Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Family Welfare Association (SF 37)


  Review of Social Fund—Family Welfare Association and its work with poor families dependent on Income Support and the Social Fund.

1.   About FWA

  FWA was founded, as the Charity Organisation Society (COS) in 1869. COS pursued a combined strategy of providing financial help and advocating for policy changes to help people suffering the effects of poverty. Direct services were soon added to provide emotional and practical support.

2.   FWA work today

  FWA has four broad service areas:

  1.  Support Services for children and families in need and at risk in England.

  2.  Community based services for adults in England.

  3.  Grant Administration services giving financial help to families in need across the four counties of the UK.

  4.  Educational Grant Advice give advice and financial help to fund vocational training for adults wishing to improve their employment prospects through education. This service operates across the four counties of the UK.

  FWA is unusual in the voluntary sector for working across the client groups. As a grant maker we are unusual as our grant making is informed, and in our view strengthened by, our experience of running direct services with families in need.

3.   FWA grant administration services

  3.1  FWA is charitable trustee of 72 charitable trusts, which were established to benefit individuals. Most of the trusts were set up prior to the introduction of the state pension and welfare benefit systems. The trusts were established to meet essential needs and many were originally used to keep people out of the workhouse. FWA often used its resources to help people get back on their feet and into employment through funding convalescence or loans to start small businesses. Today FWA also administers grants to individuals on behalf of about 15 Charitable Trusts and Livery Companies as well as those for which we are Charitable Trustee.

  3.2  The introduction of the Welfare State enabled FWA to utilise its resources to benefit poor families by providing items which the State cannot reasonably be expected to fund. Items in this category include music lessons for exceptionally gifted children, expensive aids and gadgets which help disabled children to communicate or participate in the community, holidays for families etc.

  3.3  After the introduction of the Social Fund FWA became flooded with applications for essential items. Today nearly all of our funding is allocated to essential items and little to enhancing the quality of life for individuals and families in need.

4.   FWA grant making today

  4.1  FWA allocates grants across the four countries of the UK. In the last financial year ending March 2000, FWA made nearly 5,000 grants totalling nearly £1 million. Our Grants Allocation panel made up of volunteers meets 48 weeks per year making about 100 grants per week. FWA believes it is the size of our grant making and breadth of our experience which enables us to comment on the failures and successes of the Social Fund.

4.2  The people we help

  Almost any kind of need can be met through the wide variety of trusts administered by FWA. Clothing, (particularly children's), household needs such as beds, cookers, washing machines are most commonly requested but we have requests for unusual needs not considered by Social Fund such as boat fares for Irish families living in London who wish to return home to Ireland to live.

  All of FWA grants are made to families on income support, or very low wage earners. They will not be considered unless all forms of statutory funding have been exhausted. This includes mainly Social Fund, S17 payments, Community Care Grants, Equipment loans and benefits for disabled children. All families have to submit a budget on household income and expenditure. Applications are made, and cheques issued to a worker involved with the family such as social workers, health visitors, GP, priest, teacher.

4.3  Managing the demand for our Services

  With a broad remit and huge numbers of poor people needing financial help, demand exceeds the resources available. Many grant making Trusts define criteria for eligibility to control applications. As FWA is a charitable trustee of 72 grant making trusts and administrator of 15 more, all with differing powers it is difficult for us to do this. FWA is also proud of our flexibility and willingness to consider families with unusual needs which cannot be considered by other grant makers. FWA controls its applications by restricting application forms to open and closed periods. Typically we open for two weeks and close for six whilst we process applications. This means we can consider all families and issue cheques within 10 days. We also make emergency grants within 24 hours and have some flexibility within our closed periods for families with exceptional needs.

  FWA submits evidence to the Select Committee using families' case studies to illustrate the points. All of the families quoted here have been funded by FWA. All are typical of the applications we receive and fund every week.


