I suppose as Chair of the mighty APPG on Credit Unions I should add my bit on the social fund story that's doing the rounds today. At the last meeting of the All-Party Group we touched on the social fund issue, and whether credit unions could play a role in administering it.
Obviously it's better for applicants if they can get loans from the social fund, rather than having to borrow from credit unions, but if, say, they can only get part of the money from the social fund, it's surely better that they look to a credit union to lend them the rest, rather than relying on doorstep lenders like Provident, who can charge up to 1000% interest. See also logbook loans (on here, I think, or the main website).
So if they're using the credit union for part of the funding, then perhaps the credit union could play an administrative role with the social fund element too? Although then the temptation might be for the DWP to point people towards credit union loans instead of the social fund loans... but that might mean the social fund goes further, i.e. meeting the essential needs of more people rather than running out around this time of year as it usually does!
Certainly my impression at the meeting though, which was attended by lots of credit union insiders, was that this was only a bit of kite-flying by both sides and no firm proposals were being made. And finally, I think Kitty's right in her comments to the BBC that we need to remove the deception surrounding social fund applications, where people feel they have to say they desperately need a new bed or a fridge, whereas they really need money to buy the kids Christmas presents. Although I think that's a classic example of where a credit union - either with loans or with its savings schemes - could fill the need.