Best Start, Bright Futures - tackling child poverty: progress report 2023 to 2024

The second annual progress report for 'Best Start, Bright Futures: Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2022-2026'. Outlining action for the period 2023 to 2024.

Section 1 - Reporting on Progress 2023-24

The following section provides updates on the implementation of actions and their impact under nine thematic areas. Broadly aligning with the programme approach taken to delivery of Best Start, Bright Futures, these focus on:

A. Supporting parents to increase their earned incomes

B. Transforming our economy

C. Improving access to, and the availability of, childcare

D. Enhancing access to, and the affordability of, public transport

E. Person-centred support

F. Enhanced support through Social Security

G. Ensuring access to warm, affordable homes

H. Maximising income

I. Place based transformation

Brief updates on actions which are not included in these thematic areas are included in the ‘at a glance summaries’ in the third section of this report.

A. Supporting parents to increase their earned incomes

To enable parents to take up employment and progress within the labour market we must ensure they are equipped with the holistic support, right skills and confidence they need to sustain and thrive in employment. Through No One Left Behind, we are transforming Scotland’s devolved employability system to be more responsive in meeting the needs of people and local labour markets. We have continued to place people at the centre of the design and delivery of employability services, and as a result, continue to see an increase in the number of parents accessing this support. We have also committed to an ambitious programme of reform for education and skills in Scotland, placing tackling inequality at its heart and aiming to ensure learners can develop skills to enter and progress in good quality employment. By taking forward these actions, and working closely with partners, we will leverage further impact from our investments and help make the labour market far more accessible and sustainable for parents.

Impact summary

  • 4,748 parents were supported through No One Left Behind services between April and December 2023, with women accounting for 72% of parents accessing support across the reporting period.
  • Between April 2020 and December 2023, 26% of parents who had started receiving support entered employment, accounting for 3,583 parents, with a further 26%, accounting for 3,580 parents, entering a broader positive destination including education or training, work experience, volunteering, and gaining a qualification.
  • As of December 2023, of the parents that entered employment, 43% were in employment at four weeks, 43% at 13 weeks, 36% at 26 weeks, and 16% at 52 weeks.
  • Of parents supported through No One Left Behind since April 2020, 58% were lone parents, 23% were parents with three or more children, 18% were parents with a disability, and 16% were from a minority ethnic background.
  • Between April 2023 and December 2023, 1,917 parents accessed Fair Start Scotland support, representing 27% of all people accessing for the first time in this period. 578 job starts for parents were recorded over this period.

Summary of action undertaken in 2023-24

In 2023-24, we made almost £103 million of funding available to support the continued delivery of key employability commitments through the No One Left Behind approach, which includes Parental Employability Support, and Fair Start Scotland (FSS).

We are committed to employability services which reflect the principles of integrated support. To support this, we have provided funding for Employability Child Poverty Coordinators in each Local Authority area. These coordinators play an important role in increasing alignment between Local Employability Partnerships and the wider services parents often need to both enter employment and to increase their earnings through employment. To ensure that learning is shared, the Improvement Service have established a network to bring Child Poverty Coordinators together to consider parental employability across geographic boundaries and learn from each other. We will engage with this network to inform national policy and our overall approach.

Improvements have also been made to data collection and reporting processes to ensure a more accurate understanding of the reach and impact of our support for parents. This includes publishing information on outcomes and outcome sustainment rates for parents who have started work through our services. Following the closure of FSS to new referrals on 31 March 2024, the No One Left Behind approach is now the sole vehicle for devolved employability services as of 1 April 2024, reflecting our long-term ambition to simplify the employability landscape in Scotland.

Following an exhaustive review of options to deliver support effectively for parents, we confirmed that because of the devolved settlement and the Scottish Government’s powers, along with the interaction with reserved benefits, it is not possible to deliver the Parental Transitions Fund as originally envisaged. Despite this, we have continued to work with key partners, including Local Authorities and the Improvement Service, to deliver on the fund’s ambitions and to improve the uptake of support available to parents. Through engagement with HMRC we secured agreement that payments made by Local Authorities to parents starting work would be exempt from tax and national insurance considerations. This ensures that parents receive the full benefit of financial support offered by Local Authorities, from their own resources. We published guidance for Local Authorities to operationalise the exemption, with changes coming into force from 1 April 2024.

In collaboration with key partners, we are taking a strategic approach to tackling child poverty through the NHS Anchors Workforce Workstream. In the past year we have been working to improve the collaboration between Local Employability Partnerships and Health Boards, with a focus on reducing barriers to accessing opportunities in the sector and to drive the development of earn as you learn access and progression opportunities. NHS Boards were required to develop Anchor Strategic Plans by October 2023. Baseline metrics on Anchor activity were subsequently submitted to the Scottish Government which included capturing information on employability programmes and target priority groups, including the six priority family types at greatest risk of poverty. As they are Scotland’s largest employers, we are committed to supporting Health Boards to strengthen their impact on tackling child poverty in Scotland and to developing this work in the years ahead.

The publication of Fit for the Future: developing a post-school learning system to fuel economic transformation and the development of the Purpose and Principles, sets out the framework and initial priorities for decision making on post-school education, skills and research. The work to develop a Lifetime Skills Offer and Adult upskilling and reskilling offer has now been incorporated into the longer-term programme of reform of post-school education. The evidence gathering phase of the work has been completed and a paper bringing together the full evidence and related source documents has been prepared for publication.

We have committed to working collaboratively with employers, learning providers and others to tackle skills gaps, strengthen regional skills planning, and continue to adapt the education and skills system so that it is more agile and responsive to our economic needs and ambitions. The Review of the Skills Delivery Landscape identified that there should be clear and consistent opportunities for employer engagement and leadership across the system, and we are engaging with employers to identify the future role they can play not just in skills planning, but in several aspects of the system. Key priorities within our reform programme include ensuring that people are supported throughout their learning journey, particularly those who need it most, and that learners have access to holistic, person-centred support.

We have also realigned our focus on Adult Learning, incorporating this into the Community Learning and Development (CLD) workforce development fund. Through this fund, £600,000 was made available for youth work and adult learning organisations for the purpose of workforce development.

In December 2023, a short and focused independent review of CLD in Scotland was announced. The independent review will examine the extent to which CLD is delivering positive outcomes for some of Scotland’s most vulnerable learners and marginalised groups. The review recommendations are expected by the end of June 2024. Implementation of the Adult Learning Strategy has been paused until such time as the future shape and strategic orientation of CLD is considered.

Priorities for 2024-25

  • We will ensure that our employability services’ spending plans prioritise front line services.
  • We will explore opportunities to leverage employability funding and services to support addressing workforce challenges in other sectors which may create barriers to parents moving into employment, such as childcare.
  • We will also continue to invest in Employability Child Poverty Coordinators in each Local Authority area, with the aim of extending reach by supporting the integration and alignment of wrap-around services for parents.
  • We will work to progress our commitment to future multi‑year funding for No One Left Behind to provide much needed certainty to the sector and for the people accessing our services.
  • We will continue to work with Local Employability Partners to implement practical and deliverable approaches to increasing awareness, uptake and support. This will include scaling the use of peer-to-peer support in our services, and exploring more effective referrals between public services that parents are already accessing.
  • Overarching objectives from the Adult Learning Strategy will continue to be built into ongoing work on CLD. This includes preparing Strategic Guidance to help inform the development of statutory Local Authority three-yearly CLD Plans, which are due in September 2024.
  • Consideration will be given to further CLD workforce development funding. This will be subject to analysis of the 2023-24 fund outcomes being positive, budget availability and compatibility with the review recommendations.

Case study: No One Left Behind

Marc is a single parent and lives with his two daughters. Due to his disability and unsuitable working conditions, Marc had to make the difficult decision to leave his previous employment, leaving him out of work since January 2023.

In July 2023, Marc was referred to the Perth and Kinross Council Futures for Families service, delivered as part of the No One Left Behind approach. The service, which is joint funded by Perth and Kinross and the Scottish Government, offers a tailored package of support to eligible parents with the aim of securing well paid, highly skilled employment.

Marc had experience as a Hygiene Supervisor and in a variety of hospitality roles. Future for Families worked with him to build a CV and assisted him with job applications to help him find something more suitable for his needs. With this support, Marc began volunteering at the Strathmore Community Hub in Coupar Angus in August 2023.

During this time Marc worked primarily in the kitchen, preparing meals for community lunches and themed evenings. He also helped the Community Hub to set up a new library. Marc has nerve damage in his hand and the Community Hub have always been very accommodating of this, including ensuring that his workload doesn’t involve any heavy lifting tasks.

Marc managed to create excellent relationships with staff members and other volunteers. The Community Hub were so impressed with his enthusiasm and work ethic that they wanted to offer him a part time role as Community Hub Cook.

The Community Hub successfully applied for financial support though the Future for Families Parental Employer Recruitment Incentive, which covered 50% of Marc’s wages. He officially started his new role at the beginning of December 2023.

With the support provided by Future for Families, Marc’s confidence has grown and he has managed to secure employment which works for him and his family.

B. Transforming our economy

This year we have continued to make progress towards delivering the actions in the National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET), contributing towards alleviating poverty through a stronger, growing Wellbeing Economy. We know that for work to offer an effective route out of poverty, we need a labour market that provides good and sustainable jobs that are accessible to all; offering the wages, hours and conditions needed to allow parents to support their families, regardless of gender, race or disability. To drive forward the change needed in our economy we have continued to take action to promote fair work practices and tackle workplace inequalities through our leadership as an employer, public procurement policy and Fair Work Action Plan. This has been further strengthened through our engagement with business and implementation of the Community Wealth Building approach.

Impact summary

  • In 2023, 89.9% of employees aged 18 and over in Scotland earned at least the real Living Wage (rLW) compared with a UK wide figure of 87.1%, making Scotland the highest paying nation by rate across the UK.
  • In 2023-24 over 6,700 employees were uplifted to payment of at least the rLW, with over 600 additional employers accrediting in that year.
  • From April 2024, all employees over the age of 18 earning the rLW in Scotland will be paid at least £12.00 per hour. This is £3.40 per hour higher than the National Minimum Wage for 18-20 year olds and £0.56 per hour higher than the National Living Wage for those aged over 21.
  • 88.5% of women (employees 18+) earned above the rLW in Scotland in 2023, more than the proportion of women in the UK overall (84.6%).
  • The Gender Pay Gap for full-time employees in Scotland was 1.7% in 2023 (a reduction from 3.7% in 2022), compared to 7.7% for the UK as a whole. For all employees (full-time and part-time) the Gender Pay Gap was 8.7%, which compares to 14.3% for the UK as a whole.
  • The Disability Employment Gap in Scotland was estimated to be 31.9 percentage points in 2022 and we remain on track to meet our commitment to reduce the gap to 18.7 percentage points by 2038.
  • Up to 100,000 staff working in social care, children’s services and delivering early learning and childcare will benefit from the uplift to at least £12.00 per hour in 2024-25. This is an increase of more than £2,000 a year for some staff, with women accounting for 96% of the childcare workforce.
  • Our approach to Public Sector Pay has resulted in Scotland’s public sector workers earning around 6% more than in the rest of the UK.

