This chapter presents the findings of the evaluation in terms of the achievement of Best Start Grant against short-term and medium-term policy objectives. In doing so, it also highlights the likely contribution of BSG to wider long-term government outcomes for children. It also discusses the policy implications identified through the qualitative research.
Achievement against short-term Best Start Grant policy outcomes
This section assesses BSG against the following policy outcomes:
- Grants are well promoted
- Application process is clear and easy
- Payments are well administered
- Grants are taken up
- Grants reach people at key transition points in child's life
- Increased regular income
- Low-income families supported at key transition points in child's life
The section draws on data from the commissioned research and Official Statistics.
Promotion of grant
The primary source of information we have on whether grants were well promoted is the qualitative data from the commissioned research which, as explained in the Methodology chapter, is based on a small, non-representative sample of a population. As noted in the previous chapter, the Social Security Scotland Satisfaction Survey was sent to over 165,000 people who had received a Social Security Scotland benefit, or reached decision stage on a benefit application. The survey collects information on client experiences of interacting with Social Security Scotland and when available the results may provide a more comprehensive picture of how well the grants were promoted. The question on how well the grants were promoted could also be answered indirectly with official statistics data which may provide an objective assessment of the impact of promotion (see section on 'Grants are taken up' outcome below).
Findings from the commissioned research were that respondents became aware of the BSG in a range of ways, most commonly through word of mouth but also via schools, nurseries, parental support organisations, money advice services, healthcare practitioners, social media, and letters about another benefit were all cited as ways in which respondents heard about the grant. Some stated that they became aware almost by chance and some were surprised that BSG was available to them. The report from the qualitative research concluded:
"The consensus of the respondents was that the BSG was not yet widely known about and they had been relatively fortunate to hear about the grant at all. Respondents agreed that one way to improve the grant would be to promote and advertise it more widely. […] Respondents suggested that the BSG should be advertised in a range of different places to ensure that eligible individuals are aware of the grant." (Annex B, p. 39)
Application process is clear and easy
As with the previous outcome above, the Social Security Scotland Satisfaction Survey may provide a more comprehensive picture of performance against this short-term outcome. Nevertheless, the commissioned qualitative research concluded that respondents found the application process straighforward. Some compared it favourably to application processes for other benefits. The appropriate level of detail/information asked for in the form, length of the form, layout, clear wording, use of 'tick boxes', a telephone helpline, the option to choose to complete the form online - on paper or over the phone, were mentioned as features that made the application process easy. Options to link personal details from other benefit applications or prior BSG applications were found useful by some but others reported that it didn't work for them as they expected.
Payments are well administered
Official statistics provide some information on the administration of payments in terms of processing times understood as time between the application date and a date when the Agency made a decision on that application. To maximise uptake, BSG and BSFs share a combined application form. Since the introduction of BSFs in August 2019, each application requires two decisions (BSG and BSFs) to be made at the same time. The key outcomes for processing times are:
- "In total, around 48% of the applications [89,795] that were received since December 2018 and decided by 31 August 2020 were processed within 10 working days. Around 22% of all applications took 21 days or more to be processed. This processing time includes time spent waiting to receive copies of documents from clients, but does not include additional time to make payments."
- The proportion of applications processed within 10 days was at its highest (92%) in May 2019 and at its lowest (7%) in March 2020
- "By the end of August 2020, the median average processing time since December 2018 had increased to 11 days."
- The median processing times have been as low as 1 day (April 2019) and as high as 28 days (August 2020)
The commissioned qualitative research found that recipients viewed positively the option of receiving payments directly into their bank account and in general felt the payments were delivered to them quickly, although some reported longer waiting time than they may have expected. It is impossible to verify this nor determine what the reason for that could have been.
As with the previous outcome above, the Social Security Scotland Satisfaction Survey may provide a more comprehensive picture of performance in terms of payments administration.
Grants are taken up
The best way to assess the performance against this outcome would be to use estimates of take-up expressed as the number of people who received a benefit payment among all those eligible for that benefit (including those who did not apply). Such information would also allow an assessment of the BSG against the three other short-term outcomes discussed above. More specifically, it could be expected that grants that are well promoted, easy to apply for, and well administered have high take up.
