To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the working of social fund loans and grants
The social fund has continued to provide valuable help to a large number of people in greatest need. Since the scheme began almost 2·5 million interest-free loans and over half a million non-repayable community care grants have been awarded at a total value of almost £500 million
The Secretary of State tells the House about his "children come first" policy, but can he explain why my constituents are refused assistance in the form of a grant, for example, when new-born babies come into the family, when people such as the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) want shoes or when my constituents are moved into unfurnished accommodation and need bedding or beds? Against that background, will the Minister explain through me to my constituents how he can justify the fact that some of the poorest people in Britain are told that they cannot have a grant? They are allowed a loan as long as, with their derisory income support, they can afford to pay it back, which, of course, many simply cannot
As I said, a large number of grants have been given, including on many occasions grants to people who applied for a loan but were awarded a grant instead because it was thought more appropriate. We have increased the maternity payment from £85 to £100 and the capital limit has been raised for people aged 60 and over from £500 to £1,000. From January 1991 that will also apply to exceptional cold weather payments. We have demonstrated the flexibility of the social fund and its ability to react to changing circumstances.
As a matter of urgency, will my right hon. Friend extend the use of the social fund to providing assistance for the families of British hostages held in Iraq and for returning refugees who in many cases come to this country penniless?
With regard to those who come from the Gulf and their relatives, we have liaised carefully with the Gulf support group. The response of the social fund has been first class. All flights from Iraq are met by officials from the Department of Social Security. People are given advice on how to pursue their claims with their local offices. Our officers sit alongside other advisers from the Foreign Office to make sure that the social security system plays its part; it also enables refugees to settle in Britain
Does the Minister recall his reply to my letter about chronically sick and disabled people, among others, who have returned to the United Kingdom from Kuwait and Iraq since the invasion of Kuwait? Can he now update his reply and, in particular, say today whether the total resources of the social fund will be or may be increased to allow for those wholly unexpected new calls on its help?
Of course, we review the budget and the claims on the social fund during the course of the year. There is no reason to suppose that the claims resulting from the crisis in the Gulf will alter the overall level of the budget this year
Will my right hon. Friend the Minister confirm that the former system was a licence to print money, under which youngsters would leave home, obtain a house on demand and present the DSS office with a shopping list of 140 items that were paid for on demand? Now they must have a loan. They must justify it and pay it back interest free. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in return some other people receive benefits of the same amount of money, which is laundered from person to person? That is good news for taxpayers' money, is it not?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the abuse of the single payments scheme and its entirely open-ended growth could not have been afforded by any Government. We took the right steps to alter the system to the new social fund, which is operating fairly, quickly and flexibly.