Summary of action undertaken in 2023-24

Building on action taken in previous years, we have continued to take steps to improve pay and working conditions for employees across Scotland. Between April 2019 and March 2023, Fair Work First principles were applied to around £4 billion worth of public sector funding, helping to drive fair work practices across the labour market. From 1 July 2023, we have further strengthened our Fair Work First grant conditionality, requiring all public sector grant recipients to pay at least the rLW, which is independently calculated based on the cost of living, and to provide appropriate channels for effective worker voice.

Complementing this approach, we have continued to support the Poverty Alliance and Living Wage Scotland to deliver Living Wage and Living Hours Accreditation. Six hundred employers became rLW accredited in the past year across Scotland, bringing the total to over 3,500. Between April 2023 and March 2024, 34 employers were accredited to Living Hours, bringing the total number of accredited employers to 53 since the scheme launched. This includes the Scottish Government, which became the first national administration in the UK to become accredited in November 2023. Engagement is targeted towards low pay sectors, including Social Care, Agriculture, Hospitality, Tourism and Retail.

We have also provided additional funding to enable childcare workers delivering funded early learning and childcare (ELC) in private and third sector services to be paid at least £12.00 an hour from April 2024. We published joint guidance with COSLA to support this commitment, which is backed by £16 million of investment in 2024-25. This commitment will support the delivery of a high quality early learning and childcare experience for all children, and ensure that workers delivering the funded childcare entitlement within the sector are enabled to receive payment of at least the rLW.

To work toward reducing child poverty through income from work and earnings in the public sector, we implemented the 2023-24 Public Sector Pay strategy. This continued to support payment of the rLW across the devolved public sector in Scotland, and further strengthened our approach by extending the application of this payment rate to internships and modern apprentices. The strategy also directed greater support to those on the lowest pay, with a suggested cash underpin of £1,500 for public sector workers who earn £25,000 or less, paid timeously to minimise the impact receiving backdated pay can have on benefits. In line with our commitment to promote wellbeing in the workplace and a healthy work-life balance, the strategy also sets the requirement for employers to work towards standardising to a 35 hour week, a shift which could benefit working parents and families.

To further increase our own impact as an employer, in March 2024, we commenced an equal pay audit to examine pay gaps by gender, disability, race and age within the Scottish Government. This will help us to identify which marginalised groups are facing the most significant barriers in progressing within our workforce.

Best Start, Bright Futures highlights the importance of a strong labour market that offers fair, flexible employment to our goal of tackling poverty. In addition to our focus on driving improvements in pay and conditions we have continued to implement the wider commitments set out in our Fair Work Action Plan to tackle workplace inequalities and promote flexible work. In January 2024, we published a Fair Work Evidence Plan, setting out the approach we will take to monitoring and evaluating the delivery of actions and to enhancing data and evidence to inform future policy development.

The ten Workplace Equality Fund projects funded with £592,000 in 2023-24 tackling structural inequalities in the workplace reached their planned conclusion. The projects supported employers to address longstanding barriers facing groups within the labour market. Four projects focussed on disability and accessibility and three on race, whilst others focussed on gender, menopause awareness and age inclusion.

To support employers across Scotland to adopt flexible working practices we provided funding of over £153,000 to flexible working experts Flexibility Works. We also continued to invest in the Apt Public Social Partnership (PSP), which worked with employers to help them improve their ability to attract, recruit and retain disabled people. In addition, we have delivered a Fair Work social media campaign to promote the benefits of Fair Work to employers, using messages crafted by employers. We worked with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to widen the reach of our Fair Work messages to employers across Scotland.

The New Deal for Business Group (NDBG) report recognises the role of business in Scotland’s transition to a Wellbeing Economy and, in taking forward its recommendations, we have engaged extensively with businesses and employers to inform future policy options to address structural barriers to work, including in relation to flexible working. Evidence indicates that workers in low income households are less likely to be able to work flexibly and that workers in low earning households, especially women, are most likely to drop out of the workforce if they cannot work flexibly. Improving access to flexible working is an important means to help people balance work with caring responsibilities, health conditions or disabilities.

To enable further action on fair work and maximise the impact of public investment across our local economies, we facilitated deep dive workshops in partnership with The Democracy Collaborative. Held in Summer 2023 these were designed to support Local Authorities and their partners to develop their Community Wealth Building (CWB) strategies and action plans. We also engaged with the Poverty Alliance to reflect the views of those with lived experience of poverty, to further support and develop CWB policy and forthcoming legislation on this important issue.

Priorities for 2024-25

  • We will continue delivering NSET and responding to changes in economic circumstances and opportunities, with emphasis on prioritising interventions which have the greatest impact on driving a fair, green and growing economy.
  • We will continue to work across government to align interventions and services that provide support to people who need it to get into, and stay in, work.
  • We will continue the roll-out of rLW and effective voice conditionality in grants across the public sector.
  • We will evaluate Fair Work First and funded projects to date to inform our approach for the future.
  • We will work towards our aim of increasing the number of workers in Scotland paid at least the real Living Wage by a further 5,000 through accreditation and increase the number of Living Hours accredited employers by at least 20, including by continuing targeted engagement with employers in low pay sectors.
  • We will continue to work with COSLA and Local Authorities to identify approaches to monitoring national delivery of the £12 per hour pay commitment for childcare workers delivering funded ELC in private and third sector services.

C. Improving access to, and the availability of, childcare

In 2023-24 we have continued to work towards the vision set out in our Strategic early learning and school age childcare plan, building on our offer of 1140 hours of high-quality funded early learning and childcare and working to develop a further expansion of the childcare available to families, with a focus on supporting low income families and eradicating child poverty. In October 2023 we published our School Age Childcare Delivery Framework, which sets out our vision to build a system of school age childcare, and the people-centred and place based approach we are taking to design and deliver it. The work undertaken in 2023-24 and beyond with Local Authorities and our other partners will allow us to create and test, for the first time, what an all age childcare system will look like for Scotland.

Impact summary

  • Estimates show that, in September 2023, 97% of three and four year olds and 52% of eligible two year olds were registered for funded early learning and childcare. If families paid for this offer themselves it would cost more than £5,500 per eligible child per year.
  • Around 1,700 low income families were provided with funded school age childcare through our Early Adopter Communities and Access to Childcare Fund projects, offering a range of services with different levels and types of support available to suit the needs of families.
  • Evidence from the Access to Childcare Fund projects and the Early Adopter Communities has shown that low income parents and carers would be unable to sustain work or increase their hours without access to subsidised or funded school age childcare.
  • Our funding to 25 football clubs provided over 2,700 places per week to primary school children from low income families to access before and after school and holiday clubs through our partnership with the Scottish Football Association.
  • The delivery of summer programmes for targeted low income families provided a range of food, activities and childcare options in the summer holiday period across all 32 Local Authorities.

Summary of action undertaken in 2023-24

We are committed to expanding funded childcare to help eradicate child poverty and we are going as far and as fast as budgets allow in very challenging financial conditions. In 2023-24 we continued to invest around £1 billion to fund the delivery of 1140 hours of high quality funded early learning and childcare for all three and four year olds, and those two year olds who need it most. In parallel, we undertook important policy development work to ensure we can take an evidence-based approach towards expanding provision for two year old children.

To help understand current provision and challenges that need to be addressed we published new research mapping early learning and childcare for one and two year old children across Scotland, with additional research undertaken with stakeholders and childcare providers within four Local Authorities as part of this project. We also asked Public Health Scotland to review existing evidence on formal childcare for children under three and associated developmental outcomes.

Alongside this, we have taken steps to improve what we know about uptake among those two year old children who are already eligible for funded early learning and childcare. This includes establishing a digital platform for Local Authorities to access lists of households in their area that meet eligibility criteria. From this data, we have produced local and national estimates of eligible two year olds, providing us with a picture of uptake on a national level for the first time.

The data tells us that there is room for improvement, with 52% uptake nationally of funded places for two year olds, and with considerable variation in rates across councils in Scotland. This insight has allowed us to offer targeted support to Local Authorities through the Improvement Service. We also worked with the Children and Young People Improvement Collaborative to publish a two year old uptake support pack aimed at supporting these efforts.

Childminders are an essential part of the childcare sector, offering a high-quality, nurturing experience to children of all ages. We have seen a decline in the childminding workforce over recent years and have therefore continued to fund innovative childminder recruitment pilots. These are co-ordinated by the Scottish Childminding Association and are aimed at supporting new childminders into the profession. Over £180,000 was provided in 2023-24, both to support existing pilot recruitment schemes and to develop a new three year programme of work to grow this essential part of the workforce by 1,000 by 2026-27, as well as addressing issues impacting the retention of existing childminders. This programme will launch in 2024.

In 2023-24 we have continued our work to develop a system of school age childcare, backed by £15 million of investment announced in April 2023. Our person-centred, place based approach to the design and delivery of services ensures that we continue to co-design the system with the people who use it. In June 2023 we published our National Children’s Charter for School Age Childcare, created in partnership with A Place in Childhood and reflecting the views of children from a diverse range of backgrounds across Scotland. Insights from this and our other engagement with children, parents, and carers, especially those with lived experience of poverty, have been incorporated into a set of design principles that reflect the vital role that childcare has in supporting families. This includes delivering support to families when they need it most through preventing a crisis or helping them in difficult times. These principles will guide and inform our direction and prioritisation going forward.

In addition, we have continued to work with regulators, stakeholders and the providers of school age childcare and organised activities services across Scotland to identify the key challenges facing the sector. By working directly with providers, we are aiming to develop solutions which will best support a range of sustainable school age childcare services now and in the future. Effective workforce planning and innovative thinking around qualifications, quality and standards is critical to delivering these new childcare offers, and we continue to work closely with our partners across the sector, including the regulatory bodies, to get the design, development and delivery of these policies right.

We have continued to learn more about which approaches are most effective through our ongoing support for projects in the Access to Childcare Fund, which have delivered funded school age childcare places to nearly 1,100 children. On 6 October 2023 we published an evaluation report which noted that every project had contributed to parents being able to start, maintain or progress their career, or engage in training. The key factors in this were flexible timings that could fit around parents’ work hours and the affordability of services, which made working a financially viable option for parents. These projects have been specifically aimed towards groups most at risk of living in poverty, for example families with a parent or child with a disability.

