The reports highlight continued improvements in the management of the fund and show how the increased budget is helping people on low incomes meet exceptional expenses.
In response to a parliamentary question Mr Evans said:
'The secretary of state's annual report on the Social Fund for 1995/6 was published today and has been laid before parliament. Total gross expenditure in 1995-6 was £534m, the highest level of expenditure since the fund was set up in 1988.'
-- Total gross expenditure in 1995-96 was £534m, £83m higher than in 1994-95
-- This included over two million non-repayable grants and interest free loans worth £401m and funeral, maternity and cold weather payments worth £133m
-- Since the start of the scheme in April 1988 and the end of March 1996, almost 10.5 million loans, worth £1.6bn, have been awarded at a net cost of £344m
-- This year a record seven million Cold Weather Payments were made to 3 million people at a cost of £62m, after Cold Weather Payments were increased from £7 to £8.50 on 1 November 1995
-- Expenditure on funeral payments has reduced from £63m in 1994-95 to £49m in 1995-96 £13.5m to £419.5m
Mr Evans said:
'The Social Fund continues to play an important role in supporting mainstream social security provision. In providing a varied and flexible response to the individual needs of applicants and in offering the taxpayer value for money.
'As part of the aim of eliminating abuse, changes to the funeral payment scheme came into effect in June 1995 to ensure that only those with good cause for taking responsibility were eligible for help. In addition,a ceiling was placed on the amount payable to cover specified funeral director's charges. Between 1988 and 1995, the number of funeral payments had nearly doubled, but expenditure had more than trebled. The current scheme covers the cost of a dignified funeral but at the same time protects public funds.
'The Social Fund Commissioner's annual report has also been published today.'