Publication - Research and analysis

Developing the Social Security Charter: co-design process

Published: 9 Jan 2019

Report on the process used for development of the Scottish Social Security Charter.

Developing the Social Security Charter: co-design process
4. The Charter - What and Why

4. The Charter - What and Why


The result of the work detailed above with the groups of people detailed above is a co-designed draft Charter that was laid before parliament in January 2019.

The content of the Charter was taken from a list of statements produced through the co-design process that comprehensively sets out what people with experience of social security want to be in the charter, we have called it the Charter content checklist. In this chapter firstly, we explain what the checklist contains and why.

The final draft charter has four substantive sections

  • A People's Service
  • Processes that Work
  • A Learning System
  • A Better Future

These four sections reflect the content checklist as a set of commitments that set out what people can expect from the social security system based on the social security principles. In this chapter secondly, we describe what the draft charter contains and why.

The Charter content checklist

The research we have undertaken with people with lived experience of social security has produced a comprehensive list of statements that reflect the meaning of the social security principles as set out in the Act. The list is set out in full in Annex E.

These statements fall under five different themes in relation to the social security system that were important to participants who had experience of social security These were then simplified into the four headings in the final charter (see above). The five themes.

  • Clients' role in the process.
  • Social Security Scotland staff behaviour.
  • Social security processes.
  • Social security system.
  • Wider social security culture across Scotland.

Clients' role in the process

It was important to participants that their role should not be subordinate to Social Security Scotland staff, rather that the process should be a partnership between them. This role was considered by participants to set the tone for their interactions and this partnership idea is reflected in the list of statements, for example:

  • Clients have as much information as they want about their claim in a way they can understand.
  • Clients are considered trustworthy from the start.
  • Clients are involved in research to find out if the promises in this Charter are being kept.

A further aspect of their status is concerned with human rights and their place in the new system. This was important to participants as they had experienced extremely negative attitudes in the past when claiming social security. As one participant said:

"We want it (the charter) to humanise the people who get social security".

This issue is exemplified by the following statement they put in the list:

  • Clients are claiming a human right not looking for a hand out.

Social Security Scotland Staff behaviour

The way that clients are treated by people they come across throughout the social security process was a key concern for our participants. Many of them had experienced unhelpfulness (even rudeness), and unkindness. Participants set out exactly how they would like to be treated by staff. Some examples of statements to this effect in the list include:

  • Staff are open and honest, they listen to clients, they are kind and polite.

And further

  • Staff take care of clients, treat them as individuals not a number.

Participants thought this sort of treatment would stem from an attitude of understanding and so thought that staff could be more supportive of clients if they saw issues from their point of view. Examples of statements on this issue include:

  • Staff know about and understand the barriers and difficulties clients can face.
  • Staff never judge clients or make assumptions about them.

As one participant said:

"A lot of people with mental health issues are looked at as normal as there is no physical evidence. So people should treat everyone as if they might be disabled and not judge them".

Participants also thought that the knowledge base in terms of entitlement to benefits and other services that people could access were key to this type of caring service being delivered. It was important to participants that staff listened to people's circumstances and were able to think about the bigger picture in terms of the support they might be able to direct people to. Statements stemming from these findings include:

  • Staff know about other services or chances/opportunities that can help clients and help them to get them.

Other knowledge the participants wanted staff to have was about what accessible formats were available. This was because it would be too cluttered to, as one participant said,

"You can't state which different formats are available on every page so staff have to know what help you can get".

  • Staff know about and help clients to get accessible formats, translations and other support for needs.

Social Security Processes

Assessments for benefits for disabled people were a key issue for participants in the research. The Act states that face-to-face assessments for disabled people benefits should only be undertaken where the information that is needed to check entitlement is not available elsewhere. Nevertheless it was important to participants to make this explicit in the charter. Further issues surrounding who undertakes assessments were vital to participants. One participant said:

" We need to encourage the senior staff to put their heads together to come up with a quality methodology to ensure that if I have a mental health issue I'm not seen by a physiotherapist.".

Assessments and how they should be carried out feature heavily in the list of statements, some examples include:

  • Assessments are done in a way that causes as little stress as possible.
  • Assessments are done by people who are specialists in the condition being assessed.
  • Assessments are only done when there is no other way to find out if a person qualifies for the benefit.

For other processes it was important to participants that they were simple and straightforward so one statement is:

  • Social Security processes are easy to understand.

Social Security System

Participants outlined how the charter should cover the whole of the social security system and what it should look like. For example they thought that the system should offer choice.

  • People have a reasonable choice about how they contact and work with the Agency.

That the system should be consistent but also flexible for different situations

  • The social security system is the same all across Scotland.
  • The social security system is flexible within the rules.

