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Scottish Child Payment - interim evaluation: annex B - qualitative research

Qualitative research supporting the findings from the interim evaluation of Scottish Child Payment.


1 - Introduction and methods

The negative impacts of poverty on the long-term life chances of children, and its wider implications for economic and social progress, presents a critical challenge to government. The Scottish Government has recognised that poverty is not inevitable and has set ambitious targets towards eradicating child poverty in The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017.

In order to achieve these targets, the Scottish Government set out its first Tackling Child Poverty delivery plan (TCPDP)[1] covering the period 2018-2022 which made a commitment to 'work towards introducing an income supplement within the lifetime of the delivery plan'. This has been implemented in the form of Scottish Child Payment.

This report presents the findings of qualitative research with recipients of Scottish Child Payment (hereafter referred to as SCP) and relevant third sector organisations to explore its impact on families and children who receive the support, and any areas for potential improvement. The research was carried out by Ipsos Scotland between July 2021 and February 2022, on behalf of the Scottish Government.

Policy background

Policy to address child poverty in Scotland

The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 enshrines in legislation four statutory child poverty reduction targets – reflecting the fact that poverty is complex and unlikely to be accurately captured in a single measure – to reduce child poverty by 2030, with interim targets to be met in 2023/24. These targets are summarised in Table 1.1, below.

The scale of the challenge involved in meeting these targets is clear from this table. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit (data for 2019/20 pre-dates the pandemic), levels of child poverty were high – one in four children were in relative poverty. Moreover, with respect to two measures (relative poverty and persistent poverty), child poverty in Scotland has increased in recent years (since around 2011/12).

Table 1.1 – Scottish Government Child Poverty targets
Measure b. 2019/20 level[2] c. 2023/24 interim target d. 2030 target
Relative child poverty (living in a household with equivalised income less than 60% of median equivalised UK income for that year) f. 26% g. 18% h. 10%
Absolute poverty (living in a household with an income below 60% of median equivalised net income in 2010-11, adjusted for inflation) j. 23% k. 14% l. 5%
Combined low-income and material deprivation (living in a household with an income below 70% of equivalised median net income AND unable to afford a number of basic goods and services) n. 12% o. 8% p. 5%
Persistent poverty – living in Scotland and in relative poverty for 3 of the past 4 years r. 16% s. 8% t. 5%

The 2017 Act required the Scottish Government to publish child poverty delivery plans, setting out the actions it will take to reach these ambitious targets, every four years. The first of these covers the period 2018-2022[3] It sets out policies to impact on the three main drivers of child poverty:

  • Work and earnings, including investment in new employment support for parents and a workplace equality fund for employer-led projects to improve equality at work (focusing on parenthood, progression, and families at risk of poverty).
  • Costs of living – including: the School Clothing Grant; funding to support children experiencing food insecurity during the holidays; new support for childcare; a focus on families in the Warmer Homes Scotland programme; investment in a 'Financial Health Check' service helping low-income families maximise their incomes and avoid 'poverty premiums' of higher costs on essential goods and services; and investment in the Carnegie UK Trust's Affordable Credit Loan fund.
  • Social security – a new income supplement – which became Scottish Child Payment – was announced to support parents on low incomes. In addition, the Scottish Government introduced a new Best Start Grant, offering three more generous payments at key stages for children in lower income families during their early years.

The plan has a strong equalities emphasis, given the extent to which child poverty and equality overlap. At the time the plan was drawn up (2018), data showed that:

  • Children of lone parents accounted for 36% of children in relative poverty
  • Children in households with a disabled adult or child accounted for 30% of children in relative poverty
  • Children in large families (with three or more children) accounted for 30% of children in relative poverty
  • Children in minority ethnic households accounted for 37% of children in relative poverty
  • Children in families with a child under one accounted for 32% of children in relative poverty
  • Children of mothers aged under 25 accounted for 44% of children in relative poverty.

