Analysis of written responses to the consultation on social security in Scotland

Analysis of responses to a public consultation to inform the content of the new Scottish Social Security Bill.

1. Fixing the principles in legislation

Proposals for fixing the principles in legislation

1.1 The Scottish Government set out its proposals for fixing the principles in legislation in Part 1 of the consultation document.

Question - Which way do you think the principles should be embedded in the legislation? If other, please specify or please explain your answer.

Table 1.1 Which way do you think principles should be embedded in the legislation?
  A. Claimant Charter B. Placing principles in legislation C. Some other way Selected more than one option  
Respondent group Number % Number % Number % Number % Total
Individuals 61 43% 66 47% 12 9% 2 1% 141
Organisations 26 23% 29 26% 32 28% 26 23% 113
All respondents answering 87 34% 95 37% 44 17% 28 11% 254

Note: A full breakdown of responses by respondent group is included in Annex 2 (available to download separately as part of this publication).

1.2 254 respondents answered the closed part of this question. Views were fairly split across the options for embedding the principles in legislation. Similar proportions of respondents selected option A - a Claimant Charter (34%) and option B - placing principles in legislation (37%). A substantial proportion of respondents supported alternatives, with 17% selecting option C - some other way, and 11% selecting more than one of the options. Organisations were more likely than individuals to select option C - some other way, or select more than one option. Views were often mixed within the main respondent groups answering.

1.3 133 respondents provided additional comments following the closed question. 34 were individuals and 99 were organisations. Respondents offered reasons for selecting particular options, which are discussed in detail below.

1.4 The main themes emerging were:

  • the need for the principles to be enforceable by law; and
  • the need for the principles to be clear and accessible.

Reasons for supporting Option A - a Claimant Charter

1.5 The main reason respondents gave for supporting a Claimant Charter was because it could be clear and accessible to all people - both people using social security services and those delivering them.

"A 'Claimant Charter' could be a useful way of ensuring that the Scottish Government's stated principles are understood by members of the public as well as by staff administering social security benefits in Scotland."
Disability Agenda Scotland ( DAS)

1.6 Some respondents noted that a Claimant Charter had the potential to include more detail than legislation and was a more flexible format that could be amended and updated as required.

1.7 A few respondents in favour of a Claimant Charter said that it should be informed by people using social security services in order to be fully reflective of their rights.

"…detailed consultation with people who use the system is vital to ensure effective scrutiny of the extent to which the social security principles are upheld within the legislation."
Scottish Commission for Learning Disability ( SCLD)

Reasons for supporting Option B - placing principles in legislation

1.8 The main reason respondents gave for favouring option B was that legislation would be enforceable, and offer more statutory protection and safeguarding if the principles were not adhered to. Respondents felt that embedding principles in legislation would provide a strong basis for service users to legally challenge services and enforce principles if they are not upheld.

"It is essential to place the principles in law so they can be firmly embedded in practice, scrutinised, enforced and challenged if there is failure to enact."
Glasgow Disability Alliance

"To enshrine the principles in enforceable legislation would demonstrate how seriously the Scottish Government takes this."
Inclusion Scotland

1.9 A few respondents favoured placing the principles in legislation because they felt that legislation would be fixed in the long term and therefore would be harder for successive governments to change. A few respondents also felt that placing the principles in legislation would mean they were better monitored and scrutinised than a Charter.

"People who use the social security system need long standing and robust legal protections, so that they are not made more vulnerable by changes in the political climate."
Parkinson's UK in Scotland

1.10 A few respondents who preferred the option of legislation acknowledged that legislation was less accessible and proposed that an accessible format should be produced alongside it.

Reasons for proposing a combination of Option A and Option B

1.11 A large number of respondents favoured both a claimant Charter and legislation for the principles. Broadly, these respondents felt that a Charter could be embedded within legislation, which would be required to uphold the principles of the Charter. They felt that legislation was more likely to ensure that the principles would be upheld than a Charter alone. They also suggested that a Charter was a more accessible format for people to understand the rights outlined in the legislation. Respondents were clear that it was important for people to understand their rights and have legal backing for these rights to be upheld.

"By having a Charter established within legislation, this would not only fully legitimise and give strength to the Charter and its key principles, but would allow revisions to the more detailed Charter without the need to amend primary legislation."
Crohn's and Colitis UK

"People felt that it would give the principles of dignity and respect more weight to be included in legislation but thought that a Charter would be a more useful way of ensuring that people using the system were aware of their rights. There was a level of concern that the Charter could be meaningless if not done properly but it was generally acknowledged that it was a good starting point."
The Poverty Alliance

"As well as making a clear commitment to accountability by enshrining a Charter in legislation, the Scottish Government must also ensure that these principles are accessible and available to all. When powers are devolved and these principles come into force, effective communication with individuals is essential."
Scottish Women's Convention

1.12 A few respondents commented that beyond a Charter and legislation, it was important to consider how the principles would be upheld in practice.

