Job Start Payment evaluation: annex B - qualitative research

This report forms the annex to the main report on the evaluation of Job Start Payment. It presents findings from qualitative research conducted to support the overall evaluation.

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Executive Summary


Job Start Payment (JSP) was launched in August 2020 by the Scottish Government with the overall aim of helping young people who are out of work to meet the costs of starting a new job.

Young people aged 16-24 in Scotland who have been out of work and receiving a qualifying low-income benefit for six months are eligible to apply for the payment upon receiving a job offer, and up to three months after such an offer is made. Care-leavers aged 16-25 can also apply for the payment if they meet the same conditions, though are not required to have been out of work for six months. A previous recipient can apply and claim again, as long as two years have passed since they last received the payment.

JSP is currently a cash sum of £267.65 for those without children and £428.25 for those with children. During the period of primary research within this project, the amounts were originally £252.50 for those without children, and £404 for those with children, increasing from £250 and £400 from April 2021.

The research presented in this report will contribute towards the Scottish Government's overall evaluation of JSP, which will also draw on JSP administrative data and research conducted by Social Security Scotland, such as the Social Security Scotland Client Survey.[1]

This report presents findings based predominantly on qualitative research with young people and stakeholders exploring their experiences of JSP. Research was carried out by Diffley Partnership between November 2021 and March 2022.

Aims and methods

The main aims of the research outlined in this paper were to explore:

  • The impact of JSP on young people who have received the payment,
  • The reasons why some eligible young people may not be applying for JSP,
  • Factors associated with JSP application denials.

The research findings relating to young people include results from a survey of young people across Scotland promoted by YoungScot.[2] This achieved 159 responses.

Interviews of up to 45 minutes were also conducted with individual young people via Zoom, Teams or phone. These included:

  • 7 young people who had not applied for JSP,
  • 26 young people who had applied and were successful,
  • 6 young people who had applied and were unsuccessful.

Stakeholder findings focus upon primary research with two groups:

  • 8 representatives of relevant stakeholder groups (which provide assistance to unemployed young people) with prior experience relating to JSP, and
  • 7 staff from Social Security Scotland tasked with processing and assessing JSP applications.

Evidence from stakeholders was collected through discussion groups of up to one hour with Social Security Scotland colleagues via Teams, and individual interviews with other stakeholders of up to one hour conducted via Teams or Zoom.

The Aim of Job Start Payment

  • All interview participants recognised the period of waiting for their first pay cheque as a difficult time for people taking up work. There was consensus that targeted support via JSP at this point was valuable.
  • All young people who had applied for JSP confirmed they had, or would, recommend JSP. This view was unaffected by the outcome of their own JSP application.

Impact of Job Start Payment on people who have received this support

  • How the payment is spent: Interviews with young people show that JSP recipients spend the payment in a range of ways, and indicate clothing for work and transport costs as the most frequent areas of spend. Other examples of spend included work equipment, domestic bills, and as a contribution towards childcare costs.
  • Whether it helps to meet costs associated with starting a new job, and enables clients to take-up employment offers: All young people interviewed - including parents awarded the higher rate of JSP - were complimentary about the level of the benefit and how it had helped them cover the costs of starting a new job. Young people described JSP using adjectives such as 'fair', 'helpful', and 'amazing'. Stakeholder interviews elaborated on the start of employment for young people, and the challenges it can pose. They felt that any alleviation of the costs young people face during that period, through JSP, could improve aspects of their lives, in the short-term. Reflections revealed that whilst JSP does make a positive contribution to costs, it may not be enough to meet every individual's needs – notably parents who face upfront childcare costs. There was consensus from young people and stakeholders that the benefit coming before the first pay cheque was optimal and accordingly, processing times should be as quick as possible. In the interviews, several young people said that they did not get the payment before their first pay check. Waiting for the payment was described as worrying, and in some cases meant that young people had to borrow money.
  • Whether it makes clients feel (a) more confident about starting a job and (b) more confident about their employment prospects: Feedback from successful applicants illustrated that benefit could be spent on items which would boost the confidence of young people. Anxiety reduction in the short-term was a widely reported positive outcome of JSP. However, while young people agreed that the employment they secured had made them more confident about their employment prospects, this was not a direct result of receiving JSP.
  • Whether it helps clients to sustain employment: In the research interviews, two successful applicants expressed the view that JSP had helped them to sustain (as well as obtain) their new job. However, these were exceptional cases. Stakeholders felt that while JSP helps young people transition to employment, sustaining a job involves wider factors that are not covered by the payment.
  • Whether it helps clients build and/or sustain social networks and broaden their lifestyle choices: Receiving JSP did not contribute directly to these outcomes. However, some young people spoke about (a) improvements to their social networks as a result of taking up employment, and (b) how being in employment had made them feel more independent than being on benefits.
  • Whether it impacts the health and well-being of clients' families (including children, where relevant) during and after their transition to employment: Successful applicants provided accounts of JSP making a difference not only to themselves, but other family members. For example, young parents putting the payment towards, childcare costs, toys and activities for children. Young people in low-income households explained how JSP had gone towards shared household bills. This applied to young people with children, and also to young people living with or caring for adult family members.

