The Social Fund requires a fundamental overhaul including increased and better distributed resources, improved staff training and quicker and more accurate decision-making, MPs have concluded this week.
In a highly critical report, the Work and Pensions Select Committee called for a formal consultation on the future of the fund, which provides grants and loans to the poorest in society, including for social care services.
It also lambasted the government for failing to reform the fund, six years after a report by its predecessor, the Social Security Committee, raised similar criticisms.
The Work and Pensions Committee said it had received significant evidence from anti-poverty groups that the fund was failing to assist those most in need, and called on ministers to examine the case for widening eligibility.
Specifically, the MPs criticised the state of the cash-limited Community Care Grant budget, which is designed to fund social care, saying many people deemed to be in high priority need were being denied support simply because of a lack of money, and that funding was inequitably distributed between areas.
It called for all those in high need to receive funding, a move which would increase the grant budget from £141m to almost £200m a year.
The report quoted evidence from monitoring body Independent Reviewing Service for the Social Fund saying over half of decisions contained a “fundamental error” due to a lack of training and Jobcentre Staff not having time to gather adequate information.
However, it also said that some decisions were taking too long with over 21,000 (of 639,000) Community Care Grant decisions in 2006 taking over 25 days, “an unacceptable delay for some of the most vulnerable members of society”.