5 Provision of goods, grants and other support
5.1 The consultation paper suggested that in providing goods rather than cash grants, the same support might potentially be delivered for less money, or more support might be provided within the same budget. The paper discussed how the successor arrangements might contribute to the Scottish Government's Purpose and the National Performance Framework outcomes, including the three social frameworks of Equally Well, Achieving our Potential and the Early Years Framework which promote an assets, rather than a deficits, approach, to tackling poverty and inequality. In addition it was anticipated that furniture re-cycling would contribute to delivering climate change carbon reduction targets.
5.2 The paper noted that providing goods rather than grants might reduce the choice available to recipients and was potentially at odds with an assets-based approach; the paper suggested that Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans are not aligned to this approach because they provide no support to build capacity, for example, by including budgeting or other advice, or encouraging saving.
5.3 The consultation asked whether respondents agreed that the successor arrangements should provide goods rather than grants, and if so, what goods should be considered for inclusion and why.
5.4 Table 5.1 shows that in general, respondents wanted the scheme to offer both goods and grants. Seven respondents preferred grants. In relation to goods, the caveat was made that goods should be an option only if there was a very strong element of desire and choice for applicants. Fewer preferred goods only. All local authorities that responded to this question felt the scheme should offer both goods and grants.
|Respondent type||Both goods & grants||Grants||Goods||No Data||Total|
|Other public sector||-||1||-||2||3|
|Social Fund Commissioner||-||-||-||1||1|
5.5 The main arguments in favour of providing both goods and grants are that it enables the individual circumstances of the claimant to be addressed, gives people choices and offers flexibility to meet different circumstances. Relevant issues affecting which option is offered might include the individual waiting for a benefit decision needing money to meet immediate general living expenses or to buy specialised medical items, whereas at other times goods may be more appropriate and easier for organisations to ensure that people get the goods they need. However, choice for the applicant is important and more aligned to other policies.
"[We] believe that individuals (where they feel confident and are able to do so) should be given the opportunity to choose whether they want the arrangements to cover goods or grants. The approach fits better with the Government's policies giving greater power to clients to choose services - for example self-directed support and personalisation of services." (Third sector)
Views on provision of goods
5.6 Those respondents who called for the devolved arrangements to offer both goods and grants highlighted a range of reasons supporting the provision of goods. The potential for bulk purchasing by local authorities or other larger organisations, using public sector procurement arrangements, centrally or from local supply charities offered the possibility of savings on the goods themselves. It was also suggested that the provision of goods may reduce inappropriate spending.
5.7 Respondents suggested that to make goods an attractive option it would be important to make it an easy process. This means ensuring that items are always in stock, are delivered directly and free of charge. This would be particularly beneficial to those who rely on public transport and removes the stress and cost of delivery from commercial retail outlets. In more remote areas there was also potential for savings on the usually higher delivery charges.
5.8 It was suggested that consideration be given to online ordering mechanisms to underpin bulk procurement and improved delivery.
5.9 Examples of where provision of goods were particularly relevant included major changes in health or community care accommodation:
"There will be occasions where it is appropriate that goods are provided and this option should be left available. An example of this would be long stay hospital closures, care home reconfigurations." (Third sector)
5.10 It was suggested that provision of goods could be administered by third sector or community organisations. This might have the benefits of enhancing local economic development and 'could be a spur to reopening or expanding sheltered workshops'. Local supply organisations might also attract private donations of goods thus enabling discounts.
5.11 Provision of goods would help to ensure that applicants had choice, but also that they made appropriate applications. This in turn would help to generate savings. It would ensure less frequent repeat claims and would act as a disincentive for applications for things people do not actually need. It would avoid the inappropriate spending of cash payments, for example, to reduce or clear an applicant's overdraft.
5.12 A stated preference for goods only was associated with a minority of third sector organisations and from within the housing sector or those supporting disabled people. The reasons echoed those above and related to the advantages of bulk purchasing and discounts on donated goods, the availability of choice and prevention of inappropriate use of cash payments. There was also a suggestion that an alternative to goods-only provision would be to offer vouchers or a supervised-spend system.