Other options

1.13 A few respondents offered alternative or additional options. These included:

  • an assessors Charter detailing principles for assessment procedures;
  • a claimants' ombudsman;
  • a code of conduct for staff in social security services; or
  • regular training for staff in social security services.

1.14 A few respondents commented on the name of 'Claimant Charter' and preferred not to use the word 'claimant' as they felt it had negative connotations and stigma. Alternatives suggested included 'recipient Charter', 'social security Charter', 'social contract' or 'human rights Charter'.

1.15 Some respondents discussed the value of taking a human rights approach when establishing the Charter and embedding the principles. A few respondents had specific concerns around ensuring that the Charter and legislation takes account of equality and diversity issues.

Question - If you think option A 'a Claimant Charter' is the best way to embed principles in the legislation, what should be in the Charter?

1.16 156 respondents provided comments on what should be in the Charter. Comments were provided by 86 organisations and 70 individuals. Overall, the most commonly mentioned themes were:

  • rights and responsibilities;
  • how people are treated;
  • what to do if things go wrong; and
  • information and support.

Rights, responsibilities and how people are treated

1.17 A large number of respondents, from across respondent groups, raised the need for the Charter to cover individuals' rights. A range of different points were highlighted. Many simply stated that the Charter should cover rights. Those who provided more detail talked about:

  • the importance of taking a human rights-based approach to social security;
  • the right to enjoy a range of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights, and a good standard of living;
  • the right to social security, and to claim everything people are entitled to - treating access to social security as a right, not a benefit;
  • the right to dignity and respect;
  • the right for people to be empowered and involved in decisions about their lives; and
  • the right for individuals to access support.

"We feel that an emphasis on claimants' rights is important as their responsibilities are made very clear at other stages of the process…"

"People using social security services should have the right to expect to be treated as human being with needs which require to be met by accessing the Social Security system."

1.18 A few respondents suggested that it would be useful to link to existing rights in legislation, including the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the NHS Patient's Charter.

1.19 A large number of respondents also felt that it was important to cover how people are treated. The three most common principles arising here related to respect, dignity and fairness. Many felt that a Charter should outline what being treated with respect and dignity would mean, and how it would be achieved (for example, through training for staff). A few individual respondents also talked about the importance of compassion, courteous behaviour, integrity, kindness and confidentiality.

"It should highlight respect and dignity as often as possible - this is distinctly lacking in how claimants are currently treated in the benefits system."

"The Charter should contain information that allows the benefit claimant to be treated with respect and as a worthwhile citizen of the country."

1.20 A few respondents gave practical suggestions about how people could be treated with dignity and respect.

"People suggested small, practical things which could be done easily and have a big impact. This included the right to choosing how you should be addressed, the right to choose your appointment times, bring spoken to in a respectful manner, and most importantly being believed."
The Poverty Alliance

1.21 Some respondents specifically mentioned the importance of embedding equality and fairness within the Charter, to ensure that the social security system catered for individual needs.

1.22 Many also talked about the responsibilities of both individuals receiving social security payments and those administering them. These respondents talked about clear responsibilities and expectations of each party, and what would happen if the responsibilities were not met. However, a few felt that the Charter should not include responsibilities for individuals receiving social security payments. For example, the Child Poverty Action Group felt that this could undermine the important message that access to social security is a right.

What to do if things go wrong

1.23 A large number of respondents felt that the Charter should include information about what to do if things went wrong. This would include:

  • how to give feedback, raise concerns and make complaints;
  • methods for appeal and reconsideration;
  • dispute resolution processes;
  • principles for challenging decisions;
  • timescales for re-considering decisions;
  • what happens with benefits payments during any re-consideration process; and
  • entitlement to compensation where individuals are financially disadvantaged.

"… unless accompanied by a mechanism via which claimants could contest a breach of rights, such a document could only have limited value."

1.24 A few respondents talked again about their preference that some elements were incorporated into law. However, a few highlighted that legislation could be open to interpretation and difficult to change, while a Charter could be more flexible. A few other respondents felt that a Charter would be easier to update and could lead to a culture of continuous improvement.

