Fairer Scotland action plan: progress report 2019

Progress made on the Fairer Scotland action plan published in 2016.

Social security and benefit up-take

Over the past year major progress has been made in building a new social security system for Scotland: one based on the statutory principles that social security is a human right, and has dignity, respect and fairness at its core.  

We have already made strong progress in delivering the devolved benefits that support those on low incomes.  This includes increasing payments to carers through the Carers Allowance Supplement by £452 this year, and the introduction of our new Best Start Grant which has three elements and can provide financial support of £1,900 for a two child family in the early years.

We are also using new social security powers to tackle child poverty head on with the introduction of the new Scottish Child Payment, which will put extra money into the pockets of low income families with children under 16 by 2022 – with early introduction for those with children under six by the end of 2020.

Our first Benefit Take-up Strategy[38], published on 21 October 2019, sets out our commitment to ensure that people are aware of the assistance they are entitled to, as well as encouraged and supported to access it.

Social security in Scotland

StC 6. Make effective use of new social security powers but proceed with caution

The Scotland Act 2016 gave us new powers relating to social security, including the devolution of 11 benefits, which we are using to create a Scottish social security system based on dignity, fairness and respect.  Next year we will be introducing the Scottish Child Payment, a brand new benefit for families on low incomes to help with the costs of caring for a child.  This payment will provide families with an additional £10 per week, per child for all eligible children aged under 16 when fully rolled-out by the end of 2022.  We will introduce the payment early for eligible families with children under six, with the first payments being made before Christmas next year.  This is significantly ahead of the timetable set out in our Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, and been hailed as a ‘game-changer’ by the Child Poverty Action Group.  Almost 60% of all children in poverty live in a family where a child is under six years old and up to 170,000 children will be eligible for this early payment, putting over £1,000 a year in the pockets of a two child family.  The introduction of a brand new benefit so quickly is unprecedented and is a clear demonstration of the way in which we can use our new powers to make a difference to people.

Devolved benefits

FSAP 18. We will do more to help carers as soon as we have the ability
FSAP 28. We will create a new Best Start Grant (BSG) to bring together the system for Healthy Start food vouchers and the UK Sure Start Maternity Grant (SSMG) when powers transfer to Scottish Ministers, as part of our focus on reducing inequalities in early years, and subject to the outcome of the consultation on the Future of Social Security in Scotland
FSAP 39. We will introduce a Job Grant for young people aged 16-24 who have been out of work for six months or more
FSAP 50. We will improve the current system of Funeral Payments, so it helps more people, is more predictable and provides help more quickly

Since we increased Carer’s Allowance by 13% through our Carer’s Allowance Supplement in summer 2018, we have made 235,405 payments of Carer’s Allowance Supplement to 91,550 carers.  In 2019-20 the supplement has put an extra £452.40 into eligible carers’ pockets.  We invest £320 million in carers through Carer’s Allowance and Carer’s Allowance Supplement and also uprate these payments in line with inflation (2.4% in 2019-20).  

The Best Start Grant replaced the UK Government’s Sure Start Maternity Grant and introduced two new payments with widened eligibility to support families on low incomes, both in and out of work.  The new benefit takes provision for the first child from £500 under the UK Scheme to up to a total of £1,100 over three payments.  We do not put a cap on the number of children we help so that subsequent children, who receive nothing under the UK system, receive up to a total of £800 through the Scottish social security system.

The Pregnancy and Baby Payment opened for applications on 10 December 2018, followed by the Early Learning Payment on 29 April 2019 and the School Age Payment on 3 June.  Between 10 December 2018 and 30 September 2019, more than 59,000 Best Start Grant payments had been made, totalling £17.7 million, £7.7 million of which was for the Pregnancy and Baby Payment.  In comparison, the DWP paid out a total of £2 million Sure Start Maternity Grant payments in Scotland (the UK Government’s benefit equivalent to the Pregnancy and Baby Payment) in the entire 2017-18 financial year, showing how promoting a benefit and designing the application process with individuals with experience of using the service can increase the take-up and financial support to low income families.