Provisional take-up estimates were provided for BSG Pregnancy and Baby Payment in the Social security: benefit take-up strategy. It was estimated that the take up was 67 per cent for births occuring between 1 December 2018 and 31 March 2019 (53 per cent for first births and 77 per cent for subsequent births). Official statistics indicate the scale of BSG payments in absolute terms (i.e. how many payments were made including by various social and demographic groups) which may give a sense of the reach of BSG payments in broad terms. Further secondary analysis of the management data for the period from 10 December 2018 to 31 August 2020 indicates:
- The number of issued payments was 102,640. This includes 32,365 Pregnancy and Baby Payments, 37,740, Early Learning Payments, and 32,535 School Age Payments.
- The majority of payments were issued to people living in more deprived areas – i.e. 45% (46,455) for those in SIMD quintile 1 and 26% (26,945) in SIMD quintile 2, followed by 15% (15,385) payments for recipients in SIMD quintile 3, 9% (9,410) in SIMD quintile 4, and 4% (4,090) in SIMD quintile 5.
- Local authority areas where most payments were issued are: Glasgow City (17,515 or 17% of all payments issued), North Lanarkshire (8,290 or 8% of all payments), Fife (7,905 or 8% of all payments), South Lanarkshire (6,285 or 6% of all payments), Edinburgh City (6,115 or 6% of all payments), and Dundee City (3,800 or 4% of all payments).
- The most common qualifying benefit among recipients was Child Tax Credit (57,055), followed by Universal Credit (44,810), Working Tax Credit (23,560), and Income Support (18,030). Other qualifying benefits were much less common among BSG payment recipients.
- The vast majority of payments (94%) were received by the parents of the children in question. Around 1% were received by another family member. Information is incomplete for 4% of applicants
- 41% of payments were issued to couples (26% to families with more than one child, 12% for the first child and 4% unknown). 59% of payments were made to single parents (28% with more than one child, 24% for the first child and 7% unknown)
- Around one in five payments were issued to people who were 18-24 years old (just under 20% or 19,630 in total). Recipients under 18 years old accounted for less than 1% of payments issued. The largest recipient groups by age were 25-29 years-old (30% or 30,285 payments issued) and 30-34 years-old (27% or 27,305 payments). Recipients in the 35-39 age bracket accounted for 16% (16,505) of all payments issued and 8% (8,240) payments were issued to those aged 40 or more. For the 18–24 years old group, Pregnancy and Baby Payment was the most frequently issued payment while for those aged 25-34 it was the Early Learning Payment, and for those aged 35 and above it was the School Age Payment.
Official statistics also give us a view of equalities characteristics of people who applied for BSG between 9 December 2019 (when the equalities questions were made a mandatory part of the core application form) and 31 May 2020. The figures summarised below refer to those who have applied for any of the three BSG payments but some of them may have been denied a payment. Detailed information on the number of applicants approved and denied by the equalities groups is available in the official publication. The headline figures on applicants only are:
- 89% (30,320) of applicants identified themselves as 'white', 4% (1,355) as Asian, 2% (685) as African, 1% (260) as Mixed or multiple ethnic groups, less than 1% (105) as Caribbean or Black, and 1% (470) as other ethnic group.
- 91% (31,255) of applicants identified themselves as women, 7% (2,245) as men.
- 16% (5,540) of applicants identified themselves as having a physical or mental condition or illness lasting or expected to last 12 months or more. 6% (2,205) preferred not to say.
- 91% (31,165) of applicants identified themselves as heterosexual, 2% (520) as bisexual, less than 1% (125) as gay and lesbian, 1% (195) in another way, and 6% (2,205) preferred not to say.
- 1% (250) of applicants identified themselves as transgender and 3% (1,155) preferred not say.
- 66% of applicants (22,455) did not identify with any religion. 12% (3,995) identified as Roman Catholic, 6% (1,960) as Church of Scotland, 5% (1,770) as other Christian, 5% (1,870) as Muslim, and other religious groups were 1% or less.