"A voucher or supervised spend system may be a suitable compromise, e.g. vouchers for decorating materials. This would mean the customer would get to choose and also ensure the money was spent on its intended purpose." (Third sector)
5.13 In addition it was noted that the provision of goods-only would encourage the development of local furniture recycling organisations and this in turn would contribute to climate change objectives.
5.14 The main disadvantages of offering goods only concerned the limiting of individual choice and also the potential reduction in personal independence and responsibility.
"I think it's important to give people the dignity of choice (and risk), because people struggling with financial difficulty have so little choice about what happens to them. Providing goods is fine, if consistent supply can be guaranteed." (Individual)
5.15 Arguments against the provision of second-hand goods were made based on the lack of quality, inconsistent quality between re-cycling schemes or risk. Respondents also suggested that second-hand goods may not always be energy-efficient. A short life span was perceived as a real problem with the current system where there was a limit set on the number of applications which could be made in a year.
5.16 Second-hand goods could be acceptable as long as they were of good quality and could meet health and safety requirements. However there was also a view that there can be stigma associated with receiving second-hand goods.
5.17 There were different views about whether the provision of goods would be easier or cheaper to administer than cash grants. The provision of goods would require contractual obligations with providers and recipients and raise issues about how any difficulties with the goods would be handled, for example, if they were damaged and needed replacement.
5.18 A minority of respondents specifically argued against the provision of goods although among these, it was also conceded that goods could be offered if specifically requested by the client.
Views on the kind of goods that should be considered for inclusion
5.19 There was a great deal of consistency among respondents in their suggestions about the types of goods that should be provided. Many were necessary but higher cost items for which it can be difficult to budget. They also included the idea of standard 'home-start' packs particularly for those making transitions such as care leavers.
5.20 Those mentioned most commonly were:
- White goods - for example, washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, freezers, cookers and microwaves
- Furniture - beds, chests of drawers, sofas/suites, dining tables and chairs
- Household utensils - including cutlery, crockery, pots & pans
- Carpets or other floor coverings
- Bed linen (including bedding for infants & children) and towels
- Small household electrical items including lamps, kettles and toasters.
5.21 White goods, should be energy-efficient and, if second-hand, should be good-quality and safety-assured. Free delivery and installation should be included. Respondents commented that furniture should be new or good-quality recycled furniture. It was suggested that soft furnishings and bedding were more a matter of personal choice and therefore it was less appropriate to provide these items as goods. One respondent specifically argued that mattresses, bedding and towels should not be second-hand.
5.22 Items mentioned less frequently were: curtains, heaters or fires, cleaning products, decorating materials, clothing and mirrors. There was also a suggestion that vouchers could be offered.
5.23 It was important that goods meet the specific needs of individuals with differing disabilities which might incur an extra cost and that this may be the reason funding was required. Examples included: a need for non-standard seating; washing machines and tumble driers for those with incontinence issues; kitchen appliances at the right height; and suitable floor coverings to enhance mobility around the home.
Views on provision of grants
5.24 The main advantage of grants, as seen by respondents favouring grants-only, or goods and grants, was that grants enable personal choice. Personal choice helps empower and protect the dignity of individuals, develops their financial capability and promotes greater responsibility. People might also be less likely to complain about the goods if they had chosen and purchased them.
5.25 Grants would also enable continued funding for living, travel and removal expenses and the category 'easing of family pressure' which is not easily remedied by the provision of goods.
"Easing of family pressure can include such things as breaks and respite for families where this would help restore the family dynamic. If only goods were provided it is difficult to see where alternative provision for this would come from." (Third sector)
5.26 Respondents in favour of grants welcomed the potential for money to be spent in the local economy thereby supporting local jobs. One respondent commented that block procurement of goods could potentially result in the Government diverting funds away from the Scottish economy entirely. It was also proposed that grants would be easier to administer than goods (see paragraph 5.17).
5.27 An alternative to giving people cash might be to provide a voucher, referral letter or purchase order that people could take with them to relevant retail outlets.
The inclusion of other types of support
5.28 The consultation paper asked whether respondents agreed that the successor arrangements should include other support such as budgeting advice and to give reasons for their response. If respondents agreed, it asked what support should be considered for inclusion.
