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Social Fund

Volume 205: debated on Tuesday 3 March 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State far Social Security when he received the report of the Social Security Advisory Committee on the social fund; and if he has any plans to change the operation of the fund in response.

We have today received this report. We welcome its constructive approach, based on an endorsement of many of the principles on which the fund's operation rests and an acknowledgement of the services which social fund officers are providing. In considering its conclusions and recommendations, we shall wish also to take into account the findings of the university of York social policy research unit's report which we commissioned at the start of the fund and which should be published later this year.Meanwhile, we have today placed details of the 1992–93 social fund allocations in the Library. The discretionary budget will be £302 million in total. The budget is now over 30 per cent., or almost £75 million, higher than the April 1991 figure. Budgets have increased for both loans, by £51 million, and community care grants, by £23·3 million, since April 1991. As a result of this latest increase, over 70 per cent. of districts will receive increases of 10 per cent. or more on their loans or grants budget and no office will have a reduced allocation. These increases show the Government's commitment to maintaining an adequate level of provision for the social fund.These increased allocations will be supplemented with a number of improvements to the operation of the fund which are currently being introduced by the Benefits Agency. The improvements include a revised and improved application form; improved training for social fund officers; improved guidance to assist SFOs in understanding the legal framework and framework for making decisions; improved forms to assist SFOs in making their decisions; and improvements to some of the letters which are sent to applicants to make them clearer and more informative. All these changes are designed to smooth the process of application to the fund and to provide a better service for the people who use it. In addition, we are on target for the introduction of a new computer system next year to administer the social fund. This new system will both considerably speed up the processing of claims, and improve the quality of the decision making.