We also expanded our Early Adopter Communities to include Fife and Shetland in 2023-24, joining Dundee, Clackmannanshire, Glasgow and Inverclyde, which have supported over 600 children and their families through provision of accessible, affordable before and after school clubs and holiday childcare. In these communities, the six priority family types are used as a lens to ensure that support is targeted where it can be the most impactful, while allowing providers to be flexible in their approach. This has led to different strategies being taken at a local level to meet the diverse needs of children and families, including work to support kinship carers, families who have experienced trauma, students, and refugees. Scoping work has begun in the Fife and Shetland areas to understand the supply and demand within specific rural and deprived areas for funded school age childcare.

Working at a local level has improved our understanding of the complex challenges communities and families face and has allowed us to test a range of different service types to take account of specific circumstances and needs. The Early Adopter Communities were deliberately aligned with tackling poverty Pathfinders in local communities in Clackmannanshire, Dundee and Glasgow, enabling us to learn more about how to take an integrated approach to public services such as childcare, employability and family support to maximise outcomes for target families.

Supporting our targeted approach, in May 2023 the £4.5 million Inspiring School Age Spaces Capital Fund was launched to deliver improvements to the learning estate to support provision of before and after school and holiday clubs within some of Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities. Projects across 19 Local Authorities, including partnerships with private and third sector childcare providers, were funded. We also provided a further £4 million of investment to support continued delivery of summer programmes for targeted low income families, providing a range of food, activities and experiences for children as well as providing summer childcare options for families across all 32 Local Authorities.

In partnership with the Scottish Football Association, in 2023-24 we provided £2 million of investment to fund the Extra Time programme. This is funding local football clubs and trusts across some of Scotland’s most deprived communities to provide sports and activity clubs around the school day and during the holidays, with a key focus to support parents and carers from low income families to access employment, training or study. The project has funded 25 football clubs across Scotland, and to date has delivered over 2,700 places to targeted primary school children per week. This support not only provides much needed childcare options for families but also reduces inequalities for children from low income households in accessing a range of activities both during term-time and in the holidays.

Participating football clubs have been asked to engage with their communities and work with local partners to identify those families who are most in need. As well as focusing on the six priority family types at greatest risk of poverty, there is a particular focus on delivering activities to those who will benefit most within communities, including referrals from schools, and particular children in need, for example refugee children.

Priorities for 2024-25

  • We will start work to develop a national offer for more families with two-year-olds, focusing on those who will benefit most. We will engage with our partners in the ELC sector and with academics to build on our early insights work and further develop the evidence base for the new offer.
  • We will continue to design and build a system of school age childcare that supports children and families.
  • Our six Early Adopter Communities will expand scoping and delivery and will, for the first time, start to consider what local systems of childcare could look like for all families with children of different ages.
  • We will start to design and prototype a digital childcare service which will reduce the access and financial barriers target families experience when navigating the childcare system.
  • We will continue to fund the Extra Time programme, with the Scottish Football Association expanding delivery and increasing the number of clubs working in deprived communities to provide free or low cost childcare options through activity club provision for over 3,000 children from low income families each week.

Case Study: Extra Time Programme

In September 2023, the Extra Time Programme - a Scottish Government funded project in partnership with the Scottish Football Association - was launched, supporting 25 clubs across Scotland to deliver before, after school and holiday clubs.

This enabled Hibernian Community Foundation to deliver The Ron Gordon Extra Time project, designed to support families living in poverty in Edinburgh, by offering fun, safe and rewarding physical activity for children as well as providing parents with practical support to enhance their employment opportunities.

By the end of March 2024, 83 children had been supported by attending after school sessions with Hibernian Community Foundation. These include both sport and social activities, as well as a two-course hot meal and access to additional education and wellbeing resources.

Parents are also benefitting by being offered a break from caring roles, supporting their mental health and wellbeing and giving them the space and time to pursue employment or additional training. Since the programme started, 75% of parents participating stated that they had either been able to increase their current working hours or gain employment as a result of their child accessing an Extra Time place.

Kirsty, whose daughter Summer took part in the programme, told us about the impact that this support had for her:

“The Extra Time Programme has allowed me to stay at work for longer, meaning I am not having to rush away early to be home for Summer coming in from school - this has enabled me to increase my income by doing more hours at work.

It has also allowed me more personal time to keep active, attend the gym and do some online training courses. For Summer, it has meant she has made lots of new friends from different schools - which has been incredible for her - and I have seen a huge increase in her confidence.

Summer has also learnt new skills, particularly football, and she has a new love for it resulting in us now attending all Hibernian Women’s home matches as a family.”

Through working with local schools and delivery partners in City of Edinburgh Active Schools, Hibernian Community Foundation have been able to target this offer to families who are most at risk of, or who are living in, poverty, ensuring that they are supporting those families who really need it.

D. Enhancing access to, and the affordability of, public transport

In March 2024 we published the Fair Fares Review, which has considered the cost and availability of public transport across Scotland and set out the short and longer term actions we will take to ensure a sustainable and integrated transport system for the future. With the knowledge that affordable transport is an essential lifeline for people on low incomes to access employment and services, this work to set the overall direction of public transport in Scotland has been carried out with the goal of poverty reduction in mind at every stage. Actions taken in 2023-24, and our ambitious projects in the years to come, will ensure that families across Scotland will have access to secure, affordable public transport that supports them towards the best possible outcomes.

Impact summary

  • Between January 2022 and March 2024, over 130 million free journeys have been made by under-22s through the Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme, representing significant cost savings for children and young people.
  • As of March 2024, 727,000 children and young people were registered for free bus travel through the scheme, a 20% increase in cardholders from March 2023.
  • Children and young people made 7.1 million free bus journeys between the 1st and 31st of March 2024, a 13% increase on same period in 2023.
  • Evaluation data published in December 2023 found increasing numbers of young people are travelling by bus, with over a third of cardholders accessing new opportunities and families reporting cost savings as well as reduced worry and anxiety relating to travel.
  • The scheme has had significant financial benefits for young people and their families, with analysis from the Child Poverty Action Group estimating this could mean a saving of £3,300 for families by the time each child turns 18.
  • 2,166 free bikes were provided to allow children who may not be able to afford one to access cycling through the Free Bikes Partnership Fund in 2023-24.

Summary of action undertaken in 2023-24

Across the reporting year we have continued our commitment to deliver free bus travel for eligible groups, including all children and young people under 22 years old and people with disabilities who are eligible. Backed by investment of over £300 million, this meant that over 2.3 million people could access free bus travel, helping to improve the affordability of public transport and connecting people to the services and opportunities they need to thrive. Work also continued on policy development to consider the best way to provide free bus travel to people seeking asylum, including delivery of the one year £2 million funding commitment for 2024-25 that was announced in October 2023.

As part of evaluating our concessionary travel schemes, on 14 December 2023 we published a summary report which looked at the first year of the Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme. The outcomes tracked within this showed good progress across almost every category, with more young people using the bus service to travel and having improved access to employment, education and leisure services as a result, as well as building awareness of public transport as a viable travel option.

We’ve also been supporting young people to travel by bike, with £900,000 of funding in 2023-24 for the Free Bikes Partnership Fund. Delivered by a third sector partnership chaired by Cycling Scotland, this initiative takes a local approach to ensuring that young people who may not otherwise be able to afford it can access cycling through the offer of a free bike. Cycling is not only a healthy leisure activity for young people, but also provides the freedom for them to travel where this might not otherwise be possible. This allows children and young people to access support both from services and their own support network of family and friends.

To inform the work of the Fair Fares Review, we commissioned the Poverty Alliance to recruit a Citizen’s Panel of public transport users with lived experience of poverty to share their views and help us to shape the actions we take forward to meet their needs. Their report shows participants strongly felt that as people in low income families are the most likely to rely on public transport, it was essential that voices such as theirs were heard during the review. They identified safety, reliability, affordability, accessibility, integration and a focus on supporting people on low incomes as key areas where policies should be focused on making improvements.

The actions set out as a result of the review are intended to address those concerns, as well as driving greater use of the public transport system. This includes a commitment to maintain eligibility for the existing National Concessionary Travel Scheme and ambitious actions to ensure a sustainable and integrated approach to public transport fares that supports the future long term viability of a public transport system that is accessible, available and affordable for people across Scotland. In line with this approach, consultation on our Islands Connectivity Plan took place between 1 February 2024 and 3 May 2024, supported by the publication of our Strategic Approach and Vessels and Ports Plan. The views submitted to the consultation will help us to ensure that we meet islanders’ high expectations of transport services, supporting them to access employment and services through improved connectivity.

In October 2023 we introduced the ScotRail Peak Fares Removal Pilot, providing off-peak rail fares from ScotRail services, thereby allowing people to use rail to travel to employment or other services at a reduced cost. Now extended until September 2024, the emerging findings from this pilot have already helped to inform the findings of the review and the data collected will inform our next steps on future rail reform.

Work on the delivery phase of the next generation of digital travel systems commenced in 2023-24, focusing on engagement, design, data management and technical assurance. Some enhancements are already delivering benefits for customers, with improvements made to the real time information provided by smaller bus operators. As this project enters the live phase in 2024-25, travellers will be able access more accurate and extensive public transport and travel information in Scotland. It will improve journey planning and provide enhanced information on fares, accessibility and emissions, enabling people to plan journeys according to multiple factors and building the public’s confidence in using our transport system.

We launched the Community Bus Fund in September 2023 to support local transport authorities to explore new options available as a result of powers coming into effect in December 2023 as part of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. In 2023-24, this included £750,000 of resource funding to support ten pathfinder projects to investigate different ways that these powers could be used to improve bus services. An additional £5 million in capital funding was allocated to Local Authorities to improve local bus services, with the distribution of funds based on levels of transport poverty and greater levels of support provided for rural areas facing unique challenges.

Acknowledging the support that existing Demand Response Transport schemes provide to people in rural areas, we have continued to engage with stakeholders around the potential for these to meet future transport requirements in Scotland. This includes considering the financial arrangements for bus and other public transport services, as well as technology advancements such as dynamic digital booking platforms. We invested £2 million in five pilot projects to test Mobility as a Service in Scotland, with Demand Response Transport forming part of this approach. Evaluation of these projects will conclude in 2024-25 providing the evidence for future policy and investment, with the outcomes and recommendations from Collaborative Mobility UK’s (CoMoUK) “Digital Demand Responsive Transport – for a low-carbon, connected Scotland” report being considered as part of this work.