FWA experience of grant making and evidence that families with essential needs that are not being met by the Social Fund

  The Family Welfare Association, which makes a wide range of grants to 5,000 families a year from all four countries of the UK, has the following observations to make of the current system of Social Fund loans. We have illustrated the points we wish to make by drawing on the case histories of our applicants. All applicants to FWA must submit an income and expenditure budgets, and they have been refused all forms of statutory funding for which they could be eligible. Typically this includes Social Fund, Children Act Section 17 payments, Community Care Grants and Health funding. Within our grant making we do fund families with needs which fall outwith the criteria of the Social Fund. We also fund very low wage earners who are in a similar position to those on benefits, but have no access to the Social Fund. In all the following cases the families have essential needs that are not being met and the health, physical and emotional development of the children is adversely affected as a result.

1.   Income Support is insufficient to enable families to replay loans

  Many families referred to FWA for financial help are rejected by the Social Fund as their income is insufficient to repay any loan of any size. They are rejected regardless of the need for essential items.

Case Study—Ms K

  Ms K is 33 years old and a single parent of four children aged 11, 10, five and four years. Her caravan was subject to an arson attack and its entire contents were destroyed. She was housed by an emergency group and placed in bed and breakfast accommodation before being re-housed. She had no furniture, bedding, towels and only a limited amount of children's clothing. She also needed crockery, cutlery and curtains. She was rejected by the Social Fund as she was unable to afford to repay any loan. Some funds had been found through other charities and FWA gave the balance of £100.

2.   Families are given only a percentage of sum requested regardless of need or ability to repay the loan

  Some families are given only a small amount of the sum requested and needed regardless of the level of deductions. Currently, the Social Fund will not give more than an amount requiring repayment of 20 per cent of their income support because they will not be able to repay it. It is unclear why some families are part funded to the 20 per cent level and some are not. There are also varying rules on repayment rates which seem to be decided on a family by family basis. The case study below illustrates the part funding decision when a relatively small sum was requested for a specific item.

Case Study—Ms L and five children

  The Chair of a tenants association applying for an FWA grant on behalf of Ms L writes "Ms L manages her money well despite her large family. Her bills are paid, she has no debts and sets aside a weekly sum for replacing shoes, buying presents for Christmas etc. She recently applied for a Social Fund loan for £185 to purchase a fridge/freezer. Bulk buying enables her to save money. The Social Fund gave £100 as they said she could not repay a larger loan". FWA was pleaded to fund the balance required.

3.   Problems faced by those on maximum loan ceiling of 20 per cent when they need more essential items

  There are two problems in relation to this: The loan maximum and the inflexibility of the system.

3.1  The loan maximum

  A significant number of those turned down for a grant/loan by the Social Fund and later seek help from FWA are already paying back from their weekly benefit large sums to the DSS for earlier loans.

  Families are caught in a trap. On the one hand they clearly cannot afford to repay more than 20 per cent from the weekly income. On the other hand, if there is a crisis need, how is the family to meet this. At present families are entirely dependent on charity. A large percentage of applicants to FWA are in this position.

Case study of Ms D

  Ms D is 26 years old, single and has two children aged eight years and nine months. She receives £93.85 per week income support and her outgoings total £93.49. The family are in need of a bed and bedding for the eldest son, a cot or bed and bedding and other essential items for the baby and carpets for many of the rooms in their house. Mrs D was forced to move from her previous accommodation as she was the victim of violence from her eldest son's father but was unable to take the carpets from there as they had disintegrated through her son urinating on them. Urinating was a direct result of his disturbance arising from witnessing the domestic violence. Ms D was refused a Social Fund loan as she is already repaying previous loans at the maximum she can afford. A grant of £250 was given by FWA.

3.2  The inflexibility of the system for those with an existing loan

  A large number of applicants are rejected for a Social Fund loan if they have an existing loan. The existence of the loan is sufficient reason for rejection regardless of the need, how much the current loan is for, or how much has been repaid of the existing loan. It is not clear why some families are refused outright unless this is a method of rationing a cash limited budget. Loans for poor people are different to those with bank accounts and credit cards where loans can be restructured or extended when an essential need arises.

  Many of the families cited in this submission are in this situation, and most will have been to an Appeal Tribunal assisted by a social or money advice worker. In coming to a decision families are often told by Tribunals that the items they have requested, including beds and cookers, are not essential.

4.   Some families need more essential items than they can buy with a Social Fund loan

  In the following cases the Social Fund limit was insufficient to provide for all the families' needs. In FWA experience this typically happens to families in the following situations.