Best Start Foods launched on 12 August 2019 replacing the UK Government’s Healthy Start paper voucher scheme with a new payment card.  The card works similar to a bank card and can be used to buy a variety of healthy foods for low income families during pregnancy for children between one and three years old, and removes the stigma associated with the previous paper voucher system.

We launched our Funeral Support Payment in September 2019 with additional investment of around £2 million each year above the budget transferred from the UK Government, taking the annual budget to £7 million.  We have increased eligibility for the payment which means around 40% more people on low incomes will be eligible for the support.  This payment provides a one-off contribution of £700 as well as other funeral costs, with the average payment expected to be around £1,300.

The Young Carer Grant – the first of its kind in the UK – launched on 21 October 2019.  The Grant, a £300 payment available to 16, 17 and 18 year olds who provide care for a person/people who are normally paid a disability benefit, is intended to support young carers to do the things which are the norm for their non-caring peers, such as participate in education, training and personal development.  Investment of £600,000 in 2019-20 will support an estimated 1,900 young carers.

The Scottish Government is working towards launching its new Job Start Payment (previously called Job Grant) in spring 2020 which will provide a one-off payment for young people starting a job after being out for work for six months or more.  We consulted earlier this year on the proposed key eligibility criteria, the amount and format of the payment, and are working closely with the UK Government to ensure the necessary legislative powers are in place on time. 

The next phase of delivery for social security payments is the delivery of the most complex payments in our programme to date.  It is clear that that is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to build trust in a decision-making process that takes account of the details of a person’s condition or disability and how it impacts on their life.  This will help us to ensure that those who apply for disability payments are treated with dignity and respect at every step of the process and feel supported, not stigmatised.

Maximise benefit take-up

FSAP 17. We will make social security fairer where we can
FSAP 19. We will work with a range of partners to help people claim the benefits they are entitled to
StC 5. Do more to ensure that people claim the benefits they are entitled to

We are committed to maximising the uptake of benefits.  Now in operation for over a year, the Money Talk Team – funded by the Scottish Government and delivered by the Citizens Advice Network in Scotland – offers free advice on money matters, including benefit take-up.  Two thirds (67%) of those accessing the service sought advice on benefit take-up, with over £9 million in financial gains recorded for these clients.  More detail on the Money Talk Team service can be found in the ‘Social policy – Fairer Scotland’ section.

On 21 October we published the first Benefit Take-up Strategy, which was developed in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders. It introduces a number of new initiatives, including:

  • A new £500,000 fund available for 2020 to assist organisations who are preparing their services and staff to support people who will be applying for Scottish benefits
  • A new £100,000 take-up accessibility fund available for 2020 to assist organisations who support people to increase their household incomes, with an emphasis on ensuring people are aware of the financial support available to them
  • Establishing a stakeholder take-up reference group
  • Developing a Take-up Stakeholder Toolkit
  • Two roundtable events on access to social security

As part of the Benefit Take-up Strategy, we have sought to ensure that the new benefits are as accessible as possible to maximise take-up amongst eligible families.  For example, our multi-channel approach means that benefit applications can be made online, by phone or in paper form, and we are using existing data to verify eligibility where possible to remove barriers to application.  Social security is an investment in people, and we are taking concrete steps to reduce the stigma around benefit receipt.  People are at the centre of everything we do, and by listening to user research, we are delivering Scottish payments in ways which reflect clients’ needs and respects their dignity.

The Best Start Grant provides a clear example of the success of our efforts to improve the take-up of Scottish payments.  As well as improving and expanding on the UK Government Sure Start Maternity Grant eligibility, our Best Start Grant payments have integrated the administrative systems so that parents can apply for all Best Start Grant payments and Best Start Foods in a single application form.  Alongside this, we are widely promoting the benefit to families who may qualify, so that as many children as possible can benefit from a payment.


Email: sjsu@gov.scot

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