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.

4. Conclusions and Implications

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

  • The impact of JSP on people who have received this support, by learning about their experiences with the payment
  • Factors which impact take-up of JSP amongst young people who are eligible for the benefit, and
  • Issues around JSP application denial rates.

The findings were derived primarily from qualitative research with young people (both JSP applicants and non-applicants), Social Security Scotland staff, and stakeholders from organisations that support unemployed young people. The main findings and subsequent policy implications are summarised below.

4.1 Summary of key findings and implications for policy

The Aim and Impact of Job Start Payment

The findings indicate that there is a need for targeted support when young people start a new job. Recipients reported spending the payment on items such as clothing or transport for work. They spoke positively about the payment amount and generally felt it had boosted their confidence when starting a new job. Although not directly attributable to the payment, young people reported various other positive impacts of being in employment.

However, the findings also show that the payment amount may not be enough to meet every individual's needs – notably parents who face upfront childcare costs when starting work. There was also consensus from young people and stakeholders that the benefit was most impactful if received before the first pay check. However, in the interviews, several young people said that they did not get the payment before their first pay check, which created worry and in some cases a need to borrow money.

Factors which impact take-up of Job Start Payment

The findings highlight a number of factors which could explain why some eligible young people have not claimed JSP. For example, the evidence suggests awareness of the benefit could be greater amongst 16-24 year olds in Scotland. Also, stakeholders from employability or third sector groups felt that knowledge of JSP was low within their organisations, and that they could do more to signpost and promote the benefit to young people.

In addition to the above, stakeholders felt that having to put employer details on application forms was anxiety-inducing for young people, and potentially putting them off from applying for JSP. All participants felt that the variable length of processing times could be discouraging for young people eligible for the benefit.

Issues around rejected JSP applications

The findings show the most common reasons for application denials are a failure to meet the following eligibility criteria: (a) being in receipt of a qualifying benefit for at least 6 months, and (b) being out of work for at least 6 months. Stakeholders said a key issue with these rules is that young people are often encouraged to take up short, paid work placements, which subsequently lead to a JSP denial. They felt strongly that this was a negative feature of JSP. Additionally, stakeholders explained that 16-17 year olds were less likely to be on a qualifying benefit, and from their experience this was the main reason for the higher rate of denials amongst this age-group.

In addition to issues with eligibility, the findings indicate that issues with the application process which are linked with denials:

  • Social Security Scotland staff felt the level of supporting evidence required was excessive for a one-off payment, and it was speculated that this could be a factor in young people dropping out of the process after submitting the initial form
  • 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, which they perceived to be ineffective methods for that age-group
  • Staff also explained that to validate JSP claims applicants need to provide a job offer date, confirmed in writing by employers – a process which they said led to difficulties in practice, and in some cases denials.
  • Finally, 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.

Implications for policy

As suggested by the main findings, JSP appears to be 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. However, they also highlight a number of issues which have potential policy implications, summarised here:

  • Raising awareness of JSP amongst young people and support organisations: More could be done to increase awareness of JSP in order to increase take-up of the benefit amongst those who are eligible.
  • Making improvements to the JSP application process: There may be a need to simplify the application process (particularly processes and procedures around supporting evidence) to make it easier for both applicants and staff processing claims, and potentially improve processing times.
  • Considering adjustments to JSP eligibility criteria: There may be a need to review the main eligibility criteria to ensure more young people who need support when entering employment can access JSP – notably those who have taken up short placements (but otherwise meet all the criteria) and 16-17 year olds who currently are less likely to be eligible than other young people.

4.2 Limitations and further research recommendations

This study provided rich and detailed information through a mainly qualitative approach. Throughout the report, there are reminders that these findings cannot be generalised to all young people's experiences. Having said that, the study provides rich and detailed information which can help evidence impacts of JSP, explain factors inhibiting or enabling take-up.

Data and information is valuable, however it is important to consider JSP has been administered over the period of the Covid-19 pandemic. As one staff member explained:

"We still don't know what a normal year looks like in JSP, as everything has been shaped by the ebbs and flows of the pandemic."

(Social Security Scotland)

The largest remaining research gap in relation to the research questions, is whether there are cases where eligible young people start, but do not finish, the application process. It would be very challenging to identify young people who have not completed an application. If they dropped out during the initial application Social Security Scotland would unlikely collect, and certainly not retain any personal information. Furthermore, if they dropped out of the application at the point of a request for further evidence, then establishing contact to encourage them and clarify the process would take precedence over establishing contact to include them in any evaluation. We recommend that the starting point for exploring this question is digital analytics of the applications portal. This could indicate points of drop off and examine completed fields relating to eligibility criteria.

Scottish Government will continue to review their estimation of the number of young people potentially eligible for JSP. This could be based upon a combination of population statistics, including Scotland's Census 2022. This analysis would help compare numbers of young people eligible with numbers applying and successfully applying. Work is ongoing within Scottish Government on measuring the take-up of Scottish social security benefits.

It would be valuable to commission user testing for any updates to the application process, not only changes to the initial application forms (online, by post, by phone), but to steps throughout the process, including submission of further evidence. Ongoing user research within Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland may include this in future plans.



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