5.29 Table 5.2 shows that respondents were generally in favour of the successor arrangements including other types of support. Most of the local authority respondents were in favour of offering other types of support as part of the successor arrangements.
|Respondent type||Yes||No||Don't Know||No Data||Total|
|Other public sector||1||-||-||2||3|
|Social Fund Commissioner||-||-||-||1||1|
5.30 However, there was a commonly held view that such support should not be mandatory; it should be offered to people who would like it and should be free. Respondents argued that an application to the Social Fund should not be seen to imply that the person has difficulties with budgeting or financial management. In some cases, the person simply has a very low income. It was feared that a requirement to receive budgeting advice as part of the scheme would deter people from applying, and that a requirement for mandatory support could result in delays in processing applications and might lead people to approach high-interest lenders instead:
".. There are hard-pressed families across Scotland who need financial support with both unexpected and foreseen expenses, and whose income is simply not adequate to provide a cushion against such shocks. This will not change as a result of advice about budgeting. A particular worry is that any move towards mandatory advice on budgeting will have the potential to cause delays in the processing of applications. This is completely inappropriate in a scheme that provides help in times of crisis or disaster." (Third sector)
"It is critical that relevant advice, information and support is available to people who may require grants or loans. Each area must ensure that there are appropriate services availed to support those most in need…. However, this advice should not be linked to entitlement for a grant or loan and should be voluntary rather than mandatory." (Local authority)
5.31 Those who were opposed to providing additional support as part of the successor arrangements gave two reasons for their views:
- Respondents were concerned that the intention might be to make such support mandatory as part of the scheme - and they felt it should not be; or
- They felt that such support was already available at a local level, and therefore, did not need to be provided separately to individuals applying for grants or loans through the Social Fund.
5.32 The main point seemed to be that none of the funding available to support people in crisis should be diverted for the purpose of providing additional support and budgeting advice when: (a) this support / advice may not be needed; and (b) services providing this type of support were already available at a local level.
5.33 A contrasting view came from one respondent (a local authority) which specifically stated that the receipt of budgeting advice should be a mandatory part of the successor arrangements - 'to prevent recipients falling into same need in the near future.'
Types of support that should be offered
5.34 Respondents generally agreed that the following types of support should be offered, or that applicants should be signposted to this support locally.
- Financial advice (including budgeting, financial education, debt advice, ways of saving money)
- Support to maximize income (including benefits advice, and support in applying for benefits)
- Signposting to other services and other information (including information about fuel efficiency, loft insulation, safer homes, etc.)
- Mediation and advocacy support (including citizen and welfare rights)
- "Resilience" support (including befriending, building local networks, education, training and employability support)
- Support for housing and tenancy issues.
5.35 Other types of support advocated were: support for mental health issues, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and local recycling and transport schemes. One respondent suggested a need for better education in life skills and financial literacy at school.
5.36 Another specifically suggested that a similar approach could be adopted to that used by the Energy Assistance Package for promoting access to financial capability advice.
5.37 The point was made that many applicants to the Social Fund do already have links with other support services, and that many advice and support services are already available. Therefore, there is no need to create an additional layer of support; the applicant should simply be signposted to existing services and advice centres. In addition, one respondent suggested that the type of support a person needs will depend on their circumstances. In some cases, people's needs for support will be complex.
Summary of goods versus grants and other types of support
5.38 In general respondents wanted the successor arrangements for the devolved Social Fund to offer both goods and grants. This was to enable individual circumstances to be addressed, while giving people choice and offering flexibility.
5.39 Those in favour of the provision of goods saw the potential for savings through bulk purchasing and through avoiding the inappropriate spending of cash payments. Alternatives to goods-only provision would be to offer vouchers or a supervised-spend system. The main disadvantage of providing goods was that it limited individual choice and personal responsibility.
5.40 There was a great deal of consistency between respondents in their suggestions about the type of goods that should be provided. These included a range of white goods, furniture and other household items seen as essential to furnish a home. It was seen to be important that goods provision was flexible to meet the specific needs of individuals with disabilities.
5.41 The main advantage of grants was that they enabled personal choice, which helps to empower individuals and promote financial capability. The provision of grants would also support local economies.
5.42 Respondents were generally in favour of offering other types of support (such as budgeting advice) with the successor arrangements. However, there was a strong feeling that such support should not be compulsory.
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