4.1  Families being rehoused

  Moving house is an expensive business for us all. Many poor people are in the rented sector and are only moved because their current home is unsuited to the care of their children. Usually they are overcrowded, but a larger home means more furniture is required which they cannot afford to purchase. We have many applicants in this position.

Case study of Ms K

  Ms K is 33 years old, single and has five children aged 15, 13, 12, three and one year. The worker writes, "M and her family have just been rehoused from a one bedroom maisonette into a four bedroom house. They were living in what can only be described as critically overcrowded conditions. Mum shared the bedroom with two boys, whilst the girls slept in the loft, which they accessed via `a hole' in the wall. The girls were required to crawl over exposed pipes and wires in order to get in and out of the loft. A local campaign was started and after newspaper coverage a new home was eventually found for them. They have now been rehoused but due to their financial situation they do not possess the financial resources to adequately furnish their long awaited new home. Significant financial assistance is needed in order to bring this family up to a basic standard of living. They have no carpets nor sufficient furniture and M has difficulty in providing adequate clothing for them all. M has also recently gone through an emotionally harrowing experience of giving birth to a stillborn baby. It is not known how much the stress of her previous living conditions contributed to this. However, she is slowly coming to terms with this tragic loss and is continuing to cope with her parental responsibilities. I would be very grateful if you would consider making a grant towards this family's needs." Due to shortage of funds FWA could only make a grant of £150 towards their considerable needs.

4.2  Problems faced by people dependent on benefits long term

  Long-term unemployed people are likely to need more financial assistance for essential items as items begin to wear out and the family cannot afford to replace them. FWA receives a large number of applications from families who have so little that they need more assistance than the Social Fund would lend.

Case Study—Mr and Mrs A

  The social worker applying on behalf of this family wrote: "Mr and Mrs A have five children from their own marriage and Mrs A's previous marriage. Mrs A is Irish and long-term unemployed and known to social services as she suffers from long-term depression and has recently been diagnosed with cancer of the eye. Mr A is an asylum seeker and unable to work. Recently their house was broken into and much of their furniture and household items were stolen. They have been refused a Social Fund loan as they are currently repaying a loan of £29 per week. Their home circumstances are very poor. They have only three beds between seven of them and two chairs they found in a skip. They have no fridge or cooker and are feeding their children from take-aways and heating tins of beans in a kettle. They also need money for winter shoes and school uniforms for two children. As a result of the cancer and home circumstances, Mrs A's anti-depressants have had to be increased. Can FWA help?" FWA gave £700 towards their expenses.

4.3  Families setting up home for the first time

  Families referred to us within this category are usually vulnerable families such as young lone parents, or children leaving care. The applications are made by social workers concerned about the welfare of very young children or vulnerable teenagers. Their needs are similar as for the families quoted above in this section. The ability to repay the loan can be more difficult as the level of income support is lower for young people. In the week of 16 January FWA funded six young families and the following sad case of two young people trying to set up a home for themselves.

Young people P aged 18 and brother S aged six

  At the age of three and one these brothers were abandoned by their mother and subsequently adopted by their aunt and uncle. At the age of 15 P eventually disclosed that he had been sexually abused by his uncle for years in an attempt to stop the abuse of his younger brother. One year ago his aunt left the marital home and has made no contact with the family. The uncle's behaviour has deteriorated and P left and is currently renting a caravan. He has been promised a small flat by a housing association and is determined to set up home for himself and S and to support S whilst he completes his education. He has recently started work and brings home £120 per week from which he will need to pay rent of £50. He believes he can manage but cannot afford to purchase the furniture they will need. He also needs clothing as the uncle will not allow P to enter the house to collect personal items "as he paid for them". FWA gave P a grant for clothing and pledged a further sum for furniture when the flat becomes available.

5.   Income Support is insufficient for families with above average costs and who cannot afford to repay Social Fund loans

  There are some families living on income support with additional costs for which there are no allowances payable. This is typical of families caring for a disabled child. Other families just have very high outgoings such as high heating bills because of poor housing. This level of expenditure is beyond the control of the family. The needs are ongoing and it is clear that families cannot afford to repay any loan, have no access to the Social Fund and are therefore dependent on charity for all their essential needs.