Information and support

1.25 Some respondents felt that the Charter should include:

  • information about what to expect - including service levels or standards; a list of the benefits subject to the Charter; information about what will happen at each stage and what will be required of the individual (including document provision); and/or
  • information about further support - including information about how to access support from knowledgeable and skilled staff, provided in a way that suits the individual best.

1.26 Some, particularly individuals, emphasised the importance of the Charter being written in simple and plain language, with terms clearly defined and explained. A few individuals felt that the document should be short and succinct. Some felt that it was important to involve people with experience of the social security system in designing the Charter, including disabled people and minority ethnic people.

Question - Should the Charter be drafted by an advisory group, a wider group of potential user and other groups or organisations, both or in some other way?

Table 1.2 Should the Charter be drafted by: An advisory group, a wider group of potential user and other groups or organisations, both or some other way?
  A. An advisory group B. A wider group C. Both D. Some other way  
Respondent group Number % Number % Number % Number % Total
Individuals 5 5% 27 26% 62 60% 10 10% 104
Organisations 8 9% 15 17% 63 71% 3 3% 89
All respondents answering 13 7% 42 22% 125 65% 13 7% 193

Note: A full breakdown of responses by respondent group is included in Annex 2 (available to download separately as part of this publication).

1.27 When asked whether the Charter should be drafted by an advisory group, wider group, both, or in some other way, 193 respondents answered. The majority of those responding (65%) selected 'Option C - Both'. A substantial minority (22%) selected Option B - a wider group. There was support for Option C from across respondent groups. Support for Option A came solely from a few local authority respondents and advice and support organisations. Support for Option B came mainly from a few advice and support organisations and disability and long term condition organisations.

1.28 97 respondents provided further comments on this question. 21 were individuals and 76 were organisations. Respondents tended to comment on the make-up of any group, rather than offering reasons for selecting a particular option.

1.29 The main themes emerging were that:

  • a wide range of people should be involved in drafting the Charter;
  • people using social security services should be involved; and
  • the needs of different groups should be accounted for.

Support for wide involvement

1.30 Regardless of whether respondents felt that the Charter should be drafted by an advisory group, a wider group or both, they often felt that the group should be informed by or should include service users and organisations from a cross-section of society. Respondents commented on the benefits of co-producing a Charter, encompassing the expertise of a wide range of people and organisations.

"It is important that all those with experience of the provision and receipt of welfare benefits can give their views of what does and does not work."
Scottish Federation of Housing Associations

1.31 There was a strong consensus that people who use or may use social security services should be involved in the process. In particular, respondents felt it important that service users were represented as they had experience of what works well, what could be improved and how their needs could be met - which should be reflected in the Charter. Some respondents commented on the value of hearing the views of people with "lived experience" of the system.

"Those with direct experience of the system should absolutely be consulted in the design of the Charter, as they have the most knowledge of where the current system needs improvement."
Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights

"The new social security agency has to be designed around the needs of the people that will rely on it. It is therefore essential that their voices are heard in the Charter."
The Poverty Alliance

"If we do have a Charter then we really must have disabled people on there. That is of the greatest importance."
Royal National Institute of Blind People ( RNIB) Scotland

The importance of specific interest groups

1.32 Organisations representing specific demographics or protected groups noted that people from their service user group should also be included or represented. This included: children and young people, disabled people, people with mental health problems, terminally ill people, women and minority ethnic groups.

1.33 As well as service users, respondents felt that a range of other people should be involved, including:

  • social security service deliverers and administrators;
  • support, advice and advocacy organisations;
  • representative organisations;
  • social security and policy experts;
  • third sector and voluntary organisations; and
  • representatives from local and national government.

Question - We are considering whether or not to adopt the name 'Claimant Charter'. Can you think of another name that would suit this proposal better? If so, what other name would you choose?

1.34 There were 139 responses to this question. 63 were from individuals and 76 were from organisations.

1.35 A large number of respondents offered alternative names for the claimant Charter. The most popular alternative was a [Scottish] Social Security Charter. Other ideas supported by a few respondents included:

  • Citizens Charter;
  • Social Security Charter: Rights and Responsibilities; and
  • Customer Charter.

1.36 A full list of alternative names is included in Appendix 1.

Question - Do you have any further comments on the 'Claimant Charter'?

1.37 100 respondents provided further comments (52 organisations and 48 individuals).

1.38 The main themes emerging were:

  • the importance of using appropriate, non-stigmatising language;
  • understanding that social security is a collective responsibility; and
  • the importance of embedding the Charter and its values into regular working practice.


