Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group: stakeholder engagement and equalities - response from ministers

Letter from Jeane Freeman regarding the ministers response on stakeholder engagement and equalities, 3 July 2020.

29 January 2018

Scottish Government,

I was grateful to receive your update of 18 January about stakeholder engagement, the Charter and the Agency. You raise important issues for further consideration and I am heartened by the way the Group is working effectively with Scottish Government officials in taking your work forward.

Stakeholder engagement and equalities

I understand the Group's concerns around the available demographic information on Experience Panels. We are committed to equality monitoring as part of the Experience Panels.

However, it is vital that we build trust with panel members, collecting demographic information sensitively and ensuring that panel members are involved in how and when demographic data is collected. We are therefore planning to ask the panel members their religion, ethnicity and LGBT status at a later stage in the panel research. This is because we designed and tested the initial About Your Benefits & You survey with panel members, and they asked that we do not collect this information at this early stage.

In terms of the recruitment of panel members, we are committed to being flexible, accessible and offering multiple ways to sign up to the panels. Our recruitment in 2017 offered online, telephone and postal ways to register, as well as options for BSL users, easy read versions and those requiring the process to be conducted in another language. We are currently recruiting young carers to our Young Carer Panel and have followed this model. We plan to continue to offer flexible ways to join when we open our general recruitment later this year. In terms of ensuring panel members are able to take part in ways that work for them, we have continued to offer flexible options. For example, our work on disability has used face-to-face (one-to-one and in a group), telephone and online methods to engage people. We would, however, welcome advice from the Group on how we can improve on this further to ensure that panel members are supported, their access needs are being met and that we are communicating appropriately with them.

Social Security Charter

I note your proposal to establish a new workstream to support the Scottish Government's work to develop the charter and I am happy to explore this suggestion further. I am meeting my officials in the coming days to discuss the co-production process in more detail and we will make contact with the Group shortly thereafter to progress further discussions. I would welcome your proposals for engagement on this issue, reflecting that this will be a co-production exercise with key stakeholders, Experience Panel members, and the Ombudsman, who also has a critical role in the charter. Reflecting our discussion last week, I would hope that there will be opportunities for my officials to be involved in discussion with the Group directly during the development of the charter.

Social Security Agency

I understand that you have a number of on-going discussions and planned meetings with officials to progress your work, and my officials are always happy to attend meetings of the Group or provide other support as required. Indeed, I am aware that David Wallace and Ally MacPhail from the Agency Implementation Team will be attending your next meeting. Picking up on the observations made in your letter in relation to agency recruitment, David and Ally will focus on how your work can support the new agency develop an inclusive resourcing strategy and I am sure that you will have a fruitful discussion.

Moving forward

As we continue our work together, I would like us to utilise a more iterative discussion process in the development of recommendations, with my officials both taking part in Group discussions and receiving feedback as the Group's thinking develops. Specifically, as my officials prepare detailed policy options on draft regulations for the disability and carer benefits, I would like there to be a discursive process with the Group, whereby my officials will seek initial input from the Group to help inform options that are presented to me. Thereafter when officials have a steer on my view of appropriate content for the draft regulations, we will return to the Group on a more formal basis seeking your views. I have asked my officials to get in touch with you regarding this.

I look forward to continuing to receive your guidance and support as we move into the next phase of delivering a social security system for Scotland.

Kind Regards,

Jeane Freeman

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