Grants reach people at key transition points in child's life, and Low-income families supported at key transition points in child's life
The commissioned research reported that "most of the grant was spent on items families needed at the key transitional stages of birth, nursery and school" (Annex B, p.17) and that it may have reduced the experience of financial stress among parents and carers at those transitional stages by easing the heightened financial strain on low income families. There was also an indication that this made parents and carers feel prepared for key transitional points in their child's life. In addition, BSG enabled parents and carers to buy required items at transition points exactly when they needed them without having to delay the purchase:
"Receiving the BSG also allowed parents and carers to buy what they needed for the children when they needed it. Without the grant, there were parents and carers who said they could not afford the items at the appropriate times, and they would have had to go without the items until they had saved up enough money. (Annex B, p. 27)
Delays in purchasing items would not necessarily have negative impact on families in all cases, but they would have in some cases. For example, interviews with recipients indicated that a lack of BSG payment would have "resulted in families not being able to go outside as quickly without access to a buggy, children having to wear old or cheaper shoes that hurt their feet, or sleep in a bed or cot that they had outgrown." (Annex B, p. 27)
There was also an indication that Early Learning Payment specifically helped people feel confident at a transition point of their child becoming a toddler.
"Parents and carers reported spending some of the Early Learning Payment on items related to their child becoming a toddler. This included purchases of beds for toddlers, and specific bedding and items related to toilet training. Respondents said these purchases helped them feel confident in this key transitional stage." (Annex B, p. 21)
Increased regular income
As above, the commissioned research suggested that BSG provided additional income to families at key transitional points in child's life that they could use to buy a range of essential items and various services for children for whom BSG was claimed and sometimes for their siblings. Their regular income was often insufficient to buy the items at a time they felt was right and they would have to either delay the purchase or find alternative sources of income beyond their regular income. For example, there was also an indication that BSG may have prevented some families from going into debt to buy items they needed with their regular income. It was also reported that there was a consensus that the grant assisted the recipients to manage their own budgets and increase their own sense of financial independence that would have presumably less available with their regular income alone. From this it is a reasonable conclusion that if regular income was not necessarily greater, it would have been less likely to be have been needed to spend on one-off items, or greater debt required to pay for them.
Achievement against medium-term Best Start Grant policy outcomes
This section assesses BSG against the following policy outcomes:
- Reduced pressure on household finances
- Increased child-related spend
- Children able to participate in social and educational opportunities
This section is largely informed by the qualitative research. The full qualitative research report from ScotCen Social Research can be found in Annex B.
Reduced pressure on household finances
The commissioned research found that "respondents were unanimous" in the view that the BSG had made a positive impact on their household finances" (Annex B, p. 24). Some have said that BSG gave them more freedom in a sense of not having to choose between paying bills or buying items for children.
In addition to this, there was evidence that BSG may have helped receiving families avoid debt (see next chapter).
Increased child-related spend
The qualitative research found that BSG helped low income families purchase much needed items and services for children for whom BSG was claimed as well as for other children. However, it concluded also that these purchases would have almost certainly been made, regardless of the grant being available and that a number of respondents said that without the BSG they would have gone into debt because they did not have the finances to buy these items (Annex B, p. 24). Therefore, it cannot be confirmed whether BSG resulted in increased child-related spend or whether it offered an alternative source for similar spend.
Children able to participate in social and educational opportunities
The commissioned research found that BSG enabled a number of families to take part in a range of social opportunities (e.g. visiting soft play and trampolining centres, theme or activity parks, eating out) that they would have otherwise been unable to participate in" (Annex B, p.32). It also enabled parents and carers to obtain items (e.g. clothing, equipment) and services (e.g. tuition "that would allow their children to take part in more physical activity either individually or socially with the family" (Annex B, p. 32). Some recipients reported being able to travel further and experience memorable days out with the whole family.
BSG helped some children and their families to take part in educational opportunities, too. This involved visits to museums or purchasing educational toys and other items for use at home.
