Best Start Grant: interim evaluation

Findings from the interim evaluation of Best Start Grant.

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This section introduces Best Start Grant (BSG), the rationale behind its implementation and the overall evaluation aims relevant to this report.

Best Start Grant: Description

The Social Security powers that have been devolved through the Scotland Act 2016 give the Scottish Parliament responsibility for £2.8 billion of social security expenditure (around 15% of total benefit expenditure in Scotland) which are enacted by the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018.

The Best Start Grant is one of the new benefits implemented with the use of those devolved powers and it forms part of the strategic commitment outlined in the Scottish Government's Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan (2018-2022) - "Every Child, Every Chance". It was designed to replace and expand the Sure Start Maternity Grant paid by the UK Government. The BSG aims to reduce financial pressures on low income families. It is also part of the wider Scottish Government strategic objectives focusing on early years, early intervention and improving health, well-being and educational outcomes for low income families.

The Best Start Grant is comprised of three possible payments to parents or carers of children. These three payments are:

  • Pregnancy and Baby Payment: a payment of £600 on the birth of a first child and £300 on the birth of any subsequent children
  • Early Learning Payment: a payment of £250 for children between 2 and 3.5 years old to support child development
  • School Age Payment: a payment of £250 around the time a child is first old enough to start school to help with the costs of preparing for school.

Parents and carers over the age of 18 are eligible for the Best Start Grant (whether they are in work or not), if they are receiving one of these benefits: Universal Credit, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Pension Credit, Income-based Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Parents and carers aged 18/19 do not need to be in receipt of a qualifying benefit if they are dependent on someone else, i.e. they are named on their parent or carer's benefit claim. Parents and carers under the age of 18 do not need to be on any payments or benefits to qualify for Best Start Grant.

Social Security Scotland began taking applications for each of the BSG payments at different dates:

  • Pregnancy and Baby Payment: 10 December 2018
  • Early Learning Payment: 29 April 2019
  • School Age Payment: 3 June 2019

Claimants must make separate applications for each BSG payment – and may not qualify for every payment, since BSG eligibility is usually tied to receipt of particular benefits. This means that a claimant may make a first application at any point in the BSG trajectory (i.e. first or only payment could be Pregnancy and Baby, Early Learning, or School Age Payment).

Best Start Grant and Sure Start Maternity Grant

The BSG replaced and expanded on the Sure Start Maternity Grant (SSMG), administered by the Department of Work and Pensions, in Scotland. It represents a significant additional investment by the Scottish Government in comparison to SSMG provision.

The SSMG provides £500 for the birth of a first child and, with some exceptions for multiple births, does not provide support for second and subsequent children. The BSG Pregnancy and Baby Payment increased provision for a first child to £600. Additionally, a £300 Pregnancy and Baby Payment is made for each qualifying second or subsequent child.

BSG also introduced two additional £250 payments: the Early Learning Payment and the School Age Payment.

As a result, by providing support at key transition points in a child's early years, the BSG aims to help alleviate material deprivation, tackle inequality, and contribute to closing the educational attainment gap.

Development of Best Start Grant

Final BSG policy was developed based on consultation and engagement with stakeholders, including the BSG Reference Group, and people with direct personal experience of the current benefits system. Evolving application processes were continually tested with prospective clients to make them as user-friendly as possible. Feedback from people who use the service continues to inform improvements.

Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods (BSFs) share an integrated application process. This means that in order to apply for both BSG and BSFs, parents and carers complete one simple application form, rather than two. This streamlined application process means that applicants will be awarded all the BSG and BSFs payments that they are entitled to, regardless of which element they may have intended to apply for. This simple application process was designed to reduce effort for the applicant, support income maximisation and increase take up of the benefits.

Best Start Grant Accessibility

Social Security Scotland is commited to accessibility. To maximise this, multiple application channels are available: digital, paper and telephone. The digital application process is compatible with assistive technologies and clients can request phonecalls and letters in a variety of formats e.g. in over 100 different languages, using BSL video calls, or in braille, easy read and large print.

Promotion of Best Start Grant

Social Security Scotland delivered an integrated communications and marketing campaign to support the introduction of BSG. Work is ongoing to promote BSG across the country, to help to ensure families get the payments they are entitled to. Activity has included: using social media; utilising paid-for digital and outdoor marketing; issuing media releases to local newspapers; circulating social media toolkits to stakeholders; and distributing flyers, factsheets and posters.

Awareness of BSG has been raised with professional stakeholders and the advice sector, ensuring they are equipped to help people access the BSG. Key groups such as Nurse Directors, Heads of Midwifery and Health Visitors have been engaged with to raise awareness of BSG and answer questions about the benefit.

Recent developments

Starting in early August 2020, letters were issued to families who may be eligible for BSFs and BSG inviting them to apply.

In response to COVID-19, to give clients an additional way to contact Social Security Scotland, a temporary web chat function was introduced in May 2020. Clients can use this web chat for general enquiries and to ask for progress updates on their application. New applications cannot be made through this web chat.

Evaluation aims

The Scottish Government published their approach to evaluating the first wave of the devolved social security benefits, including BSG, in November 2019[1].

This evaluation aims to provide learning about the overall implementation of the benefit and the extent to which the objectives of BSG have been met. In doing so, it can also assess the likely contribution of BSG to wider long-term government outcomes for children which take account of wider Scottish Government interventions outside of social security which are also designed to support children and their families.

Specifically, the evaluation objectives are to:

1. Evaluate the extent to which BSG achieved its intended outcomes

2. Assess the likely contribution of BSG to wider, long-term government policy impacts in relation to outcomes for children and their families

3. Discuss any implications for future policy development

The findings will provide groundwork for policy improvement and feed into the development of future social security for children.

It is important to note also that although BSG is fully rolled-out, its impacts may be assessed fully only after at least 5 years from the roll-out by which time eligible families will have had a chance to receive multiple payments for the same child, if they remain eligible. At this point, we are only reporting from the impact of the first payments.



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