Case study of Ms W

  Ms W is 23 years old, single, unemployed and has one child, E, aged 10 months. After suffering an injury at birth, E is severely disabled and suffers multiple fits, chest infections, is fed via nasogastric tube and vomits frequently. His growth has been rapid and, coupled with the regular vomiting, Ms W has found it difficult to provide him with enough suitable clothes. A grant of £100 was given for clothing.

6.   Families with essential needs for whom no statutory agency takes responsibility

  There is remarkably poor co-ordination or understanding between the roles and responsibilities of all the statutory agencies at a national and local level that are empowered to provide financial help to individuals and families in need. In relation to the Social Fund families are rejected as they are not eligible to apply, yet they have no other funding source. Typically, from FWA experience this includes families with a disabled child, children needing school uniforms, and asylum seekers.

6.1  Children with disabilities

  Children with disabilities very often have extra care needs that are not being taken into account in setting income support levels. This is illustrated in 5 above. Measures planned by this government will help some, but not all children with disabilities in this position. Other families require specialist equipment and families seeking help to fund this discover all too often that statutory agencies can be overly rigid in setting criteria. As a result some families with essential needs are not getting the help that they need.

Case study of Mr and Mrs M

  Mrs M is 26 years old, married and has three children aged six, five and six months. Both she and her husband are unemployed. The youngest child was born prematurely, resulting in respiratory problems which require her to be on continuous oxygen. A good quality high calorie diet is essential but the food needs to be prepared using a blender and containers are needed for storage. Mr and Mrs M have been refused a grant from the Social Fund (not an essential item) social services (as it is not preventing admission to care) and the health authority aids budget (as blenders are not on their funding list). FWA made a grant of £50 for a food blender and containers.

School Uniforms

  Local Education authorities are empowered to fund school uniforms for low income families. Generally LEA have used the free school meals criteria for allocation of uniform vouchers. Over the past two years FWA has received an alarming increase in requests for help with uniforms as more and more LEA's are cutting their uniform budgets. This is an increase in demand on the family budget. Many requests arise as emergencies as children are not allowed to attend school without the uniform. The Social Fund will not fund clothing.

Case study—Mr V

  Mr V has one daughter aged 11. The Social Worker wrote "Mr V has suffered from mental health problems (ie anxiety attacks and panics) for 13 years and is unable to work. Two years ago his wife died unexpectedly. His daughter was traumatised by this and still shows symptoms such as bed-wetting. Mr V is unable to take a Social Fund loan as he is up to the limit. The home is sparsely furnished and they have no TV, radio and only minimum amount of clothes. Mr V is concerned his daughter starts secondary school in September and has no money to buy the uniform. Mr V is concerned she will be ridiculed if she does not appear presentable and it will add to her problems". FWA gave £200 for uniform and shoes.

Asylum Seekers

  Since the introduction of the voucher system, FWA has received a large increase in requests for help for asylum seekers. As most arrive with little more than the clothes they stand up in. The need for essential items includes clothes, pots and pans, towels and bedding. Those offered housing need furniture and equipment. As there is extremely limited statutory help for this group and many grant making trusts are not empowered to help this group FWA has far more requests than we can fund.

Case study—Mr and Mrs P

  Mr and Mrs P are Kosovan refugees who were brutally tortured. They have four children. They have recently been offered a house but with only £80 per week to live on they cannot afford to buy all the furniture and equipment they need. FWA gave them a grant of £500 towards their needs.

7.   Defining essential needs

  There is a great deal of evidence from applications made to FWA that the Social Fund does not define what are essential items which can be funded. This can be viewed as a strength or weakness. Many applications are rejected by the Social Fund for cookers, fridge's, beds, as these have not been seen by assessors, or tribunals, as essential. In our view they are and we would advocate that the review of the Social Fund should set out essential items based on a criteria of health and physical development. See section three for further comments on this.

  FWA believes more flexibility is needed in defining essential needs and that the particular needs of a family should be taken into account. The three cases below demonstrate the need for flexibility. All of these are sad cases but FWA receives one or two such cases every week.