Possible factors which impact take-up of Job Start Payment, and issues around rejected applications

  • Reasons why young people who are eligible for JSP may be not applying: the findings highlighted a number of factors which may explain why some eligible young people do not apply for JSP.
    • The survey findings suggest that awareness of JSP could be greater amongst 16-24 year olds in Scotland. Additionally, in the interviews, young people expressed the view that awareness of JSP was low amongst their peers.
    • Stakeholders felt that knowledge and experience of JSP was low within their organisations, and that they could do more to signpost and promote the benefit to young people. However, some also felt they needed more training and better promotional materials on JSP to do this effectively. Also, in some cases they were cautious about signposting young people to the benefit due to their own uncertainty over eligibility, and not wanting their clients to experience a denied application.
    • Stakeholders raised how the details asked for in the application form, particularly giving details of a new employer, were anxiety-inducing, and may be putting off young people from applying for JSP. Interviews with successful applicants confirmed that some young people found approaching their employers for supporting evidence to be a difficult and awkward experience.
    • Social Security staff, wider stakeholders and young people raised how the variable length of processing times could be discouraging for young people eligible for the benefit.
  • Reasons for rejected JSP applications: JSP management information shows that just over half of JSP applications processed between August 2020 and March 2022 were denied. The research uncovered various issues relating to denied applications. These related to eligibility criteria and complications with the application process.
    • JSP management information shows the most common reasons for application denials are a failure to meet the following eligibility criteria prior to the job offer: (a) being in receipt of a qualifying benefit for at least 6 months, and (b) being out of work for at least 6 months. In focus groups, Social Security Scotland staff confirmed this was the case, and indicated that they had to apply these rules stringently when processing applications (i.e. to the exact date).
    • Social Security Scotland staff and other stakeholders said a key issue with the above eligibility rules is that young people are often encouraged by work coaches to take up short, paid work placements, which can break up otherwise lengthy periods of unemployment, and which subsequently lead to a JSP denial. Stakeholders viewed these placements as crucial for young peoples' employability, and highlighted that they often do not impact other benefits such as Universal Credit. They felt strongly that this was a negative feature of JSP.
    • JSP management information shows that 16-17 year olds have experienced an above average level of application denials. Social Security Scotland staff explained that applicants in this age-group were less likely to be on a qualifying benefit, and from their experience this was the main reason for denials amongst this age-group. Other stakeholders pointed out that existing employability initiatives (e.g. training schemes) for school leavers often precluded 16-17 year olds from claiming qualifying benefits.
    • Regarding application process, the actual JSP application form was described as straightforward by applicants and stakeholders. However, Social Security Scotland staff expressed the view that the level of supporting evidence required was excessive for a one-off payment. One staff member speculated that this could be a factor in young people dropping out of the process after submitting the initial form, leading to denials. Indeed, young people described obtaining supporting evidence as stressful, and care leavers described obtaining proof of care leaver status as challenging and even traumatic.
    • Social Security Scotland staff explained that JSP applicants must state the date they were offered the job on their application form, and this date must be confirmed in writing by their new employer. However, they said (a) young people often put the job start (not job offer) date on their forms, and (b) that jobs can be offered verbally and in writing on separate dates – meaning they cannot approve those applications. Staff expressed frustration that they had to apply this rule strictly, and could not use other forms of evidence (e.g. job contracts) to validate JSP claims.
    • Social Security Scotland staff also said that they could only contact young people via phone or letter to obtain supporting evidence after the initial JSP application is made. They felt these communication channels were not effective to reach young people. In interviews, some young people pointed out that they could not answer phones when they were at work.
    • Stakeholders who work with unemployed young people expressed the view that information on JSP (e.g. on eligibility criteria) is confusing, and may be leading ineligible young people to apply – contributing to higher application denial rates.