Priorities for 2024-25

  • We will develop a proposal for a bus flat fares pilot for an area-based scheme to provide flat fares on bus travel, or reduced fares on zonal integrated travel for consideration in future budgets.
  • We will develop proposals to provide free foot passenger travel on inter-island ferries for under 22-year-old island residents within the Outer Hebrides, Orkney, and Shetland Island groups, and to extend the existing National Ferry Concessionary Scheme to under-22-year-old island residents.
  • We will monitor and evaluate the ScotRail Peak Fares Removal Pilot, now extended until September 2024, which will inform medium to long term rail fares reform.
  • We will consider options, and develop the business case, for introducing a national and/or regional integrated ticket and fare structure, with publication of a refreshed Smart & Integrated Ticketing Strategy Delivery Plan in 2024.
  • We will develop a bus service improvement plan and delivery framework over the next 18 months to improve future availability of bus services across Scotland, in partnership with Local Government, industry and other stakeholders.
  • We will maintain existing eligibility to the National Concessionary Travel Schemes for those groups who currently benefit and undertake further policy development to consider better targeting of public funds towards supporting access to public transport for those who need it most, including those experiencing poverty.
  • We will consider options for a national bus or multimodal travel scheme and fare structure which could encourage more people to use bus and the wider public transport system, particularly when commuting.
  • Work will continue on policy development to consider the best way to provide free bus travel to people seeking asylum, including delivery of the one year £2 million funding commitment for 2024-25 that was announced in October 2023.
  • We will begin the roll out of new travel information services as part of the next generation of digital travel data systems, with the project entering the live phase.

Case Study: Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme

Launched in January 2022, the Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme gives access to free bus travel to all young people resident in Scotland aged between 5 and 21 years old.

The Year 1 evaluation of the scheme showed us the impact of this support, with over two thirds of young people surveyed telling us that the scheme had allowed them to travel and do more without an adult. The scheme also reduced pressure on household outgoings and improved access to services for young people, as well as opening up social, educational and employment opportunities.

Ewan, a young person who volunteers with Young Scot, told us about what free bus travel had meant for him and other young people:

“For me, it’s improved many areas of my life – for work, I’m now able to travel quickly from home to my job without having to ever pay a fare.”

“I’ve also seen the impact on young people generally – many more young people have used transport services, and the cost has been driven down to travel to school, work, or for social events.”

Haleema, 13, told us about the opportunities that free bus travel opened up for her:

“Now I don’t have to worry about the cost of the bus, it’s going to make a huge difference on how much I can see my friends. Plus, I’m going to have more money to spend on doing stuff when we hang out.”

“Being able to travel on a bus for free means I have a bigger choice of where I apply for college or uni in the future. It’ll also leave me more money to spend on accommodation or going out with new friends.”

Free bus travel helps to ensure equality of opportunity for young people in Scotland, enabling them to make the most of opportunities and building life skills, confidence and independence.

We know that young people from low income households are more likely to travel by bus, and that travel costs can be a significant barrier to accessing opportunities and socialising with friends.

With the Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme, we are breaking down that barrier and helping to ensure that all young people are given the opportunity to thrive.

E. Person-centred support

In 2023-24 we have continued to support the transformation of services to be more holistic and person-centred, which enable families to access all the financial, emotional, and practical assistance required to meet their needs. Our approach is further strengthened by our Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy, published in June 2023, which sets out our priorities for ensuring a holistic approach when accessing mental health support. Taking forward the priorities identified in this strategy, together with the actions committed in Best Start, Bright Futures, will allow us to better support families, and ensure that they get the right support at the right time.

Impact summary

  • Our Year 1 evaluation of the Whole Family Wellbeing Funding (2022-23), published in January 2024, told us that some local areas have begun to establish or scale up family support services. Some areas have also aligned the Funding with other funding streams, for example to establish governance groups or review existing contracts.
  • Monitoring and reporting data from year two (2022-23) of the Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund showed that, of projects that responded, 24% were supporting people from at least one of six priority family types at greatest risk of poverty, with around half of projects including a focus on addressing poverty and inequality.
  • Over 3,000 young people across 83 schools have been supported by more than 2,500 volunteer mentors through MCR Pathways’ school-based mentor relationships and group work. Interim qualitative findings from the programme suggest that participation increases young people's social confidence and wellbeing and supports increased attainment.
  • As of January 2024, 71 out of 80 eligible general practices in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board area had voluntarily participated in Inclusion Health Action in General Practice (IHAGP).
  • Involvement in the IHAGP programme has generated 7,000 extended consultations and outreach appointments with patients at high risk of poor health and over 200 patients engaged with through community and other groups and over 200 staff were trained in themes related to health inequality and trauma-informed practice.

Summary of action undertaken in 2023-24

As part of our commitment to support whole system transformational change and a shift toward prevention, in 2023-24, we continued investment in the Whole Family Wellbeing Funding (WFWF) programme by distributing £32 million across all Children’s Services Planning Partnerships (CSPPs). This investment has afforded CSPPs the autonomy and flexibility needed to tailor whole family support activities to local needs and to align them with their broader children’s services planning work. In agreement with COSLA, revisions were made to the funding methodology for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 financial years to better reflect the number of low income families living in each Local Authority area and to distribute funding more fairly.

Alongside the work led by CSPPs, we have continued our cross-government approach to delivering system change, with 12 projects being funded across Government (e.g. Health and Social care, Early Learning and Childcare) which support test of change in various aspects of holistic family support, helping how families are supported through services. We have also maintained a package of activity aimed at supporting local transformation through collaborative learning partnerships between 3 CSPPs - East Ayrshire, East Lothian and Glasgow City - and a dedicated national support team to accelerate plans and provide local learning that can be shared nationally. Our Learning into Action (LiA) Network continues to allow members to collaborate, facilitate peer support, share learning and approaches from across the country, and supports solution-focused discussions around the barriers to whole system change.

Demonstrating our commitment to continuous improvement of the support provided to CSPPs, our Year 1 process evaluation of the Funding, supported by comprehensive stakeholder engagement allows us to generate learning about how transformational capacity is built, whilst we continue our engagement on the investment approach going forward.

In recognition of the importance of a multi-agency approach to support individuals from young adulthood to end of life care, we have continued to develop our Getting It Right for Everyone (GIRFE) approach alongside place based pathfinders across Scotland. In Summer 2023, as part of the discovery phase of the co-design process, we listened to people with lived experience – focusing on a range of people including those in addiction services, people registered at deep end GP Practices, young people in transition from Getting It Right for Every Child and families with complex needs. Following this, 145 person-centred journey maps were submitted into the GIRFE process by pathfinder teams, helping to inform the prototype testing stage in local areas to be taken forward in 2024-25.

Building on the £36 million invested across 2021-23, we invested a further £15 million for a third year of our Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund for adults. We published an independent evaluation of Year 1 of the Fund in July 2023, alongside Year two impact data. We also ensured that the National Fund Guidance for Year three highlighted the importance of considering the six priority family types at greatest risk of poverty, and we placed a requirement on Third Sector Interfaces to provide details of this target group in their end of year monitoring reports. This information will be available later in 2024.

Following the publication of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy in June 2023 we published a new action in the Delivery Plan and Workforce Action Plan in November 2023. The action plan outlined our commitment to work collaboratively to improve access to support, assessment and treatment in primary care mental health and wellbeing services. This includes the development of multi-disciplinary teams in general practice, and maximising the role of community mental health teams, digital provision and NHS 24 to make access simpler and quicker, aligning care and quality with the GIRFE principles. In alignment with this action, we are developing a programme of work to scope broader reform across general practice and community mental health settings. We have also taken a number of steps to provide support for children, young people and families, including investing £15 million per annum in children and young people’s community-based support across all Local Authority areas.

In support of our commitment to scale up approaches focused on improving the outcomes of disadvantaged children and young people, we have continued to support MCR Pathways to deliver its school-based mentoring programme. Focused on care experienced young people and young people at risk of care or experiencing other forms of disadvantage, the programme is supporting young people’s educational outcomes, wellbeing and broader life chances. We invested over £2 million in the programme in 2023-24, allowing its delivery in 83 schools, including 15 new schools. Independent evaluation of the programme has continued, and work is underway around quantitative impact and a value for money assessment.

To support care experienced people, we have continued to invest in programmes through the Promise Partnership Fund with 42 projects receiving funding in 2023-24. This funding round covered a longer period of 18 months following feedback from participating organisations, and had a specific focus on workforce, supportive school structures and youth justice rights.

We have also continued our commitment to establishing focused services to support families through recovery. In the last year we have supported the national specialist families service, Harper House, to develop pathways into the service nationally, to ensure that anyone who requires support is able to access it. Following the opening of a house in Aberlour in January 2023, specifically designed to support women and their children through recovery, we have continued to support the charity to open a second service, located in Falkirk, later this year.

In addition, we have invested a further £1 million in ‘Inclusion Health Action in General Practice’ (IHAGP), targeting funding and support to general practices that serve communities with the highest levels of poverty and disadvantage in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board area. Building on the progress since the programme launched in 2023, this funding has enabled practices to deliver outreach and extended consultations, community engagement, and ensure staff have the skills, knowledge and confidence to help tackle health inequalities.

Across all of our grant making processes we have continued to explore the ways in which a Fairer Funding approach can be implemented. Uncertainties around budgets have made elements of this implementation difficult, however aspects of grant making such as reviewing grant conditions and proportionate reporting have seen progress this year, which is reflected in 2024-25 grant offer letters. Further, in collaboration with Third Sector infrastructure organisations SCVO and Evaluation Support Scotland, we commenced work to review the Principles for Positive Partnership to ensure they remain relevant to the sector’s needs. It is anticipated this updated guidance will be published in Summer 2024.

Priorities for 2024-25

  • We will publish our Whole Family Wellbeing Investment approach to supporting the provision of preventative, holistic family support. We will also publish the Year two evaluation findings to ensure a wider coverage of the programme and assess its contribution to the short-term outcomes of the Fund.
  • We will launch a WFWF commissioning and procurement project which aims to provide a clear evidence base on which improvements can be considered and agreed in relation to the effective commissioning and procurement of family-based support services.
  • We will continue to deliver learning and networking support for practices participating in IHAGP and will publish findings from monitoring and external qualitative evaluation by June 2024.
  • We will build on the achievements of the first full year of IHAGP in Greater Glasgow and Clyde and develop a new monitoring and evaluation plan, including considering how to capture information about families impacted by IHAGP.
  • We have committed a further £15 million investment in the fourth year of the Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund for adults which means we have made £66 million available since 2021. We will continue to monitor the Fund’s progress in addressing mental health inequalities, including those associated with poverty.
  • We will continue to explore how we can apply all principles of Fairer Funding across Third Sector and Government
  • The GIRFE pathfinders will continue to test prototypes. Pathfinders will come back together in June 2024 to make sense of their findings and agree what should become a part of the National GIRFE toolkit.