Evidence of positive development against long-term Best Start Grant policy outcomes
This section will focus on the following wider government outcomes:
- Reduced incidence of debt
- Reduced incidence of material deprivation
- Improved health and well-being (of children and their families)
As outlined in the Methodology chapter, it is difficult to evaluate the impact of BSG on these outcomes. Not only will these long-term outcomes take time to determine, but the contribution of BSG is difficult to measure and attribute given wider factors feeding in to achievement against these outcomes. We have looked at existing survey data (e.g. Family Resources Survey and Scottish Household Survey) to see if it could help assess the performance of BSG against these outcomes. However, the subset of BSG recipients in those surveys was too small for a robust analysis at this point in time (though it may be large enough in future editions of these surveys). Nevertheless, while we cannot measure or even be certain of any impacts on these outcomes, the commissioned research provided some indication on how BSG may be affecting them.
Reduced incidence of debt
We do not have robust quantitative data to assess this outcome. However, qualitative data collected and analysed in the commissioned research suggested that BSG may have a positive impact on debt reduction. In particular, the report noted that:
"There were respondents who reported that the BSG had helped ensure that their household finances did not lapse into debt. The BSG payments were used to purchase items that their children needed at a key transitional time; purchases that would have almost certainly been made, regardless of the grant being available. Therefore, without the BSG a number of respondents said that they would have gone into debt because they did not have the finances to buy these items." (Annex B, p. 24)
"Among the group who stated that without the BSG they would have gone into debt, there were a number of respondents who reported that they would have taken out a loan, either with a formal body or with a family member, to purchase the items they needed for their children. Borrowing money in this way would have resulted in these respondents having to repay the loan, and they also thought that it would have negatively impacted on how they felt about themselves." (Annex B, pp. 24-25)
Reduced incidence of material deprivation
We do not have robust quantitative data to asses this outcome. However, as noted in one of the sections above, qualitative data from the commissioned research suggested that BSG provided additional income to families at key transitional points in child's life that they could use to buy a range of essential items for children for whom BSG was claimed and sometimes for their siblings. This could suggest that BSG can help reduce material deprivation in families with children.
However, as was noted above, it is likely that key expenditure on children would have still taken place in the absence of the grant, but at the risk of greater likelihood of taking on debt. Therefore, while reduced deprivation cannot be measured at this time, it suggests a potential role for BSG in helping to prevent debt may have a positive impact on material deprivation in the long-term.
Improved health and well-being (of children and their families)
Again, we do not have robust quantitative data to assess this outcome but qualitative data from the commissioned research suggested that BSG is likely to generate positive feelings and behaviours among children and their families, while reducing negative ones, which could potentially translate into improved health and well-being for both children and their families. For parents and carers, this involved in particular reduced stress, anxiety and other negative feelings related to financial worries as well as increased self-esteem and other more positive feelings thanks to ability to provide children with what they thought they needed. For children, their parents and carers reported positive feelings such as sense of excitement in the children as they were able to pick items for school (e.g. new shoes, school bags, toys). They also reported better bonding between themselves and their children as well as among siblings in families with more than one child thanks to purchases of items or services that enabled such bonding.
Evidence of positive impacts on long-term government outcomes for children and their families
The long-term outcomes and impacts that the Scottish Government are trying to influence with regards to children, such as reduction in child poverty and inequality of outcomes for children, or improved health and well-being, will take time to determine and are affected by a range of factors of which social security is only one. As such, BSG will play an important, but not exclusive, role in contributing to these.
Evidence discussed above indicated the extent to which BSG may have achieved the short- and medium-term policy outcomes and that it could have contributed to the long-term outcomes, too. We can expect that if success at that level can be demonstrated, there may have been a postive contribution to the wider Scottish Government policy impacts on children in the long-term. However, we are unable to measure this in any robust way with the data available, given that BSG is just one intervention that we may expect to be feeding in to these wider impacts of the Scottish Government policy. Nevertheless, Scottish Government does continuously measure and monitor changes in child poverty in Scotland and BSG is one of the policies among others feeding into tackling child poverty and social inequalities.
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