Draft directions and guidance for staff on the operation of the social fund from April 1988 were issued to interested organisations, for comment or for information, on 25 March. Comments were requested by 26 May, and to date no representations have yet been received. Decisions on the size of the social fund, its division between grants and loans and its allocation to local offices will be announced nearer the introduction of the second phase of the social fund in April 1988.
The draft guidelines published last week explicitly suggest that no help will be available for those paying fuel bills. Does that mean that the Government, despite all their boasting throughout last winter, intend to abolish the severe weather payments scheme in April 1988 without replacing it with another scheme?
The draft guidelines suggest that grants will be made only to those coming out of community care. Will the Minister confirm that that means that any pensioner who applies to the social fund for help will receive only a loan? If that is so, pensioners will be very aggrieved and will feel discriminated against.
That is not necessarily the case. There will be circumstances in which community care payments will be desirable. We have sought to set those out in the draft guidelines. The purpose of issuing the guidelines in draft form is to take account of representations, including those that may be made by the hon. Lady or by any other hon. Member.
Do not the draft guidelines and the new social fund rule out not only grants but budgeting loans for such items as expenses to cover starting up in a new job or the returnable deposit that is needed to obtain accommodation? Is that not a false economy? Have not the restrictions been included only to make sure that the social fund is strictly cash limited?
The social fund is replacing a whole series of regulatory entitlements that have not worked adequately. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should carefully re-read the draft guidelines, because he may then find that he has just misrepresented them.
Is the Minister aware that in order to win a narrow vote in another place the departmental Minister there stated explicitly that there would he no formal cash limits on the social fund when it is introduced, yet the draft guidelines that were issued a week ago state that there will be a budget? Will the Minister describe the difference between a budget and cash limits? Will he also confirm the ministerial hints that this budget will involve a cut of about £75 million for some of the most vulnerable families in society, and that forcing them to repay loans out of future supplementary benefit payments will drive them deeper into poverty and debt?
The cash limit applies to the fund generally. The individual budgets apply to local offices. The hon. Gentleman was, frankly, inaccurate about much of what he had to say on the other matters.