Conclusion and implications for policy

Overall, the research findings indicate that there is a genuine need for JSP, and that the payment is welcomed by young people and professionals who support unemployed young people. The evidence also indicates that JSP is achieving its key aims of helping young people meet the costs of starting a new job and boosting their confidence levels when making the transition to employment. All the same, the research identified a number of potential improvements which could increase the impact of the grant.

Raising more awareness of JSP amongst young people and support organisations

The findings suggest that there could be greater awareness of JSP amongst young people, and that knowledge and experience of the benefit could be low amongst skills and employability groups and third sector organisations who provide support to young people. More could therefore be done to increase awareness of JSP in order to increase take-up of the benefit amongst those who are eligible. Suggestions from young people and stakeholders included:

  • Further promotional work including a collaborative re-launch of JSP, increased social media promotions, and paid advertising (e.g. on job search websites)
  • Building JSP signposting into a requirement within new contracts such as Fair Start Scotland employment support service and the Young Person's Guarantee
  • Engaging with stakeholder groups (e.g. at forums for employability and third sector organisations) to promote JSP and provide more guidance and materials on advising young people to apply for the benefit
  • Raising more awareness of JSP amongst employers so that they can signpost the benefit to new recruits who might be eligible to claim the payment
  • Exploring the possibility of intelligent automation so that eligible claimants automatically receive JSP.

Making improvements to the JSP application process

The findings highlight that although the JSP application form is considered to be straightforward to complete, the wider application process can be challenging and stressful for applicants, stakeholders who support applicants, and Social Security Scotland staff who process applications. These complications may also be contributing to the high level of application denials, and possibly putting eligible people off from making claims in the first place. Suggestions to improve the application process from young people and stakeholders included:

  • Taking steps to improve processing times to ensure that claimants receive the payment at the point of need (i.e. before their first pay check)
  • Considering changes to the level of detail required as supporting evidence for applications, given the relatively low payment amount and its one-off nature
  • Providing clearer guidance to applicants on (a) the eligibility criteria for JSP, and (b) the exact nature of supporting evidence required for applications along with illustrative examples
  • Raising more awareness of JSP amongst employers to make the process of gathering supporting information easier for young people
  • Giving Social Security Scotland staff more flexibility when processing supporting evidence, e.g. by allowing them to (a) make adjustments in their internal systems when applicants have entered an incorrect job offer date, and (b) use a wider range of information or documentation to validate JSP claims (e.g. job contracts)
  • Allowing Social Security Scotland staff to contact applicants via text and email when following up to obtain supporting evidence, rather than only phone calls and letters.

Considering adjustments to JSP eligibility criteria

The findings demonstrate that many JSP applicants do not meet the eligibility criteria for the payment, and that there are a number of associated issues with eligibility. Stakeholders suggested means to address these issues, which would ensure that JSP reaches more young people who (in their view) also need financial support when starting a new job. Suggestions included:

  • Reducing the amount of time young people need to be out of paid work and on a qualifying benefit in order to be eligible for JSP
  • Ensuring that short-term, paid work placements which interrupt otherwise lengthy periods of unemployment do not render applicants ineligible for JSP
  • Implementing different eligibility criteria for 16-17 year olds, who are especially unlikely to be eligible for JSP under the current rules
  • Allowing people to claim JSP more than once every two years, to reflect fluctuations in the labour market.



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