Ms G

  Ms G has one daughter aged nine. Ms G acted as a police witness. Following a successful prosecution they were terrorised. Their home daubed with faeces and spray paint, windows frequently broken. Eventually they were subjected to an arson attack, which burnt many of their possessions. The Social Fund gave a grant for furniture but refused £150 for security equipment. FWA funded these together with a grant to replace the child's lost toys and clothes.

Mr and Mrs L

  Mr and Mrs L have two children at home—aged 20 and 14. The daughter aged 14 was diagnosed with cancer and had the bones in one leg replaced with titanium. Mr L gave up work to care for her. The family live in a rural area and it is essential that they have a car to drive their daughter for treatment every three weeks. In between she is prone to acute infections requiring immediate hospitalisation. Whilst awaiting the outcome of an application for a lease car through the mobility scheme their exhaust on their old car blew. No statutory agency accepted the need to fund this and FWA gave an emergency grant of £100 to ensure the daughter received the medical care she needed.

Ms D

  Ms D, a lone parent and a solicitor's clerk had to give up work when she became ill with a major heart problem. She is now bedridden awaiting a heart transplant. She is being cared for entirely by her 11-year old son who shops and cooks for her and does such cleaning as he can. They managed on income support using all Ms D's savings to keep up the mortgage payments until these were exhausted. The family were referred to us as their boiler had broken down. This is needed to provide warmth essential for her heart condition—as well as hot water. No agency was able to fund the repairs of £100 as it did not fall within their criteria. FWA funded the repairs, as well as making a grant of £100 to provide for a better Christmas for the two of them.

8.   Inflexibility of the benefit system, including the use of the Social Fund as a method of short term investment to reduce dependency on benefits

  There is little creative thinking in the allocation of grants. In particular FWA is concerned that short investment may lead to long term benefit for families and reduce dependency on the state benefit system.

Case Study of Ms C

  Ms C is 34 years old, separated and has two children aged four and two years. The worker writes, "C is hoping to return to Ireland shortly and is seeking help with the removal costs. C says she was abused by her father as a teenager and when this became known it ruined her relationship with her mother who was in denial of everything. C then fled to England, as she was no longer welcome in her mother's house. C now has two children. In 1992 she lost a stillborn baby and afterwards she suffered a breakdown. She split up from her husband about a year ago as she had been subjected to domestic violence throughout their 10 year marriage. She is desperate to return to Ireland to live, as she is very isolated and depressed living here. Her mother has asked her to return home at last and has asked her forgiveness. In Ireland she will have the support of her mother and her three brothers and is optimistic about her future. The only problem hindering her move is the removal costs. The DSS have refused her a grant or loan as she is moving outside of England".

  FWA gave a grant of £150 towards removal expenses. She will now move off benefits system in the UK.

Case Study William aged 17

  William aged 18 undertook work experience with a stone mason. He was a rather immature and wild young man and against all expectations showed an aptitude and promise and enjoyed the work. When a vacancy arose he was offered a permanent job, but was unable to take it because he needed a pair of stout working boots which cost about £70. No statutory funding was available. His parents themselves dependent on benefits, were unable to help. FWA gave £100 for boots and overalls to enable this young man to move off benefits and to give him a chance of an apprenticeship and career for the future.


An overview of the current system of Income Support and Social Fund and its impact on Children

1.   Conclusions drawn from the evidence contained within our grant applications

  1.1  Charity funding.

  FWA is one of several charities funding essential items for families with children who have fallen through the safety net of the welfare state. Many applicants are reliant upon charitable help as they cannot afford to repay loans. Others are dependent on charity as the system of statutory funding is too inflexible to provide the financial help that they need. In our view it is not right that families should be dependent on charitable help to fund essential items in the UK. We are a wealthy country with a welfare system that should seek to fund a basic minimum of standards for all its citizens. FWA is clearly concerned about the needs of families with children, whose health, physical and emotional development is being adversely affected by their poor home environment.

  1.2  The need to define and provide essential items for health, physical development of children and their education.

  FWA believes the Social Fund should clearly specify what household items are essential and these should be funded regardless of a families ability to pay. FWA believes these should be funded through grants not loans. The criteria FWA would use are items essential for the health, physical development and education of the children. There needs to be debate about items that are essential but FWA would advocate cooker, heating, fridge and furniture providing a minimum level of comfort, such as a bed for each child. In our view the health and welfare of children is so important that families should not need to depend on charity to fund essential items. FWA calls this Category A, essential items.