Case study: Whole Family Wellbeing Funding (WFWF) collaborative learning partnership with East Lothian Children’s Services Planning Partnership

Through the WFWF programme we are supporting CSPPs to provide flexible locally focused approaches, whilst also promoting wider transformation. We have established collaborative learning partnerships with three CSPPs, including East Lothian, and a dedicated National Support Team to accelerate plans by working with the teams to develop their knowledge and capacity to approach change and provide local learning that can be shared nationally.

In East Lothian, WFWF has enabled a change and practice team to be established. The team are working collaboratively with the WFWF National Support Team, comprising of Quality Improvement advisors from the Children and Young People Improvement Collaborative and the Active Implementation Science lead from CELCIS, with additional support from researchers and Collective Leadership from within Scottish Government. Through this partnership, the team are developing their knowledge and skills in supporting their change work, which is enabling sustainable improvement to deliver the right changes for families, communities, and those delivering support. The support provided has included a variety of facilitation, teaching, mentoring, and coaching around change methodologies to support improvement work, data and social research support, participation, community engagement and leadership.

This work is anchored by strategic alignment across the CSPP and within the East Lothian Childrens Services plan 2023-2026, with the intention of further supporting connectivity across all levels of work. East Lothian have also expressed interest in increasing their use of data to develop measures and indicators which will help the partnership to better understand how well they are improving outcomes for people and intervening at an earlier stage.

East Lothian have also directed their Funding to test their approaches to transformation. This has enabled East Lothian to supplement a team of Family Outreach Workers across the locality, with focused change work in the two local communities of Fa’side and Dunbar. The team provides tailored support to help families deal with some of the challenges that come with daily life through building strong relationships based on families’ specific needs and circumstances, working with families to understand what matters most to them.

WFWF support has enabled East Lothian to start to build on their understanding of what it takes to achieve change across different levels, from practice learning through to strategic partnership decision making and the direction of resources, which will be shared across partnerships to promote national improvements.

F. Enhanced support through social security

Social security is a critical part of our efforts to eradicate child poverty in Scotland and we have continued to build a system that is effective in delivering vital financial support to families when they need it most. Although key benefits like Universal Credit remain reserved to the UK Government, we are using the powers and budget available to us to ensure that the essential safety net of social security is as robust as possible. We have continued to improve and expand the support delivered, while ensuring that the core values of dignity, fairness and respect inform every aspect of social security assistance in Scotland. As a result, our total investment in social security benefits and payments rose to an estimated £5.3 billion in 2023-24, over £890 million more than was received from the UK Government for social security, demonstrating our commitment to tackling poverty.

Impact Summary

  • As of 31 March 2024, 329,055 children were in receipt of the Scottish Child Payment, with almost £430 million paid to families in 2023-24. An estimated 60,000 children will be kept out of relative poverty in 2024-25 due to this support.
  • Between April 2023 and March 2024, £35.1 million has been paid to clients for Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods.
  • As of 31 December 2023, it is estimated that 75,935 children and young people were in receipt of Child Disability Payment and £309 million in payments had been issued in 2023-24.
  • As of 31 January 2024, 192,575 people were in receipt of Adult Disability Payment and £654 million in payments had been issued in 2023-24.
  • As of 31 March 2024, a total of 30,400 Child Winter Heating Payments had been issued for Winter 2023-24 with a total value of £7.2 million.
  • As of 31 March 2024, a total of 417,885 Winter Heating Payments had been issued in Winter 2023-24, with a total value of £23 million.
  • In 2023-24, over 170,000 Carer’s Allowance Supplement payments were made, an investment of over £46 million supporting over 93,000 carers.
  • In 2023-24 we made £83.7 million available to Local Authorities to spend on Discretionary Housing Payments, including £6.2 million to mitigate the UK Government’s benefit cap as fully as possible within devolved powers, supporting over 2,500 families with over 8,900 children. In Scotland, 99% of all households affected by the benefit cap are families and 74% are lone parent families.
  • Between 1 April 2023 and end February 2024, Local Authorities had spent £44.6 million on Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) Grants. Around one third of households receiving an award have children.
  • Free school meals were provided to all 277,632 children in primaries 1-5 and in special schools, as well as eligible pupils from P6 through to S6, saving parents who take them up an estimated £400 per eligible child per year.
  • Analysis published by the Chief Social Policy Adviser shows how social security spending is supporting policies aimed at reducing child poverty and material deprivation.
  • The Chief Economist published figures estimating that spending on social security could deliver a £300 million boost to Scotland’s economy over the short term.

Summary of action undertaken in 2023-24

To ensure that the value of support keeps pace with high levels of inflation, from 1 April 2023, all Scottish benefits were increased in value by 10.1% at a cost of around £430 million in 2023-24, with the exception of the Scottish Child Payment, which increased by 25% in November 2022 to £25 per week per child.

Scottish Child Payment remains one of the most important anti-poverty measures we have introduced. In 2023-24 the number of children being supported continued to grow, reaching an all-time high. In their December 2023 forecast, the Scottish Fiscal Commission (SFC) estimated a take-up rate of 97% for under-6s and 86% for children aged 6 and over in 2024-25. We remain committed to continually increasing take-up among eligible families.

To further strengthen the support offered by our five family payments, we took steps to expand Best Start Foods by removing income thresholds for all qualifying benefits from February 2024. The SFC have estimated that an additional 20,000 pregnant women and young children are now eligible. This support helps to ensure that healthy and nutritious foods are available at a critical time, with the payment being available as soon as a woman knows they are pregnant. Following a further increase in the value from 1 April 2024, together our five family payments of Scottish Child Payment, Best Start Foods and the three Best Start Grant payments could now be worth over £10,000 by the time an eligible child turns 6, and around £25,000 by the time they turn 16.

As part of the ongoing rollout of Scottish social security benefits, Carer Support Payment launched in November 2023, becoming the latest of 14 Scottish Government benefits, with a pilot in three Local Authority areas ahead of a national roll out by Autumn 2024. Once available across Scotland it will expand access to up to 1,500 carers in full-time education who are currently unable to get Carer’s Allowance, as well as being designed to offer an improved experience including providing information to help applicants access wider support.

The launch of Carer Support Payment is also one area where our ongoing work towards automation in the social security system has made a difference. Automatic decision making was applied for straightforward applications where the outcome was positive, meaning quicker decisions and payments as well as additional resources for client advisors to focus on complex cases. In addition, 2023-24 was the first full year of Best Start Grant: Early Learning Payment and School Age Payment being awarded automatically to eligible families in receipt of Scottish Child Payment without the need to apply. This has streamlined the application process and helped to further ensure that people receive the support they are entitled to. Statistics published in November 2023 highlighted the impact of automation, with take-up of School Age Payment reaching 97% in 2022-23, up from 77% in the previous year.

As people continue to feel the effects of an unprecedented cost of living crisis, it has never been more important that those who need support can find out what benefits are available, and are able to access them easily. In line with our Benefit Take-Up Strategy, in 2023-24 we undertook a range of activities including media campaigns, roadshow events and the provision of targeted stakeholder information in order to raise awareness of the benefits available. Additionally, in 2023-24, over 3,700 people with disabilities were supported by the Social Security Independent Advocacy Service, delivered by VoiceAbility, ensuring independent support is available to access social security benefits.

Responding to feedback, and to ensure that people receive support when they need it most, we undertook work in 2023 to deliver on our post-launch commitment to bring forward scheduled payments of Winter Heating Payment. We succeeded in delivering earlier payments for Winter 2023-24, with those commencing in mid-December, significantly earlier than in the previous year. Our approach to Winter Heating Payment gives assurance to those who are eligible by providing guaranteed support each year during winter when bills are higher, with no need to wait to see whether specific temperatures are reached.

Progress is also being made on Scottish disability benefits, with the move to Child Disability Payment, which replaced Disability Living Allowance for Children, now complete following the transfer of over 47,000 awards. The safe and secure transfer of around 330,000 awards to Adult Disability Payment also continues as planned and is expected to be complete in 2025, with around a third of Personal Independence Payment awards having completed transfer as of 31 January 2024. Clients have spoken to us about the improved experience they have had upon moving their award, highlighting the differences in culture and improvements in the process of reviewing awards, including acknowledging that some conditions will not improve and acting proportionately.

In the last year, 93% of people who had been in contact with Social Security Scotland felt they had been treated with kindness, and 90% said their experience with staff was “very good” or “good”. To further ensure we continue to improve the way the Scottish social security system delivers for people in need of support, we introduced the Social Security (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill to Parliament on 31 October 2023. The Bill will make the Scottish social security system more efficient and effective, as well as enhancing the rights of people applying for and in receipt of benefits. The Bill will also enable us to deliver financial assistance to people with care experience through the delivery of the Care Leaver Payment, as part of our commitment to keep ‘The Promise’.

Between 3 November 2023 and 26 January 2024, we undertook consultation on the Care Leaver Payment, with the aim of ensuring the voices of those with experience of care and the people who support them were heard, as well as having the opportunity to shape this policy as it develops. The proposed one-off payment of £2,000 could reduce some of the financial barriers that young people leaving care face when making this important transition into adulthood. The engagement and responses received as part of this consultation process will inform our ongoing policy development, with an independent analysis of the responses to be published in Spring 2024.

We have taken action to make improvements to the Scottish Welfare Fund in light of the recommendations made within the independent review published in March 2023. Following engagement with stakeholders, we published our action plan in June 2023, setting out 22 actions across 7 themes from the review, and work is now well underway in putting these improvements into practice. This includes re-establishing the Practitioners Forum, which brings together representatives of all Local Authorities to improve engagement and share best practice. In 2023-24 we have also established a statutory guidance review committee which has representation from multiple stakeholders including Local Authorities, the third sector and other public agencies. The committee has a focus on ensuring that the statutory guidance is as effective as possible for both decision makers and the people that the Fund supports, with a programme of work approved until late 2024.

In addition, we have continued to work with Local Authorities to mitigate the UK Government’s benefit cap through Discretionary Housing Payments. Following consultation with Local Government partners, we published new guidance on 27 March 2024 to support mitigating the benefit cap as fully as possible through improved and more targeted support. From 1 April 2024, Discretionary Housing Payments will move forward as a fully devolved scheme, with an enhanced focus on supporting the six priority family types at greatest risk of poverty and meeting the needs of families at critical points in their lives.

The uptake of Free School Meals also continued to grow, with our healthy living survey in 2023 showing that a record high number of 231,957 free school lunches were provided to children and young people on survey day. We continued to work with Local Authorities towards the further expansion of Free School Meals throughout 2023-24, with this work focusing on planning and steps towards addressing the infrastructure and facilities required to deliver the expansion. Supporting this approach, in 2023-24 we also provided Local Authorities with £21.75 million to provide free school meals to eligible families on low incomes during the school holidays. This funding allowed Local Authorities to take a flexible approach, sensitive to local needs and circumstances, to ensure that eligible low income families received support during the holiday periods.

