Best Start Grant: equality impact assessment
Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) considers potential effects of Early Years Assistance (Best Start Grants) (Scotland) Regulations 2018 and how it impacts on people with one or more protected characteristics.
31. The increase in the value of the payments timed at key transition points in a child's early years will help to reduce the significant household costs associated with these transitions. This will help decrease the financial pressures on the household, which can have negative effects on parental health, mental health, parenting skills and family relationships.
32. As well as these overarching benefits, there is also
BSG will have
particular impact for the following groups.
33. Parental age has a significant impact on child poverty rates: 50% of children whose mother is aged 25 or younger are in relative poverty, compared with 22% of children whose mother is over 25. 
34. The Scottish Government's Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy  highlights that young mothers are considerably more reliant on state benefits and tax credits than older mothers – a position that remains the case as the child ages. It is clear from our user testing that many find accessing the welfare and income to which they are entitled confusing and difficult.
35. Responses from the Social Security, a New Future consultation highlighted under 18s as a group which would benefit from simpler provision. To do this, and to align with eligibility for BSF, we have decided to invest additional resource to introduce automatic entitlement for under 18s and 18 or 19 year olds in full time education or training who are still dependent on their parents. These young parents will not need to be on a qualifying benefit in order to qualify for a BSG payment. As part of a telephone or online claim, this will mean that they are asked fewer questions at application stage, meaning they are more likely to complete the process. Having this contact with young parents through the BSG application will mean that Agency staff can promote take up of any other benefits which they might be eligible for, in line with our commitment to income maximisation. Young parents will be encouraged to make contact with antenatal services if they have not already registered.
36. We will work to embed BSG in wider early years policy such as the Family Nurse Partnership which will help improve take-up for younger parents, ensuring they get the support they need to alleviate hardship.
37. A key issue raised during the consultation was that pregnancy can have a disruptive effect on family relationships at younger ages and these young parents may be in transition when they need to apply. The consultation proposed making the grandparent the qualifying person for parents under 16 and those who are 18 and 19 and still in education and training, as happens for the SSMG at present. This would mean that the grandparent meets the eligibility criteria and receives the payment. A number of concerns were raised about this approach, in particular around the rights of the child, empowering young parents and the possibility that younger parents might not have a say in how the money for their own child was spent. Examples were given of difficult situations such as parents refusing to apply on the child's behalf or using the money for their own purposes. Despite this, the majority of respondents agreed with the grandparent proposal and felt it to be important for a pregnant child or new teen parent to have the support of an adult in accessing the payment.
38. In response to discussions during the consultation period and in keeping with the social security principles of dignity and respect, there will be a choice for young parents:
- A young parent who is under 18 or 18 or 19 and still in full time education or training and dependent on their parents, can quality for a payment.
- A grandparent or someone responsible for a young parent can qualify for a payment on the basis that they are responsible for someone having a baby.
Parents Under 16
39. There were 40 births to mothers under 16 in 2016 in Scotland and we considered how to ensure that there would not be any barriers to these young parents receiving a payment. The legal age of capacity is 12 years old in Scotland and, in keeping with the rights based approach set out in the Social Security (Scotland) Act, we concluded that making the young person the eligible person was the best way to ensure they can exercise their right to social security. This will allow vulnerable under 16s who cannot rely on parents to act on their behalf, or who have had to leave home because of the pregnancy, to access a payment.
40. The responses to the Social Security consultation identified young care leavers as a group in need to support and the suggestion made that they should qualify without the requirement to be on a qualifying benefit.
41. We have engaged with the relevant policy team in the Scottish Government on this matter, along with stakeholders and specialists to explore scenarios. We have looked to learn from other areas, including lessons learned by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland.
42. Our analysis shows that young care leavers on low incomes will qualify under rules set out in the regulations and that making specific provision for all young care leavers might be counterproductive in complicating administration and communication about BSG.
43. In some cases, students who are care leavers who become pregnant may not be able to access a qualifying benefit before the baby is born so they will need to wait until they can access a Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit child element after the baby is born to qualify for a BSG. Where a care leaver is not on a qualifying benefit, it will be important for the Social Security Scotland local presence to have effective referral processes in place to ensure that they can be supported to take up that entitlement to the qualifying benefit and also apply for a BSG payment.
44. Poverty rates are higher for households when a family member is disabled: 25% of households with a disabled child are in relative poverty compared with 19% of those without a disabled child.  BSG eligibility criteria reaches families on lower incomes so we expect BSG to have a positive impact on these families.
45. We heard from the responses to A New Future for Social Security Consultation  that costs are higher for disabled children and that we should consider adding Child Disability Living Allowance ( DLA) as a qualifying benefit for BSG. However, we concluded that costs associated with disability were better looked at through Child DLA, which is also being devolved to the Scottish Government.
46. The needs of disabled children have contributed to decisions in designing the BSG in the following ways:
- Disabled children do not necessarily meet developmental milestones in the same timescales as other children. The BSG has a long application window for the early learning payment which accommodates children with different needs;
- Disabled children may not take up a place in formal education at the same timescale. To ensure that this is not a barrier, there is no requirement to enrol/attend nursery or school to qualify for a BSG payment; and
- Parents whose new baby has been identified as having a disability will have other priorities in the first few months. The extended application window (6 months rather than 3) will give them more time to apply.
