I am pleased to announce that the Northern Ireland Discretionary Social Fund budget for 2003–04 will be £56.60 million; £11.7 million will be allocated to grants; £44.80 million to loans and £0.1 million will be held as a contingency reserve. The new allocations represent an increase of £5.6 million over the initial gross budget set at April 2002. This increase will be funded through higher loan recoveries, plus an increase in net treasury funding of £1.88 million for this year. The £1.88 million is the first of three annual increases from a £8.2 million boost for the discretionary Social Fund announced in the Autumn 2002 pre-budget Report.The Community Care Grant budget has been increased by £0.94 million to £11.7 million. This will provide more help to customers, in particular families with children and the disabled.The loans budget has been increased to £44.8 million, an increase of £4.66 million on the initial 2002–03 loans budget. To improve the fairness of the scheme, budgets will be allocated in a way that will over time achieve greater consistency of outcome for customers wherever they live.Details of the individual District budget allocations, together with a note explaining the basis on which they have been made, have been placed in the House of Commons Library today.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Mr. Desmond Browne)