They understood that everything in the new system would not be perfect from the beginning but that it should be a learning system that improved as experience increased.

  • The Agency admits and learns from its mistakes.
  • The Agency's service keeps getting better.

Wider social security culture across Scotland

Of great importance to the participants was the need for a change to the culture of social security across Scotland. Issues regarding reducing stigma and poverty were central to this.

In terms of poverty the participants thought that social security payments should not simply cover the necessities of life. Rather they should ensure that clients could be useful members of society, exemplified by these statements:

  • Social Security payments are enough to make sure clients can take part in society.
  • The Scottish Government uses the social security system to help reduce poverty in Scotland.

Participants felt that negative impressions of people who claim social security as seen in the media should be challenged by the new system and the government so added the following statements

  • The Agency and Scottish Government will work to reduce any 'stigma' surrounding clients.
  • Social security is seen by people in Scotland as a human right.
  • People in Scotland feel a part of and proud of their social security system.

Checklist conclusion

The list of statements in Annex E is a comprehensive, evidence led, robust manifestation of the meaning of the eight principles in the Act to a very wide range of people with lived experience of social security. As such it formed the basis of the content in the charter. It will also feature in the next steps as the basis for a measurement framework against which the implementation of the charter will be monitored.

The Charter

Called 'Our Charter', its content is closely based on the list of statements described above. It distils those statements into specific commitments. This section sets out the content from the front page and introduction and the four substantive sections of the charter and why they look like they do.

Please note: The Charter design principle uses Social Security Scotland branding. The branding guidelines were developed following research with Experience Panels and others. They exist as a means of ensuring consistency which will help it become recognisable and appear reliable and professional. More subtle Scottish Government branding also appears in the document, most notably in the 'A Better Future' section which describes the actions that will be taken by Ministers. This joint branding approach reflects that the success of new system, and responsibility for delivering the charter, is shared by the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland.

When we refer to 'all participants' in this chapter we mean the people with lived experience of social security who took part in the research, stakeholders, Scottish Government officials and Social Security Scotland staff. On occasion suggestions from MSPs made in the debate are also cited. If particular groups with in these participants made specific points we indicate that.

Charter front page

The participants agreed to call the Charter 'Our Charter' with the following tag- line.

"What you can expect from the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland."

This reflects the finding that the overriding idea of all participants was that the charter should set out what people can expect when they interact with the new system. One participant said:

"It has to say what the agency will commit to for customers and what SSS expect of clients."

The Charter is set out in Social Security Scotland colours but the Scottish Government logo is also included. This is because participants have stressed that the Scottish Government should be held to account for not only what the Agency delivers but for policy development and what the future of social security in Scotland looks like and achieves. For example, participants said that all those involved including the Scottish Government should address stigma, one participant said

"(there's) a lot of stigma with calling people "spongers."

Finally on the front page are the words Dignity, fairness and respect which are a key part of the Agency branding and a reflection of what all participants want the new system to achieve.

Introductory pages

Participants found initial drafts of the Charter difficult to navigate and suggested we added a contents page.

When in subsequent versions a contents page was added, participants thought this enhanced the document and made it easier to navigate.

There are 4 pages of introduction at the beginning of the charter. Participants designed each section to be short and written in plain language. Here we set out the sections the charter contains and why.

Introduction. This sets out the background to the changes to social security in Scotland and the eight principles from the Act to 'set the scene'. As the Charter needs to reflect the principles, participants ensured that the principles themselves were stated up-front as an introduction to the document. As one participant said:

"There has to be a section that describes the principles otherwise no one will understand why we are doing it this way."

What is Our Charter?Participants included a brief overview to explain what the charter is in plain language. It states that the Charter takes the principles and turns them into practical commitments.

Who created Our Charter? This section sets out who was involved with the co-design of the charter. Core group members and stakeholders alike wanted this section to ensure that people using the Charter realised it was produced by people like themselves who have experience of the social security system. As one participant said:

"You've got to include who panel members are that there were surveys and workshops around the country."

They also thought it important to let people know that they had been guided in this process by professionals, in and out of Government.

Who is the 'Our' in Our Charter? This section explains that the Charter is important to everyone in Scotland, because the social security system is a human right and anyone in Scotland might need it. This sentiment comes from the Act seeing social security as an investment in Scotland and also from participants wanting to ensure that those using the Charter understand that social security is a public good. As one participant said:

"Government should have a duty to change the messaging to encourage social security to be seen as a human right."

Participants thought this was well expressed by the following content:

  • Social security is a human right - an investment in ourselves and each other. It is a public service that any of us could need at any time. So Our Charter belongs to all of us.

Who makes sure that Our Charter is being delivered? Concern from participants in the co-design process including people with lived experience, stakeholders and MSPsfocused on ensuring the Charter was not just a form of words and that it would be implemented practice.