47. For parents who have a disability, we are in the process of building a system which meets accessibility standards. The Scottish Government will adhere to Digital First Service Standards  . To progress to each new stage of development, the system must pass a Digital First Assessment. These assessments ensure that the system will meet accessibility standards for people who need extra support to use our service.
48. The BSG application process will give people more options than the existing SSMG process as applicants will be able to apply clerically, online and via telephone. This will allow applicants to choose an application route which best suits their needs. We are conducting user testing with people who have a broad spectrum of needs, including those affected by dyslexia and visual impairments, to ensure that the service is accessible.
49. Through our Experience Panels, we are gathering information on the barriers that people experience and are seeking to design a system which meets their needs, offering a range of methods for application and contact. It should be noted that all methods of application and contact may not be available from the very first day of BSG implementation but the full service will provide them.
50. The BSG will be payable to someone who is responsible for a child regardless of gender.
51. No issues have been raised by stakeholders or through direct engagement with people who might apply for BSG in relation to gender reassignment. We asked for views on this in Early Years Assistance – Consultation on BSG Regulations  , but no respondents raised any relevant evidence related to the BSG policy and gender reassignment in their responses.
52. Work has been carried out to look at inclusive forms of address and how those who have had their gender reassigned are recorded, whether it is needed and if so how the system(s) will manage this change.
Pregnancy and Maternity
53. Increased payments, widened eligibility and extended application windows should result in positive impacts on women during pregnancy and after birth. Further details on these positive impacts are set out below. We will also integrate the administrative systems for BSF vouchers which are also being devolved, into BSG to provide easier access to affordable and nutritious food for mother and baby. An EQIA for BSF will be carried out separately.
54. By making the BSG maternity payment payable from 24 weeks pregnant (the SSMG qualifying date is 29 weeks) the payment can be made earlier in the mother's pregnancy, allowing her to plan ahead. Similarly, eligibility has been extended to parents on any Working Tax Credit so that they will be able to apply before their child is born rather than waiting for an award of Child Tax Credit.
BSG there will be a
longer application window post birth. This is currently
3 months under SSMG and will be 6 months under BSG. This application window will be extended to one year where someone has taken on responsibility for a child, for example through kinship care.
56. If a parent has a stillborn child they are entitled to the BSG whether they apply before or after the child is born. Provisional figures for 2017 show that there were 225 recorded stillbirths in Scotland. We have met bereaved parents to try to understand their experience and this engagement will inform the development of communications and guidance so that people understand their entitlement.
57. Some stakeholders and consultation responses have requested that Maternity Allowance ( MA) be added to the qualifying benefits for BSG. MA is paid to people who are not eligible for statutory maternity pay. There are around 3,900 new MA recipients each year in Scotland. Recipients may be employed, self-employed or have recently stopped working. Some stakeholders have highlighted that some lone parents who do not have housing costs and have earnings above their Universal Credit amount before they go on to MA will not qualify for SSMG or BSG.
58. Having considered this issue further, the Scottish Government expects that the number of people who receive MA and no qualifying benefit is expected to be low; almost all low income families will qualify for BSG by another route. MA is not means tested and income of spouses and partners is not taken in to account so including MA is likely to extend BSG eligibility to people on higher incomes and undermine the principle that BSG is primarily an intervention for low income families. Adding a test to ensure that an MA recipient is on a low income or does not have a partner would increase administrative complexity and would be disproportionate to the numbers affected. The Scottish Government has therefore decided not to include MA as a qualifying criterion for BSG.
59. We found that ethnicity impacts on family size, with Black and Asian ethnic groups having larger families than white and Chinese ones. At the UK level, 51% of Black African, 65% of Pakistani and 64% of Bangladeshi children live in large families (three or more children), compared to 30% of those in White British families. 
60. The qualifying benefits for the BSG will capture more than half of families with 3 or more children. Since welfare reforms in 2011, we have heard from families living on low incomes about the frustration and hardship they experience because the current grant ( SSMG) no longer provides support for second or subsequent children. This change to entitlement has particularly affected vulnerable people, who are less likely to be able to plan ahead, and larger families. The Scottish Government's decision to reinstate payments for second and subsequent children is therefore expected to have a positive impact on these groups.
61. We engaged with a Chinese parenting group and attended a Black and Ethnic Minority mothers group at Shakti Women's Aid while we were developing policy. Key messages were about the importance of simple communication, the provision of translation services and the impact on women of having no recourse to public funds. We also engaged with BAME women via One Parent Families Scotland and Saheliya. Feedback confirmed that women from these communities face language and cultural barriers to accessing benefits. They can be vulnerable to social isolation and in some cases rely heavily on support organisations for advice on navigating public sector systems.