  1.3  The need to define and provide furniture for a home.

  This would include all items that are not essential for healthy development, but are clearly needed to ensure the appropriate physical and emotional care of the children. FWA calls this Category B essential needs and would include furniture for sitting rooms, TV, dining table etc.

  1.4  The Social Fund should not be cash limited.

  Funding for essential items set out in category A and B above should not be a financial or geographical lottery. This is why FWA believes the Social Fund should not be cash limited.

  1.5  The Social Fund should be more flexible in defining essential items and take account of the varying needs of families.

  The families in case histories in section 7 and 8 demonstrate that families have essential needs but statutory funding is too inflexible to meet their costs. There is a need for the Social Fund to become a proper safety net for families with essential if unusual needs. Poor people need access to a "safety net" for essential needs.

  1.6  The Social Fund repayments should be variable for families.

  In particular we are concerned that there is no facility to restructure loans to enable more money to be borrowed when further essential needs arise.

  1.7  There is a need to provide setting up home grants.

  A new home is a time of major expenditure and families need money to provide an adequate level of furnishing and equipment to turn the four walls into a home. This principle has been accepted for those eligible for community care grants and in FWA view it should be extended to families with children. Like Community Care, these should be grants not loans.

  1.8  The need to sort out statutory responsibilities for financial help.

  There is a need to sort out the responsibilities of all the agencies at a national and local level who have responsibility for the financial support of families in need. This includes Social Services, Health Authorities, Local Educational Authorities (for school uniforms).

  Whilst local policy is not the responsibility of the Social Fund, it is an issue central Government could address and the impact of local policies impacts on demands made of the Social Fund. FWA suggests that policies such as these arise when policy at a national and local level is unclear in relation to minimum income levels and responsibilities for meeting the costs of disabled children in the community. Similar difficulties arise in relation to payments made under S17 of the Children Act 1989. Amounts set aside to meet payments, how it is used and its purposes vary widely across local authority boundaries.

  FWA are also concerned that statutory agencies are increasingly making the assumption that people have access to loans and credit. For example, it is now commonplace for 90 per cent of the costs of adaptions to homes of disabled people to be met with families left to fund the balance. Families on benefits have only charities to turn to for the balance. Families on benefits have no access to loans in the private sector or the capacity to repay them.

2.   FWA Perspective on Family Poverty

  It is clear to FWA that nearly all families living on income support are good managers of their money. They meet their bills, household expenses and most have very little debt. Most debt is to the Social Fund or low sums owing to the Christmas clubs and catalogues, or to the utility companies. The real problem for families on income support is that they have no surplus to save, nor do they have the capacity to repay loans.

    —  They cannot meet the costs of replacing household equipment and furniture when it breaks down or wears out. They simply cannot save enough out of income support to replace expensive items. Income support is insufficient.

    —  The quality of homes for families dependent on benefits is poor. This is particularly true for those families on long-term benefits—or those who did not establish a home before having children.

    —  Families who move need a one off injection of cash to equip their homes. This includes growing families moving from a one bedroom flat to a home suitable for raising children and those fleeing domestic violence etc.

    —  Some families have needs, which cannot be budgeted for and are not funded by the Social Fund. This includes, clothes, particularly winter coats, shoes and school uniforms. These items are often difficult to find in charity shops as they tend to be worn out and thrown away. There are also items of need which no statutory agency takes responsibility for providing.

3.   Impact of Poverty on Children

  FWA's main concern about the Social Fund and Income Support is the impact that living in poverty has on children and their well being and development. It is clear to FWA that Income Support is insufficient to repay loans—or to expect families to save for replacement of expensive items. This impacts on children in the following ways.

  3.1  Health.

  Families have no automatic entitlement to items essential to a child's health and physical development eg, cookers, fridge's, forms of cost effective heating, own bed to sleep in.

