The Social Fund

Part of Orders of the Day — Schedule 3 – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 14th March 1988.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate 9:15 pm, 14th March 1988

Of course that is not our intention. That is why I stressed to the hon. Member for Livingston that the form had been written in plain English. I do not think that Opposition Members will have any complaint about it.

In sticking to the Lords amendment, I think that we are doing the best possible deal by the claimant. The Opposition amendment, quite unintentionally, might lead to confusion in the operation of the scheme. The ground for confusion would be uncertainty about the form and manner of applications. Moreover, the word "accept" is open to a number of possible interpretations. It could mean "receive", "take delivery of" or "find satisfactory". For all those reasons, "accept" is not a good word.

I hope that the hon. Member for Livingston will take it from me that we intend the prescribed manner to make it easy for applicants to make an application to the social fund. However, I welcome his realisation that the money going into single payments this year is broadly equivalent to the amount to be put into the social fund next year, it has taken him a long time to arrive at that realisation.

The hon. Gentleman repeated the theme that there had been some unfairness in the distribution between offices.

The figure for the allocation of social fund money per head of supplementary benefit case loads is £51 in Bathgate. In Bristol, South it is £36; in Halifax, £39; in Preston, £29; and in Glasgow, Provan, £106. If there is any unfairness, surely it is that Scottish cities are receiving more money than other parts of the country. The reason is that there has been a history of large take-up of single payments in those cities. In moving away from that history towards the underlying need of the population, we have taken only a small step in this first instance. That is why the Scottish cities are still benefiting to a large extent from the allocation made from the social fund in the first year.

The hon. Member for Livingston wishes only to quote what has happened to single payment expenditure in the past few years. He will know, however, that the amount of single payments rose from £60 million in 1980 to £350 million the year before last. Those figures are expressed in the same terms—as a real-increase—