1.39 Many respondents did not like the use of the term 'claimant.' They felt that the word had negative connotations, was disempowering and did not accurately reflect the rights-based principles of the Charter. Terms such as 'citizen' or 'customer' were favoured over 'claimant' and there was an overall view that the name of the Charter should reflect that it is a Charter for all people involved in social security.

1.40 Some respondents mentioned that 'Claimant Charter' sounded similar to 'claimant commitment', which could cause confusion and had negative connotations.

"The term claimant has negative connotations with how the DWP currently view welfare recipients…Whatever name is chosen; care needs to be taken to avoid any confusion with the 'Claimant Commitment' which is a statement of claimant obligations under Universal Credit and to avoid stigmatising people who are in receipt of benefits/ social security."
East Lothian Council

"The term 'benefit claimant' has, unfortunately, been used by some groups in society and media to stigmatise claimants as 'scroungers' and 'layabouts'. We need to keep in mind that people in receipt of help from the benefit system are people who have human needs and who are not able to access an income to live on through conventional work."

1.41 Some also felt that calling it a 'Claimant Charter' did not reflect that social security is a collective responsibility and that there are rights and responsibilities for all involved, not just the social security service users. A few said that they thought the name of the Charter should be decided through consultation and co-production with people using social security services.

"Calling it a Claimant Charter could suggest that the onus for compliance lies upon those using the system… We would support a more neutral title, such as a Social Security Charter…as it suggests a degree of reciprocity between the person in receipt of social security and the agencies that enable this."
Parkinson's UK in Scotland

Delivering the Charter

1.42 Some respondents mentioned wider issues relating to the Charter. In particular, a few mentioned the importance of staff training and commitment to delivering the principles in the Charter. They felt that the Charter should be incorporated into training and continuing professional development for staff working in social security services so they were aware of the rights and responsibilities, for all people.

"It is important that we establish a benefit system where the staff employed within it are also committed to the principles."
Rights Advice Scotland

1.43 Some felt that for the Charter to be successful, it also had to be clear, accessible and visible. A few wanted to ensure that the Charter would be available in a range of formats including British Sign Language ( BSL), braille, easy read, Gaelic and Scots.

1.44 Some respondents also restated the importance of the Charter being enforced and delivered in practice, and hoped that it would not simply pay "lip service" to the principles.

"We feel strongly that any 'Charter' is implemented on a mandatory basis - it should not become a worthless, voluntary option which simply hangs on the wall and is forgotten."
Glasgow Disability Alliance

"The rights and responsibilities of any Charter would have to be backed up by legislation to give them legitimacy and 'teeth'."
Bobath Scotland

1.45 A few respondents pointed to the Charter of Patient's Rights and Responsibilities as a good practice example.

Question - On whom would you place a duty to abide by the principle that claimants should be treated with dignity and respect? If someone else, please specify.

Table 1.3 On whom would you place a duty to abide by the principle that claimants should be treated with dignity and respect?
  A. Scottish Government B. Scottish Ministers C. Chief Executive of the Social Security Agency D. Someone else Selected more than one option  
Respondent group Number % Number % Number % Number % Number % Total
Individuals 46 41% 14 12% 31 27% 19 17% 3 3% 113
Organisations 24 26% 23 25% 9 10% 16 17% 20 22% 92
All respondents answering 70 34% 37 18% 40 20% 35 17% 23 11% 205

Note: A full breakdown of responses by respondent group is included in Annex 2 (available to download separately as part of this publication).

1.46 205 respondents answered the closed part of this question. Views were mixed. The largest proportion (34%) believed the duty should be placed on the Scottish Government. A substantial minority (20%) suggested the duty should be placed on the Chief Executive of the new social security agency. Others supported duties on Scottish Ministers (18%), or someone else (17%). 11% of respondents chose more than one option - with just over half of local authority respondents taking this approach.

1.47 When offered the opportunity to specify what they meant by 'someone else', 115 respondents made further comments (40 individuals and 75 organisations). Most of these respondents argued for all of the agencies identified in the options to be held responsible, or an even wider group.

"This should be a duty on everyone involved in designing and delivering the social security system in Scotland."
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

"Only by ensuring that the duty falls on everyone can we change the culture around claiming for benefits to fit in with the key principles of fairness, dignity and respect that the Scottish Government have outlined."
MND Scotland

"We believe that the duty must be wider than simply on the Scottish Government and its Ministers, although they should have the final duty to ensure that the duties are enforced."
The National Carer Organisations

1.48 Some respondents specified that staff delivering social security services had an important duty to abide by these principles as they deal with social security service users on the ground, on a day-to-day basis.