Priorities for 2024-25

  • We will invest £6.3 billion in benefit expenditure in 2024-25, £1.1 billion more than the level of funding from the UK Government for social security. This includes uprating all Scottish benefits by 6.7% from 1 April 2024, at a cost of around £370 million.
  • We will invest £457 million in the Scottish Child Payment, which we further increased in value to £26.70 per child, per week from 1 April 2024.
  • In 2024-25 we will invest £3.2 billion in Adult Disability Payment, £300 million more than we receive from the UK Government, reflecting successes in widening access and driving take-up of this support to enable more disabled people to live full and independent lives.
  • We will continue the roll out of Carer Support Payment across Scotland, with the new benefit available nationally from Autumn 2024. People in receipt of Carer’s Allowance will be transferred automatically, safely and securely, with all awards expected to be transferred by Spring 2025.
  • We will maintain the Scottish Welfare Fund at £41 million and, in partnership with Local Authorities and other stakeholders, progress with the implementation of our Action Plan in response to the Independent Review.
  • In 2024-25, more than £90 million will be made available to local authorities to spend on Discretionary Housing Payments. We will also continue to work with local authorities to share best practice and drive increased uptake.
  • We will make £43 million in capital funding and £6 million resource funding available in 2024-25 to support infrastructure development to deliver the expansion of Free School Meals to P6 and P7 pupils in receipt of the Scottish Child Payment.
  • We will begin distribution of a one-off emergency fund of £1.5 million to assist Local Authorities in removing the impact of school meal debt on families.
  • We will publish updated estimates of take-up rates for Scottish benefits in Autumn 2024, as well as reporting on the progress and future direction of our work to drive benefit take-up.
  • We will continue to develop the Care Leaver Payment with care experienced people and those who support them, this includes making key decisions on eligibility criteria and which organisation is best suited to deliver the payment.

Case Study: Impact of the five family payments

Our five family payments – Scottish Child Payment, Best Start Foods and the three Best Start Grant payments (Pregnancy and Baby, Early Learning and School Age) – support families with children on low incomes to ensure that their essential needs are met.

The interim evaluation of Scottish Child Payment published in 2022 highlighted how it had resulted in more money being spent on children, including enabling children to participate in social and educational opportunities. Parents told us that it had helped to reduce the financial pressure they face and the stress that this brings, as well as helping to manage unexpected expenses and avoid reliance on emergency food parcels. Evaluation of Best Start Foods found that it has also helped to ease financial pressures on households and enabled greater access to healthy foods.

Since these evaluations were published, we have increased the value of all our five family payments, and more than doubled the value of the Scottish Child Payment.

Jenna*, a mum of three, told us about how our five family payments had supported her family in the face of rising costs:

“I have two daughters and a son. I got Pregnancy and Baby Payment first and that opened the doors to getting other payments, including Scottish Child Payment.

That really helped me. It helped with shopping for food and milk, especially now when everything is going up.

It made a massive difference.”

Another mum, Erin*, told us about the impact that this support had for her family:

“Scottish Child Payment has been absolutely amazing.

Obviously with it being more than £100 that makes a big, big difference. We usually use it for shopping – just to get our food shop and things like that. So it does make a big difference in our lives.”

Social Security Scotland aim to make it as easy as possible for people to receive the support they are entitled to, with a single form used to apply for all of the five family payments. We also award Early Learning and School Age Payments to eligible families in receipt of Scottish Child Payment automatically as soon as their child is the right age for the payment.

* Name changed to protect identity

G. Ensuring access to warm and affordable homes

Access to a warm, safe and affordable home is fundamental to effectively tackling child poverty in Scotland. As families continued to face challenges in meeting the cost of rents and energy, due to the ongoing impacts of the cost of living crisis, we continued to provide support through an emergency rent cap (in place until 31 March 2024) and by tripling investment in the Fuel Insecurity Fund for 2023-24, alongside wider action to deliver more affordable homes and to tackle homelessness in Scotland. Through the recently introduced Housing (Scotland) Bill, we have brought forward ambitious measures to strengthen protections for tenants in the longer term. We will continue to work with the full range of stakeholders to ensure the powers in the Bill, if passed by Parliament, will be implemented in a way which ensures these reforms strike the best balance for Scotland to further progress toward the ambitions set out in Housing to 2040.

Impact summary

  • Between April and December 2023, an estimated 2,015 households with children were helped into affordable housing through the Affordable Housing Supply Programme.
  • In the same period, we delivered 6,045 affordable homes through the Affordable Housing Supply Programme, of which 4,358 were for social rent. We also approved 3,167 and started 3,412 affordable homes.
  • It is estimated that keeping social rents substantially lower than market rents benefits approximately 140,000 children in poverty each year.
  • Our £30 million Fuel Insecurity Fund at the height of the energy bills crisis is estimated to have supported up to 150,000 households, many including families with children.
  • The eligibility criteria for Warmer Homes Scotland (WHS) was widened in April 2023 to enable 225,000 more households to be eligible for the scheme. For the year 2023-24, phase one of WHS completed installations of energy efficiency and heating upgrades in 3,800 homes, for WHS phase two (October to April) 1,173 homes were supported. The average fuel bill savings for households was in the region of £580 per year for households in phase two.
  • The Warmer Homes Scotland end of year report for 2022-23 shows around 10% of applications to the scheme had 'Child under 16-qualifying benefits' as their lead eligibility criteria.
  • Over 450,000 households received support through Council Tax Reduction (CTR), saving recipients on average over £800 a year. Latest estimates suggest 98,000 households with child dependents received CTR as of March 2023.

Summary of action undertaken in 2023-24

Across 2023-24, the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Act 2022 continued to ensure most tenants had much-needed stability in their in-tenancy rental payments. With the emergency rent cap coming to an end from 1 April 2024 onwards, we temporarily modified the process for rent adjudication for one year to provide protection for tenants against high rent increases.

We remain committed to delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, of which at least 70% will be for social rent and 10% in in our rural and island communities, and made £752 million available in 2023-24 through our Affordable Housing Supply Programme (AHSP). We continued to work closely with partners to progress as many approvals and starts as quickly as was practically possible to ensure identified housing priorities were met, including the delivery of larger family homes where they were needed. This also included over £83 million of investment as part of the national acquisition programme to help Local Authorities and registered social landlords to acquire almost 1,500 existing properties to bring into use as affordable housing. In addition, we used more than £71 million of charitable bond donations to augment the AHSP budget and deliver social rented homes through housing associations. To the end of December 2023, we had delivered 17,619 homes towards the target with 13,483 (77%) of these being for social rent.

In October 2023, we published a Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan, supporting the delivery of the homes our rural and island communities need. The Plan sets out a range of actions including an almost £1 million package of support, co-funded with Nationwide Foundation, to underpin a delivery pipeline of community led housing supply in rural and island areas, and commits up to £25 million over the next five years to make affordable homes available for key workers in rural areas.

To improve the provision of accommodation for Gypsy/Travellers and support the development of learning to inform future provision for this community, we have continued to provide investment through the Gypsy/Traveller Accommodation Fund. In 2023-24 projects progressed across six Local Authority areas: Clackmannanshire, Fife, Highland, Perth and Kinross and South Lanarkshire. In February 2024 the first demonstration project completed in Aberdeen which replaced the existing site with larger, more flexible pitches, which means that larger families can be accommodated.

As statistics published across the year have shown, we know that far too many children and families are living in temporary accommodation in Scotland, and we remain committed to getting more families more quickly into affordable, settled homes. On top of funding for homelessness services provided through the Local Government settlement, and investment in Discretionary Housing Payments to prevent homelessness, we provided over £35 million for specific measures in our Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan. In addition, we published our response to the recommendations of the expert Temporary Accommodation Task and Finish Group. Key actions included providing targeted funding of £2 million to the Local Authorities with the largest percentage increases in temporary accommodation and working with social landlords to support them to maximise the use of existing housing stock.

To tackle the harm inflicted by the cost of living/energy crisis and help households at risk of self-disconnection or of self-rationing their energy use, we tripled the Fuel Insecurity Fund to £30 million in 2023-24. We utilised a proven delivery model to harness our established third sector partner network – including the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, Fuel Bank Foundation, and Advice Direct Scotland – to provide a direct lifeline for many thousands of households. This supported fuel vouchers, energy debt and energy saving advice as well as a holistic assessment towards wider additional support measures on a case by case basis. In addition, Energy Action Scotland received funding towards their core staff costs, as the only national charity with the sole remit in campaigning to end fuel poverty.

As part of our longer-term approach to tackling poverty and its causes, we made £5 million available from the Fund for the Wise Group to deliver one-to-one mentoring for households. Taking a holistic approach, this service was delivered across six Local Authority areas with the aim of supporting 3,000 households to meet their immediate needs and to connect with services which could help lift them out of poverty for good. Whilst there is no funding available for the Fuel Insecurity Fund in 2024-25, we will continue to work closely with partners on our shared ambition in progress with our statutory targets on both fuel poverty and child poverty in Scotland.

Alongside this temporary support, we relaunched the Warmer Homes Scotland scheme on 2 October 2023, with more funding and more help for households to receive a climate-friendly heating system. In addition to expanding eligibility in April 2023 to enable 225,000 more households to be eligible for the scheme, we significantly increased the maximum contract value for the scheme, to up to £728 million over seven years. These changes will enable more support to be provided to more fuel poor households over the scheme’s lifetime.

We recognise that longer term change is needed in our housing system and introduced the Housing (Scotland) Bill to Parliament on 26 March 2024. If passed by Parliament, the Bill delivers on our New Deal for Tenants and represents a package of measures that will help improve affordability, through implementing a national system of rent controls, alongside a range of other rented sector reforms. The Bill also contains new duties to make preventing homelessness a shared responsibility across the public sector, ensure earlier intervention and deliver greater choice and control for people at risk of homelessness – helping to shift the focus away from crisis intervention and towards prevention activity which can eliminate the need for a household to go through the trauma of homelessness in the first place. Together, these represent a robust package of additional rights and protections for tenants to improve their experience of renting a home, further strengthening our approach to housing in Scotland.

