Designing the Social Security Charter: report on the first stage of work

This report outlines approach and findings from the first stage of work undertaken with clients and stakeholder organisations to design the new social security charter.

This document is part of a collection

5. Working with people with experience of social security: the findings

5.1 Introduction – the findings

This section covers the findings to date as a whole and in summary under the following headings.

5.2 Naming the charter – the findings

5.3 The charter length and format – the findings

5.4 The principles – the findings

5.5 Charter 'design checklist' – the findings

5.2 Naming the charter – the findings

During core group discussions on what the charter should be called seven names emerged and core group members voted for their preferred name. The clear preference of the core group was 'The Scottish Social Security Charter'. Table 1 outlines the names put forward by the group in order of preference.

Table 1. Naming the charter


Order of preference by core group

Scottish Social Security Charter


Social Security Rights in Scotland


Scottish Social Security Guarantee


Scottish Social Security Promise


Scottish Social Security Agreement


Scottish Social Security Standards


Social Security Scotland – Delivery guarantee


Scottish Government will use this name as a working title of the charter. Later in the process analysts will ask all Experience Panels members to vote on the name.

5.3 The length and format of the charter – the findings

Discussions about the length and format of the charter have run throughout the work to date. Ideas have been discussed and collected rather than decisions made. This is largely because, as the core group pointed out, it is difficult to decide how long a document should be without first deciding on its content.

That said, early conclusions on the length of the charter can be summed up by this quote; the charter should be 'not too long but not too short'. Discussions have focused on a short visual version and a longer version containing more detail.

Accessibility has been a key theme in the discussions on the length and format with both the core group and stakeholders. All participants agree that the charter should be in plain straightforward language, that the text should be concise with no long sentences, blocks of text or jargon.

Core group members thought the use of colour coding on the documents would be helpful, along with clear headings and a balance of text and pictures. They also discussed other formats they would like to see including a poster sized version, a cartoon version and an animated version.

It was very important to the majority of core group members that the charter used icons or drawings rather than photographs. There was a strong feeling that photographs came across as being actors and not 'real' people.

Core group members also talked about the tone of the charter, which they wanted to be 'positive' and 'friendly'. Further, they were keen to talk about dissemination being one of the most important aspects of having a charter. They named a long list of all public and third sector places where it should be made available. One particular quote was that the charter should be conspicuously placed 'right in the eye line' of social security staff that were dealing with people on a day to day basis. This quote reflects the group's view that the charter should be integral to the way that staff are trained and behave in practice.

5.4 The principles – the findings

The Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 requires that the charter reflects the eight principles set out in the Act (see Annex A for a list of the principles). As such it is key that the charter reflects the core group's understanding of the principles and what, in practice, the most important elements or aspects of the principles are to people with lived experience of social security.

The overall finding was that all the principles separately had important aspects and meanings to the core group, but that there is also significant overlap.

One particularly pertinent example to illustrate this point concerns the issues people with lived experience in general [7] have encountered with DWP disability assessments. Difficulties with this process and ideas about how to make it different in Scotland were raised and discussed under half of all the principles - (b), (c), (d) and (h): human rights, public service, respect for dignity and value for money and efficiency.

When asked how to put the principles in the charter core group members discussed a number of models. One which explicitly used the principles as headings or sections for the charter; a second which used themes as headings or sections; a third which suggested doing both with the themes used as sections for the short visual version and the principles used as heading or sections for the accompanying longer document. A fourth was a mixture of both with some principles being set out explicitly in the charter and others not.

In Part 1, Section 15(3) The Act states

The charter is to reflect the Scottish social security principles

This means that there is no necessary requirement that the charter should refer to the principles or list the principles. As such officials undertook some early analysis which pulled out all the meanings listed under all the principles by the core group and consolidated them to eliminate repetition. This formed a full list of what the principles meant to the core group with no explicit reference to the principles themselves.

Officials put this early analysis to the core group to reflect on, develop and confirm, and found that they were comfortable with moving forward in this way for the present. The process will, however, continue to use the principles as a touchstone for the charter's content as it remains a statutory requirement that all the principles are reflected.

In the analysis of the stakeholder organisations' reflections on the principles, officials found repetition and endorsement, both of what the core group had discussed and in terms of what the principles should mean in practice. The stakeholder organisations also added some meanings to the list described above that the core group hadn't mentioned, for example around the importance of equality and non-discrimination.

At the end of the core group and stakeholder workshops, officials and participants (both core group and stakeholder organisations) had created list of statements that reflect the meaning and importance of the eight principles in the Act and what they should mean in practice. These are listed below and development of these will form the basis of future work.

Although the language for the final charter is not yet agreed, it could be considered as a provisional list of content of the charter. When considering this list, it is also clear that they describe outcomes, or positive future states, of what a system built on the principles should be like in practice.

In addition, during the Bill process, Ministers also committed to ensuring that the charter would go beyond stating outcomes to also describe some of the specific actions that the system would take to deliver the commitments set out in the charter.