  3.2  Physical and emotional development.

  Many poor families, particularly those long term unemployed, families who have never worked or large families, live in a poor physical environment and have few essential personal items. Every week we receive applications from families where the children are growing up in partially furnished homes, with no books, TV, radio, few toys. Many children have only two sets of clothes, one pair of shoes and no winter coats. This affects children's self esteem but it is very bad for the physical and social development.

  3.3  Education and creative environment.

  The homes lack stimulation and an environment which supports educational learning and creativity. It is no surprise to FWA that children from poor families achieve less well at school. Sharing beds, overcrowding, few toys, radio, no cash for trips to swimming pools, cinema and some have no TV.

  The physical environment supports children's ability to learn and be prepared for the demands for school. Stimulation and creativity that comes from TV, radio, books, toys and leisure activities develops a child's quest to learn. Parents worn down by the struggle of making ends meet, are poorly equipped themselves to compensate for the shortfall in physical surroundings and income to provide leisure activities and toys.

  3.4  Expectations for the future.

  Research consistently demonstrates that children in poor families achieve less well as adults. It seems to FWA that it is inevitable for children poorly equipped for school emotionally, and physically, will achieve less in school. Worryingly, they expect to do less well. Self-esteem is vital for a positive view of the world and the ability to take on the challenges it presents. Children with poor self-image arising from their home and their families personal circumstances together with an experience of life which is not stimulating and creative, are poorly equipped to challenge the world.

4.   Recommendations for the Future

  4.1  Social Fund in context of Income Support.

  FWA believes that the level of Income Support should be assessed. We believe very simply that there is a need to calculate how much it costs to live. We recommend the work of the Family Budget Unit and its calculation of a low cost but adequate income standard, once calculated, should form a minimum income guarantee from which no statutory funding is deducted.

  4.2  Social Fund: Grants and Loans.

  FWA proposes a subdivision of the Social Fund into a system of grants and loans.

  4.2.1  Essential Items: Category A.

  Household items essential for health and physical development of children, cookers, fridge, one bed per child, bedding, heaters etc.

  FWA calls these category 1 essential needs and we believe grants should be made for these items to ensure a minimum physical standard of health and care for children.

  4.2.2  Essential Items: Category B.

  Household items needed to make a home. This could include curtains, dining table and chairs. FWA suggests an initial grant could be made to equip a home for families with children. The provision of community care grants has proved the need for this and we believe should be extended to families in similar situations. Thereafter income support levels should be fixed to enable families to set aside income to replace items through savings or loans.

  4.2.3  Children's Personal Needs.

  Child Need items include winter coats, shoes, school uniforms, baby needs. Children grow and develop and it is FWA's view that Income Support should be sufficient to meet these needs through saving and budgeting. FWA is a great supporter of lump sum payments. Maternity grants, winter fuel allowances successful in meeting need are spent on items for which the grant was payable. The Pensioners "Christmas Bonus" provides extra cash at a difficult time for those who are living on minimum income and find it difficult to budget. Once again it is a life line for our poorest pensioners.

  FWA propose a Children's Need Annual Cash Grant. Based on our experiences of demand for children's needs we propose allocating a grant in September or October, would be most helpful to meet the costs of shoes and winter coats. These are the most expensive items, but also the most needed in terms of children's health.

  4.2.4  There will inevitably be a need for the Social Fund loan system for families with exceptional or unusual needs—or those unable to save sufficient cash to fund expensive items. FWA proposes that the Social Fund has flexible criteria to meet the very wide range of family needs.

5.   Conclusion

  In our proposal set out above FWA are suggesting the replacement of the Social Fund loan system with grants for essential items, loans and lump sum payments on an annual basis to meet children's development needs and also a setting up home grant. We also advocate for a review of Income Support levels that are based on average household running costs. This should be a minimum, guaranteed income sufficient to allow for savings or repayment of loans for replacing worn household items. In the longer term FWA would advocate that the Income Support level should be set at a raised level to allow for families to control their own savings and expenditure.

  FWA would welcome the opportunity to discuss our experience providing financial help for families in need and also our proposals. The Chair of our Grants Advisory Panel, Rita Bleiman extends an invitation to any member of the Select Committee to attend a meeting of our grant allocation panel. I would be willing to discuss our proposal with the Select Committee.

Helen Dent

Chief Executive

19 January 2001

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