Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to the Chairman of the Committee from The Children's Society (SF 34)

  As a national child care organisation working in 90 projects in the poorest communities we are very aware of the practical concerns that arise from the Social Fund. We are keen to pass on the experience of the families and young people who use our projects, with regard to the Social Fund, through this paper, and directly by facilitating a meeting between claimants and the committee.

  We have campaigned in this area since the Social Fund was first established, and have conducted our own research (Smith 1990) [34] and worked jointly with other voluntary organisations (Bennett 1996). [35] We have been monitoring the impact of the recent changes to the Social Fund. Our overarching concern is that whilst poverty has increased over the last 20 years, expenditure on the discretionary Social Fund has remained stable. This has been reflected on increased hardship on the very poorest. The increase in loans and reduction in grants in the discretionary part of the Fund has led to a spiral of debt which makes it harder to exit poverty.

  Research shows that current benefit levels are not adequate to cover basic expenses over a period of time. Government has always recognised the need to assist with one off expenses or budgeting strains over a period of time. The Children's Society's experience is that the Social Fund in its current form is not meeting its aim of alleviating extreme hardship.

  The Children's Society would ideally seek a return to a system based on grants rather than loans that plunge families and young people into a spiral of debt. We would also propose the following changes:

  In the regulated section of the Social Fund, we propose two grants which could be viewed in the same category and with the same conditions attached as the Sure Start Maternity Payment, so they would be cash benefits paid to the mother or person responsible for the child:


  Grant of £150 to cover first bed, shoes and winter clothing. The estimated cost would be approximately £30 million per annum, based on the same number of claimants as for the Sure Start Maternity Payment. We recommend that it be triggered by the second birthday of the child which is close to the period when these costs arise. We do not think it would be workable to make payment conditional on health or developmental checks given the diversity of provision across the country, the pressure this may place on parents and children as well as the difficulty of access experienced by excluded communities who are among the most likely to need the payment, such as traveller communities.


  Grant of £75 to cover costs of school uniform, satchel, P.E. kit, stationery and books. It would be available for children starting primary school and secondary school. It would give every child the same start at school and avoid stigmatisation among children over uniforms and other school essentials.

  The grant could be made dependent on school attendance, and the estimated cost would also be £30 million (£15 million each for primary and secondary school).

  With regard to the area of need surrounding children experiencing family change we feel that by increasing expenditure on Community Care Grants this should increase the likelihood of securing a grant for families with children fleeing from a domestic violence situation. Given that only a quarter of applications for this grant are successful and that expenditure on this category has not increased whilst demand has (particularly as a result of community care policies, and housing policies affecting young people), we would argue for a doubling of expenditure on Community Care Grants at a cost of £100 million.

  For young people aged 16 and 17 years old, we would argue for 3 things:

    —  a transitional phase payment, for 3 months, for young people who are not in education, training or employment and who meet the eligibility criteria for Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance. Through our projects we are aware of a genuine need for provision to help those young people who have emotional, social and behavioural problems which need time and support to resolve. We would propose this grant be paid through a voluntary or statutory body, or a local partnership project, working with the young person and with whom they have built up a constructive relationship. The project would establish a contract with the young person identifying their goals and work with them in achieving them. The contract would include several weekly appointments, and the transitional phase payment would be made to the young person through the project on a weekly basis to cover basic living expenses. The estimated amount, based on current Income Support levels would be £500 (made up of 12 payments of £40). This payment would also avoid young people dropping out of education or employment for which they are not ready, or claiming sickness benefit for mental health problems.

    —  more cash in the Community Care Grant (as argued in the earlier paragraph) to increase the likelihood of young homeless people benefiting from this grant to furnish a home (eg bed, bedding, cooker etc) and to fund a new category within the Community Care Grant for setting up home. This would cover start up costs of young people moving into independent accommodation, up to £100, to cover basic items (kettle, iron, bedding etc).

    —  This would place all young people on low incomes in the same position as care leavers who currently benefit from this type of financial assistance.

    —  greater flexibility in repayment for Budgeting Loans made to 16 and 17 year olds. Given that the young people receiving these loans are at the most vulnerable time in their lives, it would be reasonable for the deductions from their already reduced Income Support to be set at a lower rate than for other claimants. This would also have the advantage of offering the same financial product opportunities to young people who are not in education, training and employment as those young people who are benefiting from student loans.

  Finally, we would recommend the eligibility for cold weather payments to include families with children aged under 5. In the experience of our projects, fuel poverty among families with young children is still very much a reality, and just like pensioners, young children are particularly vulnerable to the cold.

  I also enclose a copy of our research "Out of Pocket"[36] the findings of which, you will see on Page 1, "were backed by the House of Commons Social Security Select Committee".

  I look forward to hearing from you.

Natalie Cronin

Social Policy Officer

16 January 2001

34   Smith R, (1990) "Under the Breadline: Claimants, the Social Fund and the Voluntary Sector: A Case Study", The Children's Society. Back

35   Bennett F, (1996) "Out of Pocket-Failure of the Social Fund", The Children's Society, Family Service Units, Family Welfare Association. Back

36   Not Printed. Back

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