"Everyone but basically by the staff charged with dealing direct with claimants - this is where the direct negative effect on claimants lies and is all too prevalent."
Aberdeen Action on Disability

1.49 A few respondents commented on the need for:

  • responsibilities to be clear, and for a clear line of accountability;
  • legislation to recognise these responsibilities;
  • an arm's length inspectorate, governing body or commissioner; and
  • regular monitoring and evaluation to ensure the principles are being upheld.

Question - Do you have any further comments on placing principles in legislation?

1.50 116 respondents answered this question. 57 were individuals and 59 were organisations. Respondents commented widely and reiterated earlier points around who should be responsible and accountable for ensuring that the principles are upheld.

1.51 The main themes emerging were:

  • embedding the principles in legislation would ensure that they are enforced and would hold those responsible accountable; and
  • utilising legislation and a Charter would ensure that the principles are enforced but also accessible.

Fixing the principles in legislation

1.52 Many respondents repeated that they felt the principles should be fixed in legislation, with some commenting that the principles should be embedded into service delivery and should be legally enforced.

"Placing principles in legislation would mean that those key principles can be enforced in case of bad practice and people's rights can be protected. We agree with the point that legislation may be more complex to understand but would argue that it is the government's remit to ensure that information is accessible to all on what the legislation guarantees and what to do when services are not delivered."
Down's Syndrome Scotland

"The principles will need to be brought to life and promoted throughout the service and beyond."
Disability Agenda Scotland ( DAS)

1.53 Those in favour of legislation felt that it would be more clearly defined than a Charter, less open to interpretation and less likely to be affected by political turbulence. A few also noted that the legislation should be written in such a way that it would be protected from being altered or potentially overturned in the future.

"Legislation is more defined, everyone knows where they stand and the Scottish Government and Ministers are more accountable to the Parliament and people of Scotland."

1.54 The issue of accountability was raised by a few respondents who felt that legislation would ensure greater accountability but that the appropriate procedures for monitoring and evaluation needed to be in place for this to happen, and for the legislation to be enforced.

A combined approach

1.55 Some felt that legislation alone would be insufficient to ensure that the principles were delivered in practice. They felt that it should be strengthened and complemented with elements such as a Charter, social contract and code of practice and training for delivery staff.

"Concepts such as 'treated with dignity and respect' can be open to interpretation and would be difficult to define in law. However, placing some overriding principles in legislation would add weight and purpose to the Charter."
Scottish Borders Council

1.56 In particular, a few respondents were keen that there should be a clear procedure in place if the system failed and people's rights (as laid out in the Charter and legislation) were breached.

"Initiatives, campaigns, training, and policies will have to support the legislation and a robust system for redress should also be put into place for individuals who feel they have not been treated with dignity, respect, and fairness."
Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights

Wider issues

1.57 A few respondents commented on the need for any legislation to take a human rights, welfare rights, person-centred and assets based approach. They felt this would ensure that the rights and needs of individuals are fully accounted for and that the social security system is positive in outlook, focusing on attributes rather than deficits.

1.58 A few commented on the potential for legislation to bring about a wider cultural change with regards to social security and correspondingly, the need for cultural change in order for the legislation to be effectively put into practice.

Question - Do you have any further comments or suggestions in relation to our overall approach, to fix our principles in legislation? For example, do you feel that there is no need to fix principles in legislation?

1.59 111 respondents commented on this question (54 individuals and 57 organisations).

1.60 The main themes emerging were:

  • the principles need to be fixed in such a way that they are both enforceable and accessible;
  • a Charter provides accessibility and flexibility;
  • legislation provides enforceability and accountability; and
  • a hybrid of both Charter and legislation could be a suitable approach.

1.61 Overall, respondents supported the general approach. A large number of respondents reiterated the need for the principles to be fixed in legislation. Some explained that they felt this way because legislation was more likely to be enforceable and would ensure accountability. A few restated their preference for both a Charter and legislation.

"It is vital that principles are fixed in legislation to offer protection to the most vulnerable."

1.62 The few who said they were not in favour of legislation preferred a Charter as they felt it was more accessible. However, a few noted that a Charter was only preferable provided that the principles could be enforced through it.

1.63 A few local authority respondents noted that although they agreed with fixing principles in legislation, some of the concepts such as 'being treated with dignity and respect' could be subjective and so might be difficult to define.

1.64 A few respondents also reiterated the need for:

  • independent scrutiny and regular reviews of the social security legislation;
  • language to be clear, accessible and reflective of the principles; and
  • legislation taking a person-centred, rights-based, human rights approach.


Email: Trish Brady-Campbell

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