In November all pensioner premiums will he raised again at a cost of £305 million in a full year. Furthermore, from April 1993 income support recipients will no longer be required to contribute to local taxation. That will mean that income-related benefit levels will be at least £1.40 per week higher for single people and £2.80 per week higher for couples than the annual benefit increase they would otherwise have received. That measure alone is estimated to be worth around £700 million at the 1992–93 benefit rates.
I appreciate the various concerns that all speakers have raised. I understand their concern that additional information on these issues should be made available soon and, more particularly, that the SPRU report should be published as soon as possible. As I said, I can assure the House that Her Majesty's Government have not delayed publication. Arrangements are well in hand to publish the SPRU's report on the Social Fund before the Summer Recess.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said that the Social Fund has a policy of "defer, deter and refuse." On the contrary, I should like to say that the fund is flexible, fair and focused on exceptional circumstances.
House adjourned at eleven minutes past eight o'clock.