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Volume 164: debated on Monday 8 January 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many applications have been made to the social fund since its inception for loans and grants by people with AIDS; and how many of these have been refused.

I am afraid that the information requested is not available. Applications for social fund payments are quite properly not required to give any information about their medical condition, and thus data on the number of applications from people suffering from a particular medical condition is not collected.

When will the Government accept that the social fund has been a social disaster for the poor? Is the Minister aware that people with AIDS are among those who are suffering most as a result of the abolition in April 1988 of the weekly additions and special payments?

The Government have demonstrated their concern for AIDS sufferers and the terminally ill by announcing the intention to extend entitlement to attendance allowance. Far from being a failure, the social fund has been a success because of the help that it has given at the margins of the social security system to those most in need of help. It is certainly a great deal better than the system that it replaced.

I acknowledge the work that the Government have done for AIDS sufferers. However, will my right hon. Friend ensure that social security officers in local offices receive training on aspects of AIDS and how it may apply to the social fund? Will he also have a word with our right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary about what help prisoners on discharge receive if they leave prison HIV positive?

I shall note those points and have a word with my right hon. and learned Friend about the matter. We seek to see that staff in our local offices are trained to deal with the range of sensitive issues with which they are presented, and I shall look at the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) in relation to that.

I recognise that the Government have moved some way in relation to AIDS sufferers, some of whom, of course, were not in any way personally responsible for what has happened to them. However, is it not scandalous that some Conservative Members have said that it was quite right for AIDS sufferers to be treated in the way that they are, when in many cases the sufferers were not personally responsible for contracting the virus? Even if it was the sufferer's fault, it is not right for them to be treated as they are and I ask the Government to have another look at the whole matter.

Those matters are generally outwith my responsibility and are rather for health Ministers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced the first tranche of money for the Macfarlane Trust for haemophiliacs suffering from AIDS, and recently an extra £19 million has been provided for that trust.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there has been a welcome transformation over the past few years of the public's attitude to AIDS sufferers which has moved from ignorance and prejudice towards sympathy and understanding? The Government should take some credit for that. Will my right hon. Friend ensure, through his Department, that where possible his local offices give help promptly to AIDS sufferers so that they do not have to wait unduly for any assistance that is available to them?

I agree with my hon. Friend's first point about the public's attitude and I welcome that, as he has. The removal of the six-month waiting limit for the terminally ill is a significant move towards meeting my hon. Friend's second point.