Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 200 - 209)



Mrs Humble

  200. I just have one quick question. Do you think that there is a gender issue here? We have been asking questions about who Social Fund claimants are and whether minority ethnic groups apply and other different groups in our society. When you mentioned other people, you mentioned other women. Is this a gender thing?
  (Ms Forest) I think the only factor is that women have more to do with the household usually. But as far as we know, it is a 50/50 split. Men apply for benefits, loans and whatever.

  Mrs Humble: So it is just a coincidence that there are four women here in front of us.


  201. I was hesitant to ask that question. I want to follow on from this piece of evidence by Ms Mackenzie about the insidious nature of people being entrapped into debt. Do you think it would be helpful if we banned that practice?
  (Ms Mackenzie) I think it would be very helpful.

  202. Think carefully about what you are saying here.
  (Ms Mackenzie) If you were to take away that way of offering help and you increased the grants instead of loans through the Social Fund.

  203. There would need to be the two elements: that if that offer of help were not there, that would need to be backed up by an improvement in the grant system?
  (Ms Mackenzie) It would have to be more accessible. It would make people's lives worse if it was not there because it is their only source of help other than the Social Fund.

Dr Naysmith

  204. I have been pondering about asking this question because it suggests that I might not be on your side but it is an important point. Your debts, Liz, are horrendous, really, really horrendous and I just want to ask whether a small grant from the Social Fund, because it is always going to be a relatively small grant or loan, would be of any help to you. I do not know whether you are still in that situation. But perhaps what we are talking about is a system that just cannot really help you very much?
  (Ms Mackenzie) I think that is right. I think my circumstances were very different because when I started off, my husband was in good employment. He was a manager in a big company. I was in employment. We both had a good income coming in that covered whatever else we could afford. Although we had loans, we did have the means. As soon as his job was taken away, then the problems started to begin. We could not afford to pay the mortgage. My job was not as well-paid as his job was. But the income was taken away and that threw me into the poverty trap right away, just the whole situation, what happened, his behaviour, what he did to my daughters and myself then made the whole situation even worse and I could not see anybody helping me out of that amount of debt. I believe that I should have been able to leave that debt behind. The situation was his responsibility. He is in prison. He does not have to pay it back. I am in the front line and it is affecting me.


  205. I am going to put a question to you all and I am going to assume what the answer is unless you tell me different. It seems to me that none of you has been put into this situation by life style, way of life or anything else. They all seem to have been life events and events visited on you in your various different ways and you have found yourself having to deal with Social Funds and things like that because of unforeseen circumstances. Would that be true?
  (Ms Mackenzie) Yes.

  206. It may be, Catherine, that health was an element in that?
  (Ms von Ruhland) In a way that has opened up things, being a single person and having been evicted.

  207. But the eviction was the life event that threw you into these things?
  (Ms von Ruhland) Yes.

  208. Those life events were unforeseeable. You did nothing, really, to contribute to them. Those are circumstances which are out of your control rather than out of easy living or a profligate life style.
  (Ms Mackenzie) I would like to issue a challenge: if any of you were faced with the same situation how would you have coped any better? How would you have dealt with this situation?

  209. I am very pleased to be asking the questions and not answering them. That is a very powerful question. I am sure you are right. One of the things we will need to consider a little more in the course of this inquiry is how people find themselves confronting these situations because I think there is an expectation that people bring it upon themselves. We have had clear evidence this morning that none of you had any real control over being thrown into this. That is maybe something the policy makers will need to take on board.
  (Ms Mackenzie) I believe that is how you are treated by the front line staff. It is that you have only yourself to blame. You are not doing anything to help yourself whereas it is the complete opposite.
  (Ms Moxon) If the Social Fund cut in as it should it would stop the continuous downward spiral, because once you are in the poverty trap you do keep on going down because you are so vulnerable that lots of other things are thrown at you and without any help from the Social Fund you cannot do anything about it. My income is now reduced to £34 a week. That is deductions by the Social Fund and the shortfall to Housing Benefit. How would any of you like to try and manage on £34 a week? You could not do it.

  Chairman: I do not think anybody would try and argue against that. That is a powerful point on which perhaps to end. We are very grateful. Can I repeat our thanks to Church Action on Poverty for helping to bring you together and enabling us to have access to your experiences. It has been very cogent, lucid and powerful evidence and it will help us enormously with our inquiry. Thank you very much for attending.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 4 April 2001