Rural Scotland accounts for 98% of the land mass of Scotland and 17% of the population are resident there. Scotland had 93 inhabited islands with a total population of 103,700 - 2% of Scotland's population as per 2011 Census. Of these islands, only five are connected to the Scottish mainland by bridge or causeway. Island stakeholders have emphasised the importance of understanding the island experience.
On average, rates of poverty tend to be lower in rural areas. However, there are 40,000 children in rural areas that are in poverty, and the barriers to leaving poverty may be greater.
There are 6 local authorities representing island communities, defined under the Islands Act these are: Argyll and Bute Council; Comhairle nan Eilean Siar/ Western Isles; Highland Council; North Ayrshire Council; Orkney Islands Council; and Shetland Islands Council. Amongst them, Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles are entirely island authorities, while Highland, Argyll and Bute and North Ayrshire local authorities cover island regions as well as mainland regions.
Connectivity and Accessibility
The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that the SCP is accessible to all of Scotland, including those living in the islands. The unique accessibility challenges faced by those living in island communities was considered as part of our user research. Participants told us the following:
- sometimes internet connectivity can be an issue in more rural areas, as can the access to data on mobile phones;
- access to post offices/post boxes wasn’t very easy, so online may be preferable; and
- internet connection could drop out, making a postal application preferable.
Some of the views expressed contradicted others, making choice and flexibility for clients looking to communicate with Social Security Scotland essential. This aligns to the multi-channel approach of Social Security Scotland, which is focussed on accessibility, clients can receive applications online, over the phone or by paper. Clients will be able to receive communications in a variety of different ways, this includes texts, emails and phone calls depending on their preferred method of contact.
In addition, Social Security Scotland now has staff working across the country to set up a local service, including in island communities, with staff in all 32 local authority areas. These staff will operate at the local level helping and informing clients of benefits available and assisting clients claim what they are entitled to. Currently Local Delivery staff in each area are engaging with external stakeholders, building networks to assist the delivery of a local, person-centred service. They will give clients a choice in regard to how they access the service by offering support in outreach locations, home visits and prisons. Clients will be able to receive one to one support, to understand what devolved benefits they are entitled to and help them to complete applications. Although the preference is to have Local Delivery support in place for the launch of SCP, at this point it is unlikely that this will be fully functional due to COVID-19 restrictions. This is because it is not yet known which external locations/offices will be available to enable face to face contact nor the impact on clients allowing access to their households. In addition, supporting products and kit, such as a lone working solution, booking tool and pdf document access, need to be in place to enable a successful launch. This situation will be kept under close review in the coming months and alternative solutions found for clients with specific needs.
To ensure accessibility, it is essential that benefit take-up is promoted in island communities. A communication strategy is being developed with targeted communications developed in collaboration with those living in rural and island locations to ensure they are aware of their entitlements. This will be accompanied by a series of roadshows promoting the SCP, where stakeholders from the third sector, charities and local authorities are invited to attend demonstrations of the application process and to ask any relevant questions regarding the benefit. These roadshows will ensure that families who are eligible and those that support them are aware of the SCP, know how to apply; and understand the eligibility criteria.
The Scottish Government published its first Benefit Take-up Strategy in 2019, setting out the ongoing work of the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland to address barriers to benefit uptake. Costly or complex access to services was identified as one of the key accessibility barriers, particularly pertinent to those in island communities. As the SCP’s eligibility is based on being in receipt of a qualifying benefit (e.g. Universal Credit) we have confirmed with the UK Government that we can promote the fact that eligibility for the SCP is based upon take-up of reserved benefits, it has been confirmed this will not pose a fiscal detriment to the Scottish Government.
Another important commitment in the Benefit Take-up Strategy is the development of two sources of funding to assist organisations supporting people to take-up the benefits they are entitled to. The £500,000 Benefit Take-up Fund will have an emphasis on projects and activities that prepare organisations to support: first-time applicants, seldom-heard groups, and those who face particular barriers in accessing social security. The Income Maximisation Fund will have an emphasis on projects and activities that assist organisations to support: groups of people who have traditionally not applied for benefits; groups who may be in particular need of support; and groups that may have particular barriers to overcome in applying for benefits. As announced on the 27 February 2020, a total of 26 bodies from across the country received allocations to support hard to reach groups, including organisations specifically targeting those in rural or remote locations.
In rural and remote areas the costs of travel to essential services, is generally much higher. Those experiencing poverty may be unable to afford transport which reduces their quality of life and increases social isolation. In circumstances where there is no public transport infrastructure families may be forced to run a car, putting pressure on their finances. For children, there are problems of access to youth clubs and after-school clubs; over 35% of children in remote rural areas had difficulties accessing youth clubs compared to under 20% in all other areas.
Similar issues were raised in our user research, the cost of travel, particularly public transport is prohibitive for families. The contribution of the SCP to these transport costs would be helpful, in particular for children and families who rely on public transport to get to out of school activities.
Cost of living
There is widespread evidence that rural areas, and remote and island communities in particular, experience higher costs of living for some goods and services. Highlands and Island Enterprise found that, typically, the minimum cost of living in remote rural Scotland ranged between 10% and 35% more than the equivalent in urban Britain in 2016. The additional costs are mainly from shopping; broadband; delivery costs; transport; childcare; and fuel costs.
The ability of the SCP to address these additional costs was considered in our user research, it was found that the £10 per week was significant enough to have a positive effect on families. In particular, those participating identified that the additional money could be spent on helping out with essentials such as the weekly shop or clothing.
Through previous user research and experience panels conducted when designing Best Start Grant, Funeral Support Assistance and Young Carers Grant we have found that there is a danger of stigma hindering applications for benefits, particularly in more rural communities. Access to services and support can be difficult. It is suggested that poverty in rural areas may be more isolating in its impact, due to the greater visibility of individuals within rural communities and a rural ideal of self-reliance. Poor adults in remote rural areas have been found to have particular problems with low levels of support
Social Security Scotland is committed to tackling this stigma, committing in Our Charter to:
- promote a positive view of social security, explaining it is a public service to be proud of – a human right there for all of us who need it;
- publicly challenge the myths and stereotypes about social security to help reduce stigma and negativity;
- change the language on social security - introducing more positive words to describe the service and the people who use it.
One way of changing the language around benefit take-up is through our communication strategy, which will portray applying for the SCP in a positive light.
Where possible we have endeavoured to make the SCP application form as straightforward as possible, combining the form with Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods, to encourage those who experience stigma to take up their entitlement. In addition, Social Security Scotland local delivery will co-locate with existing services e.g. in local authorities, third sector and health centres. It is hoped this will reduce the stigma felt by people, since the reason for their visit will not be immediately obvious to other members of the community.