Priorities for 2024s-25

  • We will invest nearly £600 million in affordable housing in 2024-25, the majority of which will be for social rent, including supporting acquisitions of existing properties.
  • We have brought forward the review of the AHSP scheduled for 2026-27 to 2024, concentrating on deliverability of our 2032 target of 110,000 affordable homes. This is a focussed opportunity to reflect on the AHSP’s responsiveness, impact, cost effectiveness and efficiency and we have been gathering feedback on these themes from stakeholders.
  • We will continue to support the passage of the Housing (Scotland) Bill through Parliament, working with stakeholders including landlords, tenants, Local Authorities and third sector organisations to deliver a package of reforms which delivers effective change.
  • We will continue to support Gypsy/Traveller Accommodation Fund projects in 2024-25 with £6 million identified for the completion and evaluation of current projects consolidating progress on more and better Gypsy/Traveller accommodation.
  • We will invest up to £65 million in 2024-25 to provide heating and energy efficiency measures to eligible households.
  • We will make almost £35 million available for specific activity to end homelessness, in addition to funding provided through the Local Government settlement.

Case Study: Money Talk Team Service

Lorna* is a single parent with two young children and has a health condition which impacts her cognition, memory, understanding, vision and hearing. She was living with a partner who received Carer’s Allowance for supporting her, but who moved out. Lorna approached the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) for help with energy debt of over £1,000, which was accumulated when her energy provider increased the monthly payments to an unaffordable amount. Despite calling the provider, she was unable to reach a resolution with them.

Since the breakup with her partner, Lornas’s change of circumstances had not been appropriately registered, meaning her benefit entitlement was incomplete and incorrect. Furthermore, due to the complexity of her situation, Lorna’s income was made up of several benefits from different government departments, including Employment and Support Allowance. The Money Talk Team Adviser identified that further investigation and a strategic approach was required to enable Lorna to receive all of the support to which she was entitled.

Lorna’s Adviser successfully supported her to update her benefit claims and reduce deductions which were being taken for debt repayments. Her adviser also helped to secure a backdate for incorrectly paid benefits, worth £1,000, as well as the Severe Disability Premium, which enabled her to access extra support through Universal Credit. This resulted in Lorna’s weekly income more than doubling to over £288, in addition of receiving full support toward her housing costs.

While Lorna’s support with energy debt is ongoing with the bureau, they will support her to apply for grant funding to clear or reduce the debt and negotiate an affordable repayment plan.

The help received has made a substantial difference to Lorna and her family, helping to reduce the stress she experienced as a result of her energy debt, and increasing her income by around £8,000 a year.

*Name changed to protect identity

H. Maximising income

Advice services are critical to Scotland’s communities, supporting people to understand their rights and entitlements, maximising incomes and helping to reduce poverty. As the impacts of the cost of living crisis continue to be felt by families, income maximisation services have remained in high demand. We have continued to raise awareness as well as supporting the provision of accessible advice in a range of settings to ensure those who most need it most can receive all the support to which they’re entitled, at a time and place that suits their needs. We have also taken steps to strengthen the response provided to people in financial crisis through our Cash-First Partnerships, as part of our overarching ambition to end the need for food banks in Scotland.

Impact summary

  • In 2023-24 the Money Talk Team service supported over 35,000 clients, of which almost 8,000 belonged to one or more of the priority family groups. Overall, the service helped to achieve financial gains of £23 million, of which £6.3 million was achieved for those belonging to the priority family groups.
  • Advice in Accessible Settings Fund projects have supported over 4,000 clients and have helped to secure more than £5 million in financial gains for those clients, including over 1,000 lone parents and over 1,100 families where there is a disabled adult or child.
  • Over 64,000 people were helped to manage over £430 million of debt through our funding, with over £15 million in debt written off.
  • Initial findings in relation to the Welfare Advice and Health Partnerships (WAHPs) programme highlight that, between July 2022 and October 2023, services supported over 13,000 individuals to achieve a financial gain of around £17.9 million. 85% of users accessed advice services for the first time via the programme, with similar findings for each of the priority family groups. A fuller evaluation of the programme will be published later in 2024.
  • Over 600,000 people visited the Parent Club website, including over 67,000 people visiting the Money and Work pages. Parent Club social media posts reached almost 2.2 million people, directing them to additional support.
  • Almost £2 million of client financial gains were achieved through the Citizens Advice Scotland “cash-first” Crisis Response Pilot, with an average gain of £1,259 per person. 51% of shopping card and cash grant recipients were priority family groups.
  • 331 first time mothers aged 20-25 were enrolled into the Family Nurse Partnership programme. Across all age ranges, of those on the programme, around 1 in 5 mothers are care experienced and 72% are from the most deprived SIMD quintiles.

Summary of action undertaken in 2023-24

In 2023-24, we invested a further £12.5 million in free income maximisation, welfare and debt advice services to support a range of advice providers delivering telephone, web-based and face to face advice. This included ongoing support for the nationwide Money Talk Team service delivered by Citizens Advice Scotland and over £6.6 million for free specialist debt advice services. In addition, a further £2.3 million was allocated through the Legal Aid budget to support projects providing direct assistance and representation for people at risk of or facing court action related to debt.

Recognising that Council Tax debt is a significant issue that particularly affects the most vulnerable and has been exacerbated by the cost of living crisis, we launched a short-term pilot project in 2023-24 to deliver debt advice with an emphasis on Council Tax arrears. The pilot, running across three Local Authority areas, gives targeted advice on Council Tax debt within overall holistic support, as well as trialling initiatives and resources to support best practice principles in Council Tax debt collection. It will provide learning which can help to inform future practice on Council Tax debt collection as well as helping to build and strengthen relationships between Local Authorities and debt advice providers.

In line with our commitment to enhance access to advice and support, in places where families already go, we invested over £1.6 million in the Welfare Advice and Health Partnerships (WAHPs) ‘test-and-learn’ programme. This has continued to support the embedding of welfare rights advisors in 180 primary care settings, including GP practices, who provide regulated and accredited advice on social security entitlement, income maximisation, debt resolution and employability issues.

Building on the success of the WAHPs, we also launched a new £1 million Advice in Accessible Settings Fund in 2023. This fund supports advice providers to form partnerships with other services to increase the availability and accessibility of advice in a range of education, community and health settings. With a particular emphasis on providing advice to those who are traditionally hardest to help or who have not sought advice before, 24 projects have been funded across Scotland including projects with a focus on families.

Across 2023-24 we continued to work toward our ambition to expand the Family Nurse Partnership (FNP) to all first-time mothers aged 21 and under and to first time mothers aged 25 and under who are care experienced. While progress has been made, evaluation of capacity with Health Boards found a range of factors are inhibiting Health Boards from being able to expand support to the 20-25 age range. To protect the core programme, we are now prioritising mothers aged 19 and under, alongside Care Experienced mothers up to 25. Where capacity allows, Health Boards will also offer support to 20 and 21 year olds who are not care experienced, ensuring that as many first time mothers as possible can benefit from the support available.

We know that Health Visitors and Family Nurses have a key role in supporting families from birth to school entry and we remain committed to supporting more meaningful conversations around financial inclusion. Between September 2023 and March 2024, we worked with the Money and Pensions Service to pilot their ‘Money Guiders’ professional development programme. The pilot supported a cohort of Health Visitors and Family Nurses to develop the skills and confidence needed to discuss money worries and provide related guidance. We have circulated a survey to participants to understand their views of the pilot, with the findings informing decisions around a national roll out in 2024.

We also formed a short life working group to develop emergency integrated pathways for families in Scotland with an infant that may face food insecurity and what is available locally to them in an emergency. Following this engagement, we published the Guide to Responding to and Preventing Infant Food Insecurity Toolkit. This Toolkit provides local areas with the information they need to develop an integrated, cross-sector response to avoid health and wellbeing harm to babies.

Across 2023-24 we continued to raise awareness and ensure low income families are accessing all the support to which they are entitled through our communications activity. This included using social media, news and partnership activity to drive more parents to access our cost of living digital portal to inform and motivate parents to take up the help, advice and support available. Parent Club channels were also utilised to target parents and carers specifically, with social media activity used to communicate messages to support income maximisation, saving money and accessing work.

However, we know that despite efforts to tackle poverty, too many families are still reliant on crisis support to access food and essential goods. On 5 June 2023, we published our cash first plan towards ending the need for food banks in Scotland. The plan, which is the first of its kind in the UK, is underpinned by human rights and set out nine collaborative actions we will take across 2023-26 to improve the response to crisis, using a cash-first approach so that fewer people need to turn to food parcels.

Delivery of a range of actions commenced in 2023-24. This includes supporting new local partnership work to deliver cash-first with eight Partnerships successful in applying for the £1.6 million Cash First Fund. The wider Cash-First Programme includes support from a Learning Partner and robust evaluation, helping to inform local decisions and reviewing the impact of the Programme as a whole, with a final report anticipated in Spring 2026. We also supported a cash-first pilot with Citizen’s Advice Scotland and focused on making it easier to refer to cash-first support by funding the Independent Food Aid Network to increase the accessibility of information leaflets, and to work with partners to maximise their impact through earlier intervention points.

Additionally, to assess our existing understanding of seldom heard groups, we commissioned an external evidence review to identify additional groups at risk of marginalisation, and to examine barriers to accessing social security. We also commissioned Citizen Panel engagement by the Poverty Alliance to understand the impact of stigma on benefit take-up. Together with Social Security Scotland, we have since committed to developing a comprehensive seldom-heard groups action plan to address the findings and recommendations of this research – as well as outlining our approach to engaging more directly with seldom heard communities to understand their needs and working to ensure that these are met in the delivery of social security in Scotland.

Priorities for 2024-25

  • We will continue to support the provision of free to access income maximisation, welfare and debt advice with at least £12 million invested in 2024-25, supporting a range of organisations to provide free advice services across Scotland.
  • We will continue and expand the Advice in Accessible Settings Fund to further increase the availability and accessibility of advice services within a range of community, health and education settings.
  • We will evaluate the findings from the Money Guiders pilot and this will inform decisions around a national roll out of the programme in 2024.
  • We will continue funding for the WAHPs initiative to support participating Local Authorities and Health and Social Care Partnerships to mainstream the successful principles of the model.
  • We will continue to tackle food insecurity through activities linked to our cash-first Plan towards ending the need for food banks, supporting people now and generating robust evidence for what works to inform future policy development.
  • We will continue to deliver multi-stranded communications activity to support income maximisation.

Case Study: Citizens Advice Scotland Food Insecurity Pilot

As a result of Scottish Government funding, Citizens Advice Scotland were able to pilot a scheme where people in financial crisis facing food insecurity could access both immediate support in the form of shopping cards and cash grants to relieve the acute financial pressure, as well as personalised advice aimed at improving their overall situation.

Early evidence from this pilot show the approach was successful at meeting individual and immediate needs, providing a dignified response to a crisis situation while enabling access to long term support. Advisors were able to help their clients access social security benefits to which they were entitled as well as help with managing their debt, with this being written off entirely in some cases.

Jennifer*, was experiencing exceptional financial pressure while being on sick leave from work due to health issues. She lived with her partner Michael* and three young children, with their eldest daughter requiring full time care. The family were living on Michael’s part-time wages, child benefit, and statutory sick pay - which was due to end shortly – and had accrued multiple debts while Jennifer was off work. All of this had put them under exceptional financial pressure.

