- 18 Dec 2017
Welcome and minutes
The group agreed the minutes of the last meeting without any amendments.
Item 1: Scottish Government update
Social Security Legislation Update
The Scottish Government provided an update on the Social Security Bill and its expected timeline highlighting, the key points where engagement from stakeholders will be possible. For example, the Social Security Committee may be holding themed evidence sessions during October. The Bill will provide the framework for each benefit and for applications, decisions, appeals etc. The Bill will give Ministers powers to pay the BSG to parents and people who are responsible for a child, who meet the eligibility criteria. Regulations will provide the detail of the eligibility e.g. qualifying benefits, residence and the other rules around the benefit. In primary legislation only, the BSG will be known as Early Years Assistance, as it cannot be called Best Start Grant for legal reasons.
Update on the Best Start Grant
The Scottish Government provided an update on the Best Start Grant including the recent statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities who announced on 31 May 2017, that the Best Start Grant would be the first new benefit to go live by Summer 2019. An update was provided about the timescales for illustrative regulations and members were advised of the progress regarding options being considered around integration with Healthy Start Vouchers, eligibility criteria and development of the application process and form.
Update on other Scottish Government Policy
The Scottish Government then provided an update regarding Healthy Start Vouchers including proposals on the use of a smart card, and continuing work on the alignment of eligibility of the Best Start Grant and Healthy Start Vouchers and the potential removal of the requirement for a health practitioners signature to allow for online applications.
It was highlighted that the ‘Drivers and Barriers to uptake of Early Learning and Childcare amongst 2 year olds’ report was published in March 2017. This report looked at the take-up of eligible two early learning and childcare places. It found that the main barrier to take up is awareness levels and made a series of recommendations to the Scottish Government including using data from the DWP to target awareness raising campaigns. This report can be found on the Scottish Government Website. An Action Plan for The Expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland - 2017-18’ which takes into consideration the findings of this report was published at the end of March and can also be found on the Scottish Government website.
It was noted that the Baby Box registration will open on the 15th June 2017 for babies born on or after the 15th August.
Service Design Update
The Scottish Government gave a brief update on the work on-going in regards to service design for the Best Start Grant. This included an update on the user research sessions which had been conducted with parents and practitioners over the last few months. This has helped improve the understanding of different customer journeys and allowed the Scottish Government to test some early prototypes of the application process.
The Scottish Government asked for members to send over details of any groups who might be willing to be involved in user testing as the service design work continues.
Item 2: Findings from subgroup and discussion
Draft BSG Narrative & proposed Application Windows
The Scottish Government fed back on some of the work taken forward with the sub group of the Reference Group. This included a brief introduction to the Best Start Grant narrative. The aim of the narrative was to describe the aims and outcomes of the Best Start Grant. It will act as the starting point for work on communications and engagement around the BSG.
There was discussion about the outcomes that the Best Start Grant sought to achieve. The importance of making links to other programmes and how the BSG could support those was highlighted. However there was debate about whether the BSG narrative should focus on general poverty alleviation and financial wellbeing or more specific outcomes with some members arguing that health practitioners who would be asked to promote BSG would be more comfortable with encouraging health and educational outcomes than with more general poverty focused agendas. The importance of linking the BSG narrative with the broader language used in the new Scottish Social Security powers was noted including the importance of highlighting the rights based approach.
It was highlighted that the narrative for each payment needed to be strong to ensure effective communication and to ensure that it wouldn’t be confused with other support available.
The Scottish Government will consider these suggestions and redraft the BSG narrative.
The group had a general discussion about the proposed application windows for each payment and there was general agreement with the recommended application windows that had been developed with the short life working group.
In addition it was suggested that parents with children who are eligible for Early Learning and Childcare places at 2 year olds should be targeted to increase uptake and that the nursery payment window should be wide to ensure that you are reflecting that children start nursery at different ages. However, it was noted that long windows could result in a lack of clarity regarding when a payment is available and potentially other practical issues.
Responsibility for a child
The group then moved on to discuss eligibility for the Best Start Grant in terms of who is responsible for the child and the points agreed by the sub group on this. There was agreement that the person receiving payment should be the person who is responsible for the child. The group then had a brief discussion regarding the best method of checking this. It was broadly agreed that retaining the current method of child benefit would preferable but that this might not be suitable for all applicants and that some other options would need to be considered such as court orders. Where there is a court order establishing responsibility, this would take precedence over child benefit receipt in determining responsibility. It was agreed that other methods of identifying responsibility might have unintended consequences. Child Tax Credit often experiences delays in assessment of eligibility. As the system develops, Scottish Government officials will continue work to explore this issue.
Payments Recognising a Change in Responsibility for the Child
The group then moved onto a discussion of situations where more than one payment of the grant might be appropriate. In general, issues raised reflected the discussions at the sub group meeting on this. There was general agreement that a second payment should only be made when responsibility for a child changes. This linked to the discussion on responsibility for the child. It was noted that, if you have wide application windows, this may lead to there being a higher number of changes of responsibility that need to be taken into account. The number of payments might be limited to two in these situations. In addition there was agreement that the Scottish Welfare Fund not the BSG should support families dealing with a crisis or an emergency situation.
There was a further discussion on reducing the age of what is considered a second or subsequent child in the household from the current age of under 16 to either under 10 or under 5. The baby box will meet immediate needs for new parents. The majority of the group supported reducing the age limit to 5, if funding for this change could be secured, as it was argued that equipment would not necessarily be safe or suitable after more than 5 years and that many families would be unable to store equipment for a baby for that long due to their housing circumstances. It was highlighted that reducing the age also acted as a good proxy to ensure that blended families were supported without undue complications.
In line with discussions at the sub group, there was also general agreement that, if affordable there should be differentiated payments in cases of multiple birth to acknowledge that multiple birth occur additional costs.
The Scottish Government will reflect the views of stakeholders in policy consideration and feedback on final decisions.
Item 3: AOB and Next Meeting
The membership of the group was considered and it was suggested that Scottish Womens’ Aid should be included.
Scottish Government to contact Women’s Aid
The Scottish Government will be in touch with potential dates for the next meeting, probably early in the Autumn.
Attendees and apologies
- Anne Baldock, One Parent Families Scotland
- Jane Brumpton, Early Years Scotland
- Nicola Dickie, COSLA
- Evelyn Fraser, Scottish Women’s Convention
- Fiona McHardy, Poverty Alliance
- Kay McIntosh, South Lanarkshire Council
- Kerry McKenzie, NHS Scotland
- Emma Trottier, Engender – substituting for Alys Mumford
- Jackie Tolland, Parent Network Scotland
- Mark Willis, CPAG Scotland
- Usman Ali, Action for Children
- Roselyn Brag, Maternity Action
- Jackie Gibson, Child, Young People & Families Services, Dundee Health
- Eddie Fallon, Barnardo’s
- Vicki Crichton, Save the Children
- Kathryn Farrow, Early Years Manager (South), Education Services, Glasgow City Council
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