Background and methods
Scottish Child Payment (SCP) was introduced by the Scottish Government to support families on low incomes and contribute to its goal of eradicating child poverty in Scotland. The first payments were made in February 2021, initially to families on qualifying benefits with children under six, although the Scottish Government has stated its intention to extend the scheme to cover children under 16 years of age. At the time this research was conducted, parents and carers in receipt of SCP were paid £40 direct to their bank account every four weeks, although the value was set to double to, £80 every four weeks, from April 2022, and increase to £100 by the end of 2022.
This research was conducted by Ipsos on behalf of the Scottish Government, in order to inform the interim evaluation of SCP. It aimed to gather evidence on whether and how SCP improves outcomes for children and families and any improvements that may be needed. The research was qualitative in nature, and involved:
- 39 depth interviews over the telephone with parents/carers who currently received or who had recently received SCP, and
- 9 depth interviews over the telephone with 10 representatives from third sector organisations who advise or support families eligible for SCP.
Applying for SCP
- Parents and carers had found out about SCP through a range of different routes, including word of mouth (from both family and friends and professionals who were supporting them), media advertising, and advertising through existing support services.
- In general, parents were clear about why SCP had been introduced and what it was intended to achieve, although there was a little confusion over precise eligibility criteria.
- Overall, parents reported that the process of applying for SCP had been simple and straightforward, particularly in comparison to other benefits they had applied for. Third sector participants echoed this view – for the most part, the application process seemed to be working well.
- However, a few issues were nonetheless identified, including a perception that telephone applications took too long or that the some of the specific requirements for documentation were tricky.
- Similarly, experiences of communication from Social Security Scotland were generally positive. However, exceptions to this highlighted the importance of being kept fully up to date on the progress of any benefits claims to families who are struggling financially.
- It was difficult to establish how much impact SCP had on raising awareness of other forms of support families may be entitled to, since families did not always recall being advised on other support at the point of application, or they were often already in receipt of other key benefits they were eligible for when they applied for SCP.
- However, there were examples where families had been alerted to other benefits (such as Best Start Foods) when applying for SCP and had signed up to these as a result – highlighting the importance of linking up benefits during the application process to maximise families' access to the financial support they are entitled to.
How families use SCP
- Parents and carers describe spending Scottish Child Payment in a range of ways, including on essential expenses, treat items, activities and experiences for the family or child, items relating to their child's disability, savings for their children, and expenses to help enable the parent to work or study.
- Parents varied in whether they used the payment flexibly depending on what was needed each month, or deliberately spent the payment in a similar way every time.
- Parents also varied in whether they used the payment for whatever was needed for the whole family, or 'ringfenced' the money to be spent only on their child or children (sometimes including older children who were not currently eligible for SCP).
- In general, those interviewed were content with receiving payments every four weeks. However, there was also a perception that alternative payment schedules ought to be offered, if possible, for those who would prefer this.
- Parents generally reported that SCP had not changed where they spent their money – it had allowed them to buy different or better things, but they made these purchases at the same businesses they normally used.
- Overall, parents did not feel that COVID-19 had affected the way they spent SCP very much, although there were examples where they had used it to meet additional expenses (such as needing more food, or higher bills, as a result of being in the house more often).
- Parents were concerned about the future impact of rising prices – this might mean they have to reallocate the SCP to cover increased general expenses, such as energy bills or food shopping.
Perceived impacts of SCP on family finances
- Parents and third sector organisations described SCP as having made a significant financial difference to families on low incomes. There was a clear belief among parents that receiving SCP had reduced their risk of falling into debt to in order to pay bills or afford other essentials. There was evidence too that SCP was helping to reduce food poverty.
- However, at the same time there was a perception that SCP was not a large enough sum of money to have a completely transformative impact on participants' financial situation.
- There was a clear sense that family budgets remained very tight, particularly in the context of the additional financial pressures created by rising living costs and the cancellation of the Universal Credit uplift. This latter UK Government policy change was described both as potentially 'cancelling out' the impact of SCP, and as meaning SCP was even more important to families.
- There were a small number of main carers who felt that receiving SCP themselves had improved their financial position within the household, giving them more independence.
- There was relatively little discussion of SCP impacting on education or labour market outcomes for parents. However, there were examples where parents felt SCP had helped remove barriers to education or work.
Perceived impacts of SCP on child and parent wellbeing
- Parents felt receiving SCP had supported positive impacts for their children's physical and emotional wellbeing.
- Physical health benefits included: access to more or healthier food, access to paid physical activities (like swimming); and improved access to medical care or support.
- Benefits to children's emotional wellbeing stemmed not only from having their basic needs met (and reducing any stress associated with this), but also from the enjoyment of having the occasional treat or trip out. Trips and activities paid for by SCP were also believed to support improved social skills and confidence and the benefits of quality time together as a family.
- SCP had enabled some parents to buy their children additional items directly aimed at improving their emotional and mental wellbeing, such as sensory toys or resources to support home learning.
- Some parents acknowledged that, through reducing their own stress levels, SCP indirectly benefitted their children by fostering a more relaxed atmosphere at home.
- However, others felt that as they always put their children's welfare first and tried to shield them from their own financial worries, the impact of SCP on their child's emotional wellbeing was more limited.
- The financial support provided by SCP was also found to have had significant impacts on parental wellbeing. This was primarily by reducing financial worries.
- However, parents also described other ways in which they felt SCP had benefited their wellbeing, including: reduced guilt and embarrassment around not being able to afford things for their children; enabling them to buy healthy food for the whole family; and reducing social isolation by helping parents access parent and child activities.
- Receiving SCP also provided a sense or recognition and care from the Scottish Government, which was important to some parents.
This research demonstrates that SCP can have a significant financial impact for families, helping them afford essential items, avoid debt, and contributing to reducing food poverty. In helping with financial challenges, SCP was, in turn, helping to reduce stress and improve both parental and child wellbeing.
However, while SCP was contributing to helping families interviewed for this research manage financial challenges, interviewees felt that the amount SCP was set at (£10 at the time of writing) was not enough to completely transform the finances of families on low incomes. The increased cost of living and impact of the UK Government's cancellation of the Universal Credit uplift were both seen as potentially constraining the impact of SCP, while at the same time making the payment even more important to families on low incomes.
It was often difficult to establish whether SCP had raised awareness of other entitlements among families who apply for it. However, there was evidence that the application process was alerting some families to other support. The application process was also viewed as straightforward in comparison with other benefits – something that helped foster the perception that families were entitled to claim it. Being offered SCP was also associated with a belief among interviewees that the Scottish Government wants to help families like theirs.
Suggestions about how to further improve SCP to maximise its impact for low-income families focused on: awareness raising; further clarification around eligibility criteria; specific improvements to elements of the application process (for example, considering whether anything further can be done to shorten or simplify it, particularly for those applying by phone); communication after an application is submitted; raising awareness of other support; and frequency of payments (with a suggestion that some parents would prefer a fortnightly option).
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