Scottish Child Payment

The first payments under the SCP scheme began on 15 February 2021 (although applications were taken from November 2020) to support low-income families (on certain qualifying benefits[4]) with children under six. At the time of writing, it consists of a £40 payment per eligible child paid every four weeks, although as discussed below payments are set to increase from April 2022. The initial roll out focused on children under six partly because children under six are a key priority group – 60% of children living in poverty live in a household where the youngest child is under six.[5]

The scheme is administered by Social Security Scotland, the agency which delivers the elements of the social security system devolved to Scotland in the 2016 Scotland Act. Claiming SCP does not affect families' entitlement to any other UK or Scottish benefits, although it may impact on local council allowances. There are no limits on how families can choose to spend the benefit. Only one person per family receives the payment – if two apply, Social Security Scotland decide who gets the payment, prioritising people who receive another benefit that shows they look after a child and that the child lives with them.

Families can apply for SCP online on the Social Security Scotland website, using a form that also allows them to apply for the Best Start Grant[6] and Best Start Foods[7] at the same time, if they wish. This is intended to help make it as straightforward as possible for families to access all their entitlements through Social Security Scotland. They can also apply by freephone to Social Security Scotland or can send their application by post.

From 9 November 2020 to 31 December 2021, 144,315 applications were received for Scottish Child Payment. Of the 138,805 applications processed as of 31 December 2021, 87% were authorised,11% were declined and the remaining 2% were withdrawn. As of 31 December 2021, it was estimated that 104,000 children were in receipt of Scottish Child Payment.[8]

The amount of the SCP is set to be doubled in April 2022, to £20 per week per eligible child,[9] and to increase to £25 per week by the end of 2022.[10] The Scottish Government have also pledged to expand the age criteria of the SCP to cover children under 16 by the end of 2022, subject to receiving required data on qualifying benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to enable them to implement this expansion. This expansion is supported by £225 million investment in the SCP, confirmed in the 2022-23 Scottish Budget.[11] Scottish Government modelling estimates that the expansion of and increases in SCP will help to lift 50,000 children out of relative poverty in 2023-2024.[12] It is expected that around 111,000 children will immediately benefit from the increased payment from April 2022 and, when eligibility is extended to all children under 16, it is estimated that over 334,000 children will receive the payment in 2022-23.[13]

Rationale for this research

The Scottish Government is committed to full and transparent review of all the benefits administered by Social Security Scotland, to ensure that they are being delivered in line with their core principles of treating people with dignity and respect, and to assess whether the policy aims of the benefits are being met. In line with this commitment, the Scottish Government are carrying out an interim policy evaluation of SCP to assess the impact of the benefit against short-term policy aims.

The research presented in this report with people who had received SCP and representatives from third sector organisations involved in supporting individuals to apply for SCP forms the qualitative element of the interim evaluation of SCP. The evaluation will also draw on quantitative data analysis of Management Information and Social Security Scotland survey data being carried out internally by Scottish Government analysts. The evidence from both pieces of research will feed into a fuller evaluation of SCP, to be undertaken in 2024.

The research approach and materials were developed by Ipsos, in partnership with officials at the Scottish Government.

Research aims and questions

This qualitative element of the interim evaluation of SCP (at a rate of £10 per eligible child per week) was intended to gather evidence on whether and how short and longer-term policy outcomes may be achieved and, importantly, any barriers to these that may need to be addressed.

Its broad aims were to assess whether SCP:

  • Improves outcomes for children and families by removing some of the financial challenges faced by low-income households
  • Has led to a greater awareness of support that people on low incomes are entitled to receive from Social Security Scotland, and
  • Can be improved to secure more impact for eligible families.

The specific objectives, set out by the Scottish Government, were to gather evidence on:

1. The contribution of SCP to health and wellbeing outcomes for children, exploring:

  • How payments are spent
  • Whether payments help to reduce stress in families that may impact children (e.g. financial stress)
  • Whether payments increase participation in social, educational and cultural opportunities
  • Whether the main carer of the child receives the payment and/or has influence over how the money is spent
  • Whether the payment has improved the position of main carers of children within the household.

2. Whether and how SCP is helping families escape poverty and material deprivation, exploring:

  • The impact of payments on household budgets
  • The impact of payments on reducing or avoiding debt
  • The influence payments have on labour market outcomes for recipients or their families.