In line with this, the list below contains statements that could fit under either category. For example, some might be considered positive outcomes while others might be considered as a means of achieving those outcomes. Future sessions will further develop this distinction.

Analysts found that the statements naturally fell under five different themes. The core group will later determine whether the charter should be structured in line with these themes or whether they can be rationalised or improved.

5.4.1 Theme 1 - Clients

The first theme focusses on social security clients: about what their role and status is in the social security process. In short, clients want to be seen as partners in the process.


  • Are claiming a human right not looking for a hand out
  • The starting position with regard to clients is trust not suspicion
  • Are entitled to as much information as they want on their claim
  • Are the best placed to monitor services and development and improvement of services should not/can't be done without them
  • Involvement in the system is open and transparent
  • Should respect and trust Social Security staff
  • Should be involved in staff training
  • Should be involved in measuring the system
  • Have a responsibility to be trustworthy, honest, polite and understanding
  • Know how much they will receive, when they will receive it and if any changes are made to what they will receive they will be told well in advance
  • Are entitled to receive information in a way that enables them to access the help they need
  • There will be no cost to clients to access the support they are entitled to

5.4.2. Theme 2 – Staff behaviour

The second theme is about the behaviour of staff that clients come across during their engagement with the system. This concerns the need for patience, understanding, compassion as well as recognising the need for staff to be well resourced and supported.


  • Are knowledgeable about entitlements and wider services
  • Are knowledgeable about the issues clients face
  • Use knowledge to support clients and help maximise entitlement and wellbeing.
  • See people as individuals
  • Are open/honest
  • Support clients to access their entitlements
  • Listen to clients
  • Are empathic and understanding
  • Are kind to clients
  • Understand and value difference
  • Are flexible
  • Acknowledge mistakes
  • Learn from mistakes
  • Don't make unfounded judgements and assumptions about a client's abilities and circumstances
  • Are well resourced and well supported

5.4.3 Theme 3 - Processes

The third theme covers social security processes. This includes the assessment process that has been such a bone of contention for people but also all other processes, like claims, complaints, appeals and referrals.

  • Social Security has straightforward/simple processes and language
  • Processes should be co-designed with people who have lived experience of social security.
  • Processes should be accessible
  • Assessments are done by public sector specialists
  • Assessments can sometimes include a professional that knows the client well
  • Assessments are conducted in a manner that minimises stress for clients
  • Assessments are seen as proportionate in degree and number
  • Advice and advocacy for clients is adequately resourced
  • Social security is a public (not private) service

5.4.4 Theme 4 – the social security system

The fourth theme concerns the whole social security system, how it is run and managed.

  • The Social Security system does not waste resources through inefficient processes
  • The Social Security system is flexible and adaptive - a learning system
  • The system is consistent
  • Social Security agency will continuously improve its service standards
  • The Social Security agency acknowledges mistakes
  • The Social Security agency learns from its mistakes
  • The Social Security agency works with partners in a joined-up way
  • The Social Security agency pro-Actively promotes take-up of entitlements
  • The Social Security agency strives to get decisions and claims 'right first time'
  • Social Security payments should enable clients to be a member of their community
  • Social Security entitlements will increase over time
  • People should have a reasonable choice about how they communicate with the Agency.

5.4.5 Theme 5 – The wider culture of social security in Scotland

The final theme is about bringing about a culture where people in Scotland are proud of the social security system and the stigma that surrounds it is eliminated, through understanding of its role in the wellbeing of the whole nation.

  • All partners should work to challenge and reduce stigma
  • Social security is widely seen as a human right
  • The social security agency fosters a sense of ownership of the social security system in people in Scotland
  • The system should be flexible and adapt to meet new challenges in society
  • The Scottish Government should regularly review the adequacy of benefits
  • The system should always consider and periodically report on how new powers can be used to tackle poverty

5.5 Charter design needs – developing a framework

Stakeholders were asked to consider what they would like to see on a 'checklist' for the charter in terms of design principles. This could include structure, content and dissemination.

The following list captures the results of the discussions

  • Accessible - multiple formats, plain English plus translatable (other languages and BSL). NOTE - The core group have discussed accessibility as an aspect of the human right to social security. Annex C has a full list of the elements of accessibility they produced.
  • Visible – on walls, in other public buildings.
  • Available – sent out with all transactions
  • Human – friendly and warm
  • Length – not too short, possibly more than one document with different levels of detail. For example a visual summary that sets out what people can expect and a more detailed version that will set out how that will be delivered.
  • Embeddable – dissemination and used in practice

This design framework is at an early stage. Further work will be undertaken with people with experience of social security and with stakeholders to develop it. An example of this, is that as well as outlining the need for accessibility within the social security system, the charter document (or documents) themselves should also be accessible. Officials will work with stakeholder organisations and the core group to understand what this should look like in practice and reflect this within the framework of requirements for the charter.

As mentioned above, stakeholder organisations also contributed to the list of statements above, which set out what the principles in the Act would mean in practice. This work will be revisted by the core group and the organisations at future sessions.


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