Cost of social fund outstrippin bene

While many victims of recent flooding in the west of Scotland are turning to the socral fund for help, Government figures show the cost of administering the benefit system is soaring. Stephen Naysmtth I'CPOITS.

Money intended to help families and individuals through financial crisis is being squandered on offices and paperwork. according to a welfare charity. The London-based Children‘s Society says up to (if) per cent of cash earmarked for the social futtd is spent on administration. a claim supported by the (iovernrttent‘s owrt figures. The most recent statistics available show that otrt of a budget of £442m. £27flm is being spent on administration expenses. leaving less than 3‘) per cent to help those in need.

The social fund is a lifeline for families affected by change or crisis. such as the hundreds of Glasgow homes affected by recent floodirtg. or people coming ottt of institutional care or hospital. It works as a loan scheme for claimants which replaced the old social security grants system. providing money for one-off basic expenses such as furniture. a cooker or children‘s clothes for deprived families.

However the loan scheme has been the target of criticism. because eaclt local benefits office has a cash limit. Once the allocated fund is exhausted. no further payments can be made dtrring that month. even to eligible claimants. This frequently leads to situations where claims by two people in the same circumstances are treated differently.

lart Sparks. cltiefexecutive of The Children's Society. said the social fttnd could be seen as a lottery. ‘The losers are living on bare firxirboards and spending their limited benefits on take-aways they can‘t afford because they have no cooker.‘ he said. ‘The taxpayer is paying over the odds for a system which is not delivering.‘

The charity also claims that the administration costs had doubled since the social fund‘s launch in IQSS. ‘The ntoney is not going on grants and loans to help families and young people.‘ said a spokeswoman. ‘The procedures people have to go through to claim are complicated and it cart be random whether they get payments or not.‘ The society believes that because most of the payments take the form of loans. many ‘winners' end up having to cut back on basics. as repayments are deducted from their benefits.

Problems with the fund have been affecting families in the west of Scotland struck by the recent flooding. according to Stratltclyde welfare rights development

officer. Jim Laird. ‘People who have been badly affected by the cold weather and the floods haven't been able to get help.‘ he said. ‘Any help that has been offered has been through loans arid not grants.

People on benefit are fitrding it hard enough to get by

without having to repay loans.‘

However many claims have simply been refused. as budgets ran ottt. The Scottish ()ffice described the aftermath of the flooding as art emergency. but there has been no announcement of additional cash to top up the social fund. ‘Families looking for replacement carpets. furniture and floor coverings can end up

‘The losers are living on bare floorboards and spending their limited benefits on take-aways they can’t afford because

they have no cooker.’

going to money lenders because regional and district councils are very limited in the help they can offer.' said Laird.

The Benefits Agency. which assesses loan applications. cart refuse loans if it believes claimants will be unable to meet repayments. which are

; deducted from benefit. ‘You can actually be too poor 5 to get help.‘ Laird said. ‘We ltave always complained about the Social Fund. ft is the trtost expensive

benefit in terms of administration and nothing seems to be done to address that.‘ The administration costs came to light after a


Flood damage resulted in increased demand on our soclal fund

parliamentary question from (‘hris Smith. Labour MP for lslington. ‘Tltis is not just art incredibly mean system. it is also incredibly inefficient.‘ he said. ‘When so much of the available funds are lost. in a procedure supposed to provide help to the very poorest people itt our comrtrunity. it is completely unacceptable.

‘The great absurdity is that even if you are judged eligible. ifthere‘s insufficient money left in a particular month. you won‘t get it. This adds massively to the time and effort involved for staff and discourages applications. The social fund is regarded as bottom of the pile in the benefits system and no—one is paying any attention to ltow it could be rtrn more efficiently.’

In defence of the systent. the Department of Social Security claims the figures are being misinterpreted. It points ottt that claim adrrtinistration costs are offset by repayments received on social fund loans. ‘You ltave to include the amount recovered through loans in the calculation. which brings the amount spent on administration down to -ll per cent.’ a spokesman said. ‘Also. the administration charge doesn't come out of the social fund pot. The satire money would be available regardless of what the administration costs are. Discretionary payments will always inctrr higher administration costs'

However Chris Smith argues there is still no excuse for the high cost: ‘liven where a payment is means- tested or discretionary there is no other part of the. benefit system \\ hich reaches these sort of levels.‘

And finally . . . Canadian beaver escapes as Oasis hit town

It was a week of cigarettes. alcohol arid ifthe music press is to be believed -— cocaine sprinkled on the cor'nflakes. Perhaps that's what they mean by ‘morning glory‘. ()asis. officially Britain's best-selling band of l‘)‘)5. swaggered into Edinburgh. causing the giggling girly contingent to congregate at the city's Scandic Crown hotel. And that was just Patsy Kensit. Barely bad the ink dried on the official announcement of her separation from Simple Minded husband Jim Kerr after four years of marriage. when La Kensit was spotted on the arm of ()asis's mono-eyebrowed singer Liam.

But it seemed like a case of right band, wrong Gallagher brother,

considering Patsy‘s past comments on her husband's allegedly impressive ‘manhood‘. as the tabloids delicately pttt it. ‘Big'? Oh yes.‘ gasped Mrs Kerr. ‘Mind you..l don‘t know about the biggest in rock. I mean they talk about Noel [Gallagher] in ()asis. don't they." Outside the insular bubble that is a rock band on tour. Westminster MPs were debating a private members bill (no. nothing to do with Jirrt Kerr) which would have put our clocks an hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time in winter. and two in summer. lrt Scotland that would have meant darkness until l()am dttring winter. MP John Butterfill claimed that the extra daylight in the afternoons would reduce road accidents and crime. boost tourism and generally improve our quality of life. Scottish

MPs were dead against it. however. and an alliance of the fotrr rttain political parties pulled the plug on the extra daylight bill.

()ne fatality that might possibly have

,been averted by extra daylight

measures was an unfortunate Canadian beaver which ended up as roadkill in Perthshire. The beaver is believed to have escaped front a private wildlife collection on Loch Lomond. and this being the underground hibernation season. the owner isn't too sure if any of his eager buddies broke out too. The beaver being a sociable sort of fellow. scientists think it likely and are concerned that plans to reintroduce the European beaver once native around these parts could be threatened. ‘lf escaped Canadian beavers start meeting

littropean ones and breeding. we will end up with hybrids. possibly sterile ones.‘ according to a Scottish Natural Heritage spokesman.

It seems as ifthe (‘anadian beaver was simply exercising his ‘right to roam' under a new agreement between Scottish landowners arid hillwalkcrs. which is intended to reduce the age-old antagonism between the two groups during the shooting season. Basically walkers are being encouraged to steer clear of shooting estates dttrirtg the stalking season. but shouldn't ltave to run the gauntlet ofgrumpy gamekeepers at other times of the year. Maybe now the tweedies and Berghaus brigade -- not to rttention the beavers cart perfect harmony. as Liam nearly sang. (Eddie Gibb)

The List 26 Jan-8 Feb I996 5