3. Whether applying for SCP has raised awareness about other forms of support that people receiving SCP are entitled to, exploring:

  • Take-up of devolved benefits like the Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods
  • Advice given to people applying for/receiving SCP on applying for qualifying reserved benefits (if relevant)
  • Referrals to Citizens Advice Scotland, Money Talks and other services for advice on benefits and general support

4. Key barriers to applying for, or receiving SCP, exploring:

  • Links between barriers and the application process
  • How people became aware of SCP

5. Whether and how SCP has had positive benefits for the Scottish economy, via:

  • The outcomes noted above (e.g. poverty reduction, debt reduction, labour market participation, increased child well-being)
  • The way people use payments (e.g. money being spent in local businesses).

Methodology

To meet the objectives of this research, qualitative research was undertaken with recipients of SCP and with third sector organisations. This comprised:

  • 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.

Sampling

Thirty-nine interviews were conducted with people who had received SCP, recruited to include families from a number of the key priority groups outlined in the TCPDP.[1] Table 1.2 shows a breakdown of the demographic and other characteristics of parents and carers who participated in this element of the research.

Overall, as this table indicates, the research heard from families from across a range of the TCPDP and other Scottish Government priority groups, including younger parents (under 25), parents with the youngest children,[14] single parent households, families from minority ethnic backgrounds,[15] large families, families with a disabled child, and parents who themselves have care experience. There was also a desire to include the views of kinship carer in the research. However, in spite of approaching organisations that worked directly with kinship carers to try and recruit them to the research, unfortunately no kinship carers opted in for interview.

Table 1.2 – Parent/carer in receipt of SCP - sample profile
Total interviews 39
Gender
Female 37
Male 2
Age of parent/carer
18-24 11
25-34 16
35+ 12
Age of eligible child1
Under 1 4
1-2 years 17
3-4 14
5-6 8
Household type
Single parent household 24
Two parent household 15
Ethnicity
South Asian background 5
White background 34
Number of children in household
1 child 20
2 children 10
3+ children (large households)2 9
Caring responsibility3
Main carer 31
Those sharing caring responsibilities equally 7
Not the main carer 1
Household including a child with a disability
Child with a disability 11
Care experience
Parents with care experience 7
LGBT parent/carer
Parent/carer identifying as LGBT 3
Rurality
Rural 10
Urban 29

1 - This category does not sum to 39, as some families had more than one child that was eligible for SCP

2 - Families with 3+ children are defined in the TCPDP as 'large' because UK Government benefit rules prevent families from claiming the child element of Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit for more than two children.

3 – Participants were asked whether, for the child/ren they receive SCP for, they would you say they were the main carer, not the main carer, or that they share caring responsibility equally with another parent/carer.

A further nine interviews were conducted with ten individuals who work in third sector organisations who advise or support families eligible for SCP. These included organisations working to support specific groups of parents identified as priority target groups in the TCPDP, as well as organisations offering advice and support, including financial advice, to families generally.

Recruitment and interviewing

Interviews were conducted from August to December 2021. It should be noted that the evaluation was carried out when the payment was £10 per month per eligible child, prior to the planned increase to £20 from April 2022. Parents and carers were recruited via three main routes:

  • At the start of the fieldwork period, an invitation was sent to SCP Client Panel[16] members (i.e. people in receipt of SCP who completed Social Security Scotland's Client Survey[17], and also agreed to be contacted about future research on the benefits system).
  • A variety of 'gatekeeper' organisations were also approached in an attempt to reach parents/carers in receipt of SCP in priority groups, such as organisations working with one parent families, younger parents and parents with care experience.
  • In order to try and enhance the diversity of the sample, further invitations were sent by Social Security Scotland to a targeted sample selected from their wider database of people in receipt of SCP, including those living in rural areas and those aged under 25.

In each case, potential interviewees were provided details about the research, and with contact details for the Ipsos Scotland research team, so that they could get in touch if they were interested in taking part.

Parents/carers in receipt of SCP who contacted the research team and expressed interest in participating were asked to take part in a short five-minute screener call with a researcher to check that they were eligible. This also gave people a chance to ask any questions and allowed researchers to make sure that potential participants were aware of the aims of the research, what taking part involved, and how their data would be securely handled, to ensure their participation was based on informed consent. Parents/carers were offered a £30 'thank you' payment from Ipsos, in recognition of the time they gave up participating.