62. Some respondents to the consultation highlighted that asylum seekers and refugees were excluded from BSG. Asylum Seekers cannot claim benefits as they have no recourse to public funds. While not equivalent to BSG, the Home Office does provide some support to pregnant women in Scotland who are receiving asylum support. This is £300 to cover the cost of buying clothes and equipment or £600 for twins. There is also a small additional weekly payment of £5 a week for babies under a year, and £3 a week for children aged 1 to 3 years.
63. While we could make BSG payments to these families, the person who receives them would be in breach of their immigration status, leading to potentially severe consequences. Immigration policy is reserved to the UK Government. Scottish Ministers intend to make the case to the UK Government that since BSG seeks to support potentially vulnerable young families, an exception should be made that allows those with no recourse to public funds to access it. Should this succeed, we will amend the regulations to make provision for this group.
64. Those who are granted refugee or humanitarian protection status (after 5 years, they can apply for indefinite leave to remain) can claim benefits and therefore would be eligible for BSG. In some cases, there can be a gap between refugee status being granted and people accessing benefits and housing. Social Security Scotland will therefore consider whether this might have an impact on the evidence requirements during this period.
65. Strategies on how to reach all parents are being explored in the development of communication, engagement and delivery plans for the benefit. Accessible format and support for different languages will be available to ensure all eligible parents have the opportunity to apply for the grant.
66. Childbirth is very much seen as a female domain within the Gypsy/Traveller community. Traditionally, women would be attended by members of their family and extended social network at the birth of their children.
67. It is now more common for Gypsy/Travellers to give birth in hospitals; however, many do not attend ante-natal and post-natal care because of the barriers to accessing healthcare, as well as concerns that they will be judged by health care professionals and women from the settled community. Communication methods will play a vital role alongside the Social Security Scotland local presence, though this might not be available from the first implementation day of the BSG, it will be once full service is in place. Longer application windows will also present more opportunities to inform people about their entitlement e.g. when the mother gives birth in a hospital or when their child starts school.
Religion or Belief
68. Families of certain religions or beliefs are also more likely to have larger families. A quarter of Muslim households contained three or more dependent children, compared with 14% of Sikh, 7% of Hindu and 5% of Christian households. 
69. The qualifying benefits for the BSG will capture more than half of families with 3 or more children. These families will benefit from the introduction of payments for second and subsequent children.
70. The majority of lone parent households are headed by women and these households tend to experience higher poverty rates: 41% of children in single parent households were in poverty in 2016/17, compared with 19% of couples with dependent children.  The proposed eligibility criteria for the BSG are likely to reach more than 90% of lone parent households.
71. Stakeholders including Engender and Scottish Womens Aid raised 2 related points:
- that there is an imbalance in power in terms of financial resources in the home and that BSG provides an opportunity to mitigate that by paying women in preference to men.
- women are vulnerable to financial abuse and protections are required in the BSG process.
72. We considered whether to make it the default to make the payment to the mother. Child Tax Credits ( CTC) are paid to the main carer of children and, historically, this has most often been a woman. In April 2017, at the UK level, 910,000 single households in receipt of CTC were headed by women, whilst 67,000 were headed by a man. In August 2017, approximately 84% of recipients of Child Benefit ( CB) in Scotland were female. Since these benefits can only be paid to one person at a time, we conclude that a high proportion of the people who meet the responsibility test will be women.
73. Given that a significant minority of men are the main carer of a child and should therefore receive a payment, we concluded that the additional questioning required to pay a woman in preference to a man in a couple would be disproportionate, would be likely to cause delays and may put people off applying for the payment.
74. We were not able to identify a way to tackle financial abuse through the design of the BSG. Financial abuse was a concern in relation to using CB to test responsibility for the child as it may mean that the BSG payment does not go to the main carer. We therefore consulted on a responsibility test prioritising recipients of CTC/ UC in responsibility for a child. It is a condition of award for these that the child is living with you. However, there were concerns about the reliability of using CTC/ UC and risk to uptake due to the 2 child limit on these benefits which might cause confusion. As a result of consultation responses we have therefore decided to add receipt of CB as a way to test responsibility for a child.
75. We plan to raise awareness among Social Security Scotland staff on the indicators of domestic abuse so that they can provide a sensitive service and signpost organisations who can provide support.
76. We identified that 57% of mothers in prison stated that they were 'involved in caring for (any of) their children' before they came into prison.
77. We have held meetings with colleagues in the Justice department, the Scottish Prison Service ( SPS) and visited Cornton Vale and HMP Grampian to understand the pathways of offenders and how best we can support them to access a BSG where they are entitled. Once in post, Local Delivery staff will be able to work with the prisons in their area to identify what help and support can be provided to ensure those who are entitled know and are supported to apply, either as they go in to or come out of prison. In the meantime, we will engage with Prison Health Services to help raise awareness of the BSG within prisons.
78. The BSG will be payable to someone who is responsible for a child regardless of sexual orientation.
79. No issues have been raised by stakeholders or through direct engagement with people who might apply for BSG in relation to gender reassignment. We asked for views on this in Early Years Assistance – Consultation on BSG Regulations  but no respondents raised any relevant evidence related to the BSG policy and sexual orientation.
Email: Alison Melville email@example.com
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