An Adviser from a Citizens Advice Bureau met with Jennifer and completed a benefit check to ensure that they were accessing all of the support available. This resulted in applications for income-related, disability and carer’s benefits in addition to benefits offered by Social Security Scotland for families on low incomes. The Adviser also referred Jennifer to a specialist Debt Adviser within the bureau, who helped her to put a plan in place to stop creditor harassment and begin making repayments.

Due to their imminent financial crisis, Jennifer was advised about the Scottish Welfare Fund and the CAB Adviser supported her to make an application for a Crisis Grant. In addition, Jennifer was provided with £125 of shopping cards, to provide immediate relief for the family while the Crisis Grant application is considered.

The advice received realised at least £26,700 of financial gains for the family. This was in addition to the valuable interim support provided by the Food Insecurity Pilot shopping cards which provided breathing space to get longer term support in place.

The family were relieved, as the advice and support received from the Citizens Advice Bureau allowed them to focus on their daughter's health, as well as their own. They are also less likely to experience debt again given the increase in income.

I. Place based transformation

Best Start, Bright Futures outlines our ambition to transform support services in Scotland to a more holistic model, tailored to individual needs, making it easier for people to navigate the support available thereby improving outcomes. Across 2023-24, we have continued to support the work of our third sector delivery partners in the Social Innovation Partnership, as well as further developing our place based collaborations in Clackmannanshire, Dundee and Glasgow, to drive forward change. While existing partnerships are in a limited number of areas, they continue to grow and learning is informing the expansion of the place based programme to reach more people in the years ahead. We have also continued to focus on improving the impact of action for rural and islands communities and have launched a new Child Poverty Practice Accelerator Fund to further strengthen local approaches to tackling child poverty.

Impact summary

  • In Glasgow, since the Pathfinder commenced in May 2022, 914 low income families have completed the Holistic Needs Assessment, which has benefited 1,863 children in or at risk of poverty. Of families accessing support, 65% were lone parent families and 37% minority-ethnic families.
  • Self-rated ‘concern scores’ for families accessing support in Glasgow showed a downward trend over the course of case management support, with improvements in relation to cost of living, employment income and mental health.
  • In Dundee, since October 2022, over 800 households have benefited from support from the Pathfinder, including long-term engagement, leading to 31 employment outcomes and 17 college starts.
  • In Clackmannanshire, the Family Wellbeing Partnership is supporting around 300 families and individuals with a range of integrated supports including employability and skills, education, childcare, financial inclusion, family support, housing and general wellbeing.
  • Social Innovation Partnership partners engaged around 3,000 people in 2023-24, delivering a range of outcomes including in relation to employability and skills, flexible childcare, and positive engagement with statutory services.
  • Findings from the evaluation of the Shetland Anchor project reflect the majority of service users were from low income families, and families experienced improved financial circumstances as a result of the intervention.

Summary of action undertaken in 2023-24

Across 2023-24, we have invested around £2.9 million from the Tackling Child Poverty Fund to support our place based collaborations in Clackmannanshire, Dundee and Glasgow and third sector delivery partners in the Social Innovation Partnership. These partnerships have continued to provide direct and immediate support for families in poverty by delivering person-centred, holistic services based around ‘no wrong door principles’, whilst also making progress towards transformational systems change.

These distinct, locally led collaborations have been delivered in partnership with the Scottish Government. They create transformational change by convening partners across sectors to deliver more cohesive and holistic services, enabling resources to be deployed flexibly to best support need as it is identified at the community and individual level, and identifying the barriers that we need to overcome collectively to enable service redesign to deliver preventative, person-centred support. Across the reporting year, action has taken place at operational, management and strategic levels to drive forward change.

In Glasgow, lessons from the first 18 months of delivery have provided insights into specific barriers to change, and Phase two of the Pathfinder is focusing on overcoming these barriers to deliver sustainable systems change. With a focus on 10 wards with the highest level of need, the Pathfinder is targeting families in deep poverty and those at risk of poverty. This is being supported by wide ranging work, including to improve data sharing, case management and funding flexibility. Action is also being taken to align city governance structures, to reflect the collaborative and collective responsibility that partners have in tackling child poverty. By enhancing connections across services families are already receiving more holistic and person-centred support, with the aim of moving increasingly towards prevention and early intervention as collaborative working is embedded and new approaches tested.

The Dundee Pathfinder has focused efforts on building greater connections to local services including services for housing, domestic abuse, crisis mental health interventions and emergency food/energy/clothing parcels, financial and employability support. This has been supported by a programme of values based leadership and community empowerment, designed and delivered in partnership with Columba 1400. By creating stronger relationships across the council and with other local organisations, families are able to access more services faster.

Whilst targeted outreach originally focused in the Linlathen area of the city, options to spread and scale the pathfinder principles across Dundee are being explored, including a targeted approach to families in the neighbouring Mid-Craigie area, and a test of change in Stobswell, in partnership with third sector organisations, which has a specific focus on engaging with families at greatest risk of poverty.

In Clackmannanshire, the Family Wellbeing Partnership (FWP) is driving transformation through more a holistic approach, shifting service provision upstream towards early intervention and prevention. The FWP is pursuing work around single outcome reporting, funding flexibility and different funding models to better support delivery of more person-centred, community-based support for families. Community voice and involving local people in services that directly affect them, sit at the heart of the partnership’s work. We have commissioned an independent evaluation of the FWP to better understand its impact at both a systems and delivery level, to help inform future policy decisions.

We also continued investment in our Social Innovation Partnership (SIP), making around £1.8 million available to 12 third sector partners who primarily work in communities where there are significant levels of poverty and related forms of disadvantage. Our third sector delivery partners have continued to deliver highly relational and person-centred approaches in some of our most disadvantaged communities, and their experiences, expertise and learning is helping to inform our ongoing place based programme.

We have sought to consolidate learning from across these partnerships to maximise impact across Scotland, as well as enable blockers to be removed and positively impact national policy. In November 2023, the second annual National Learning event for Tackling Child Poverty was held, which brought together cross sector delivery partners. Following the event, work has begun to establish Communities of Practice, providing a further space for colleagues to collaborate on shared delivery challenges.

Our approach was further strengthened with the launch of our Child Poverty Practice Accelerator Fund (CPAF) in July 2023, which aims to strengthen local delivery and accelerate local efforts to tackle child poverty. Applications were open to Local Authorities and Health Boards, with a total of £285,449 allocated to nine successful proposals from across Scotland in 2023-24, with a further £392,648 awarded in 2024-25 for the continuation of the projects. Grants were awarded to projects focussing on activity to improve whole systems and person-centred approaches, using data to better identify families and target support, and improving accessibility and uptake of income maximisation activity. We published details of all the funded projects, with a second round of the fund opening to applications in May 2024.

Alongside these approaches, we have continued to take action on the findings of our Rural and Islands Child Poverty research and invested a further £1 million in the Islands Cost Crisis Emergency Fund (ICCEF) designed to tackle the unique challenges faced by island communities. Since December 2022, this fund has provided £2.4 million to mitigate against some of the unique challenges faced by islanders, including a colder climate, higher fuel and energy costs, and reduced consumer choice. The three year evaluation of the Shetland Anchor project has now concluded, the success of which resulted in Anchor For Families being rolled out to the whole of the Shetland Islands. We also enabled the Improvement Service to establish a Rural & Island Child Poverty Networking Group, to ensure effort is targeted at those most in need in rural areas. In 2023, the group focused on data sharing and information exchange at local level and explored the use of personal data to identify households at risk of poverty.

Priorities for 2024-25

  • We will deliver an expansion to our place based programme by establishing partnerships with additional Local Authorities. These will build on the learning so far from the SIP and the current pathfinders, with the aim of reducing child poverty by embedding the principles of public service reform.
  • We will continue to develop and strengthen the learning network with cross-sector delivery colleagues across Scotland, via Communities of Practice, national learning events and other forums, including sharing any interim outputs from the pathfinder evaluation.
  • We will deliver a second round of our Child Poverty Practice Accelerator Fund, supporting more innovative projects and practice across Scotland.
  • We will continue to build on previous research and the outputs of the Scottish Rural and Islands Parliament by working with the Poverty Alliance to understand rural difference in experience across different policy and programme areas.
  • We will deliver an additional £1 million round of the Island Cost Crisis Emergency Fund to help communities tackle increasing costs. This will be distributed to the six island authorities, helping to tackle poverty.

Case study: Place Based approaches, improving outcomes today whilst shaping better systems for the future

Through our place based approaches, we are working in partnership to deliver better support to families in need and helping to reshape those support services to deliver more effective, sustainable support by design rather than exception.

In Dundee, keyworkers first engaged with Kelly*, a single mother of three children and with one child with additional support needs, through targeted home visits. Kelly was keen to get back to work but she was concerned about the cost of childcare.

Kelly received a ‘better off’ calculation at the weekly drop in centre and learned how much support she was entitled to from Universal Credit for childcare costs. The pathfinder is linked closely with the School Aged Childcare pilot in Dundee and Kelly was able to secure a childcare place for her primary school aged child. Kelly then felt confident that, with this support, working 20 hours a week would leave her better off which enabled her to get back to work.

With support from keyworkers, Kelly secured a role and after 6 months in post was offered a promotion. She said: “the support has changed my life; this has helped me not only financially but mentally too.”

In Clackmannanshire, Jana*, a mother to two young children with English as her second language, rarely left the house. Thanks to the greater integration of services that the Family Wellbeing Partnership is supporting, Jana was connected to a range of wellbeing and learning opportunities by her employability support worker. These allowed Jana to gain new qualifications and to take up a volunteering opportunity, before eventually moving into paid employment. Jana is now financially better off, has improved her English, developed relationships with peers in the local community, and is supporting others to take part in adult learning groups. 

In Glasgow, Maryhill Housing Association and Glasgow Helps were both testing a Customer Relationship Management system and through collaboration on the Pathfinder began to develop a section of the system together. This will enable tenant’s contact data to be shared, allowing advisors from both organisations to work together and saving the tenant having to repeatedly explain their situation.

This is the first step in exploring what a shared system could look like and is an integral element in the development of a No Wrong Door model. It provides the opportunity to identify and overcome barriers, shape a new culture and embrace new ways of working.

Dawn from Maryhill Housing Association said: “The Pathfinder has meant that we are able to test a process which could work for others in the housing and voluntary sectors. This could undoubtedly change the landscape for citizens, housing associations and advice services across Glasgow. Having access to one shared database would provide citizens a seamless service, without having repeat disclosures of abuse or sensitive information.”

* Name changed to protect identity



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