Third sector organisations were identified in discussion with the Scottish Government and were contacted directly by researchers at Ipsos by email or telephone. It is worth noting that over 23 organisations were initially contacted to see if they would be willing to share their views on the SCP, but only nine were able to do so, in spite of a relatively long fieldwork period. This is discussed below (under Scope and Limitations).

Interviews with both parents/carers and representatives from third sector organisations lasted around 30-45 minutes and were conducted via telephone.

Interviews with both parents/carers who had received SCP and third sector professionals were semi-structured and based on a discussion guide to allow open discussion, while ensuring they covered all the key points. The discussion guides used are included in Annex A.

Data Analysis

Interviews were recorded and summarised into thematic matrices[18] developed by the research team and drawing on the research questions. These thematic matrices were then reviewed to identify the full range of views and experiences on each issue.

Scope and limitations

The aim in qualitative research is not to achieve a sample that is statistically representative of the wider population, but to identify as much diversity of experience as possible. Estimates of prevalence based on qualitative data are therefore inappropriate – as such, this report avoids quantifying language, such as 'most' or 'a few' when discussing findings from qualitative interviews.

All research is subject to challenges and limitations. On this project, there were some challenges encountered in recruiting parents/carers who had received SCP, due to the opt-in approach to recruitment as well as difficulties identifying gatekeepers in a position to help with recruitment. The challenges experienced in identifying gatekeepers are likely, at least in part, to reflect the demands on advice and support organisations at the time recruitment for this research was taking place.

A diverse sample of 39 (out of a target of 40) interviews were conducted with parents/carers who had received SCP, which provided enough data to ensure the experiences of different types of families were included. However, as noted above, some groups proved particularly difficult to recruit, and are less well represented in the sample, including kinship carers (although the research team did speak to third sector participants who worked with this group of parents) and men.

The research team also experienced difficulties recruiting representatives from third sector organisations to take part in this research. Again, this may reflect the busy time of year and increased workload due to the pandemic. It is also possible that it indicates that some organisations were less aware of how the people they support were finding SCP – either because it is working relatively smoothly (and therefore people have not approached them for support relating to it), or because it had only been introduced relatively recently at the time interviews took place. Some evidence for this latter interpretation is provided by the fact that a number of the third sector participants did not have much in the way of direct experience of supporting people with SCP, though they were able to comment more generally on how they viewed the impact of the payment for the people they worked with.

Fieldwork took part during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the latter half of 2021. It is important to take this context into account, and to consider how the pandemic that may have impacted on parents' experience of SCP – for example, restrictions may have impacted on how families spent the payment, and the pandemic is likely to have shaped the general level of financial stress families were under when the payment was first introduced. Where possible, this report highlights how the wider context may have impacted on experiences of the SCP, including not only the impacts of the pandemic, but also the rising cost of living over the course of 2021, and the UK Government's cancellation of the temporary Universal Credit uplift.[19] However, it is not always possible to completely disentangle the extent to which participants' view may have been shaped by such contextual factors – or how changes to the wider context might impact on experiences in the future.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge that evidence included in this report on the impact of SCP is based on participants' perceptions of its impact rather than on measurable data (such as validated wellbeing scales) collected before and after the implementation of the payment.

Report structure and conventions

The following chapters present the key findings from the research, examining:

  • How people became aware of the SCP and their experiences of the application process (Chapter 2)
  • How families have used the SCP (Chapter 3), and
  • The perceived impacts of receiving the SCP, particularly on families' financial situation (Chapter 4) and their wider wellbeing (Chapter 5), as well as any wider economic impacts (for example, labour market outcomes for parents or wider impacts on the local economy).

Findings from parent/carer interviews and interviews with third sector professionals are interwoven within each chapter. Anonymised quotes from participants are included to illustrate key points, and a number of short pen portraits, illustrating the specific experiences of individual parents/carers who had received SCP in more detail, are provided at relevant points. The participants described in these pen portraits have been given pseudonyms and certain precise details of their circumstances altered to protect anonymity. The final chapter summarises the main conclusions and implications from the research, and the topic guides used for the interviews are appended in Annex A.

Contact

Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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