Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 53 - 59)




  53. Ladies and gentlemen, may I welcome Professor Craig, who is Professor of Social Justice at the University of Hull. Again, many thanks for what is a very perceptive piece of written evidence. I had actually forgotten about the 1992 Rowntree Study[12] that you had done, but being pointed back to that was very helpful as well. Perhaps the best way to proceed is maybe for you to say a few opening words, and then we can go straight into questions on the discretionary fund?

  (Professor Craig) Thank you, Chair, and thank you very much for the opportunity to speak. Those of you who have ploughed their way through this document will know that the evidence I want to give is based on a detailed historical study of all the one-off payments schemes that have been operating in this country since 1934. There have been six such schemes, and the report covers the first four years of the Social Fund. The detailed work that I did ended at that point, partly because I had to move on to other fields of study but also because, I guess, like many academics, I was tired of banging my head against a brick wall, at the time. So I am very pleased that there is now this opportunity to say some things about the Social Fund. I have been continuing to monitor the Social Fund since 1992, and, as I say in my small written memorandum, I see nothing which would alter the fundamental structural critique that I would make. I just want to say, in conclusion, though, that it seems to me that there is very little point in discussing the Social Fund unless one is prepared to address the issue of the adequacy of benefits, because that is a key issue that comes up time and time again throughout the whole history of one-off payment schemes.

Mr Thomas

  54. Professor, you are a bit of a root and branch man, are you not, you think the system is so fundamentally flawed that there is no point taking a sort of halfway house approach?
  (Professor Craig) My colleagues were rather surprised that I came up with a detailed and, I think, workable set of proposals for the reform of the Social Fund. They thought I would just issue a one-paragraph statement which said, `It's just completely unworkable, let's forget about it.' What I have attempted to do, in this detailed study, is actually propose a scheme which, should a Government not be prepared to grasp the nettle of the adequacy of benefits, would at least provide an answer to some of the recurring problems that the Social Fund represents.

  55. Can I deal with just some of those problems. The lottery effect, the lack of consistency in decision-making; what do you have to say about those two features?
  (Professor Craig) The detailed evidence up till 1992, which was echoed by the evidence submitted by Family Service Unit, Children's Society, Family Welfare Association, in 1996, and further evidence I have seen from the Child Poverty Action Group, suggests that it is still the case that whether or not you get help does not actually depend on some objective assessment of need which is consistent across place, across time and in relation to specific types of need or specific types of household, it is actually still enormously variable. And that is the notion of the lottery; someone in Hendon might get something that somebody in Rugby would not, on the same day, of the same month, for the same thing.

  56. Can I just ask you, on that, this cap, this budgetary limit on the amount that is available, is that apportioned on an office-by-office basis?
  (Professor Craig) There are allocations, and in the last year or two the Department has actually given itself the power to move allocations between offices. I forget which regulation or direction it is that allows them to do that, but I see that simply as a management tool. Throughout the history of the Social Fund, the problem has been to manage inadequate budgets, and I think all the nuances and regulations and directions that have been introduced over the last few years are simply directed towards that goal, of actually ensuring that expenditure does not exceed allocations. And I think that is the point about discretion, that discretion is not used in a positive sense to respond to need, it is used in a negative sense to ensure that the budget is not overdrawn.

  57. You refer a couple of times in your paper to the disciplinary function of the regulations, by which you mean, what?
  (Professor Craig) I was using that in a rather different sense. Historically, it is clear that social security has viewed certain kinds of claimants as deserving and other kinds of claimants as undeserving, and if one looks at the pattern of payments that are made, older people and people with disability tend to do rather better with Community Care Grants, people who are unemployed, young people, tend to be steered away from them and directed towards the loans system.

  58. So it is entrenched in the system, is it, that attitude?
  (Professor Craig) There is plenty of evidence, from organisations like Eurostat, to show that the culture and the attitudes of the British population towards unemployed people is amongst the most punitive in Europe, and this is reflected in the social security system.

  59. You mentioned, earlier on, that one of the key sources of controversy, when this scheme was introduced, was that it might penalise unpopular claimants, which you have referred to; you are saying that that is actually happening, and has happened?
  (Professor Craig) If one looks at the statistical breakdown of where grants have gone and where loans have gone, that certainly is the case. If one looks at the issue of ethnicity, the evidence is rather less conclusive, and this is partly because the DSS continues to refuse to monitor ethnicity on anything like an adequate basis, and I think that is a major structural flaw. But I have done detailed, qualitative studies on the Social Fund, and it is quite clear that there have both been many instances of individual racism but also that the Fund itself is structurally racist in its attitude towards ethnic minorities.

12  Replacing the social fund: a structure for reform, Joseph Rowntree Foundation/Social Policy Research Unit, York. Back

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