This is why participants included the process for making sure the Charter commitments were delivered and who would be overseeing and scrutinising them in this section.

What is the difference between the Scottish Government, Social Security Scotland and the Scottish Parliament? At the final drafting stage stakeholders and the core group suggested that as the introduction now contained reference to the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland that explanations of each of these and their role should be included. One participant said:

"Don't assume people know the difference between Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government."

This was achieved in this section.

Who should you speak to if you don't think the commitments in Our Charter are being delivered? Finally, participants understood that in a complex system things would not always go smoothly so they included a section that clearly states who people should get in touch with if they have a problem. Further in this section, social security staff wanted the Charter to encourage feedback of all sorts. One member of staff said:

"We can't learn from our mistakes, if we don't know we've made them."

So they included a line to stress that "…feedback and complaints are valued and encouraged".

A People's Service

The section entitled A People's Service evolved from the participants wanting to clearly state the roles and responsibilities of Social Security Scotland staff in the process but also the roles and responsibilities of the clients.

In order to give an indication of what this section contained, participants developed a tag-line as a short and instant sign of what the aim or purpose of this service is.

"We are here to make sure your get everything you are entitled to."

All the four substantive sections of the Charter are phrased as a list of commitments saying who will be responsible for delivering these. In A People's Service the commitments are the responsibility of Social Security Scotland staff and clients themselves.

The majority of the commitments are taken from the two themes in the checklist (Clients and staff behaviour). The commitments from staff include that they will be knowledgeable, kind and understanding, they will meet the needs of the diverse range of people that will use the service, be flexible and be clear about why decisions were made. One participant put it very clearly as follows:

"Make sure that they have the knowledge and use it to help you get what you are entitled to."

The responsibilities of the clients is set out in language that asks for clients to help staff by giving accurate information, being respectful and giving feed-back on their experience. As one participant said:

"Dignity and respect should work both ways – respect for the person and the employee."

To participants this section reflected significant elements of the meaning of the principles in practice. This includes dignity and respect in action, equality and non-discrimination and generally the human rights based nature of the new system.

Processes that Work

The section entitled Processes that Work also evolved out of two themes in the checklist (Theme 3 Processes and Theme 4 Social Security System). Participants wanted this section to stress that the processes would be designed with the people who use them. This led to the inclusion of the tag-line:

"We will design services with the people who use them."

The list of commitments under this heading are mostly the responsibility of Social Security Scotland who will design and deliver the processes. Participants included commitments that processes should be designed with people who use them, that they should be flexible, adaptable, inclusive, simple and clear.

As well as representing the meaning of the principles in practice some participants wanted to take this further and commit to supporting clients wellbeing. For example, during the debate some MSPs expressed that they would like there to be a commitment in the charter that focussed on the wellbeing of clients, wellbeing is mentioned twice in this section as a consequence.

A Learning System

The section entitled "A Learning System" includes the content from the checklist Theme 4 of the Social Security system. Participants produced a tag-line that stressed clients' role to feedback their experience andthe need to ensure staff are well supported for them to deliver a high quality services:

"We will encourage feedback and empower people to deliver the best service possible."

Once again a list of commitments follow that are based around participants suggestions for the culture of the new system. This section marks the progression of the charter from operational delivery to culture and values of the system. The commitments focus on: the involvement of clients, the need to own up to mistakes and to learn from them, to build trust and to support their staff and further commitments that seek to advance accessibility, equality and non-discrimination.

A Better Future

Participants were clear that to truly realise a system based on the principles, it is necessary for the charter to go beyond operational delivery to also encompass the content and design of social security policy.

The analysis of the meaning of the principles to participants backed this and showed that there were wider concerns that incorporated the whole of Scotland and the culture of social security across the nation. These are largely in Theme 5 of the checklist The wider culture of social security.

In this section the 'we' in 'we will' is the Scottish Government specifically. The tag-line reflects what participants feel the role the government should play.

"We will use new powers to invest in the people of Scotland – making a positive difference to all of our lives."

This not only captures the role of government but also encapsulates the necessity of positioning social security as important to all people in Scotland.

The commitments participants listed focus on embedding the principles in policy making, finding ways to reduce poverty through social security, helping to change the conversation about social security to ensure people see it as a universal service and something they should be proud of and ultimately ensuring that the system not only reflects human rights but is seen as a human right by people in Scotland.

The Charter – conclusion

The content of the Charter is based on the list of statements that represent what the principles in the Act mean in practice to people with lived experience of social security and stakeholders. The drafting of the charter has turned this list into a set of commitments that when delivered will give us a human rights based social security system that will encompass dignity and respect for all.


Email: Julie Guy