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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.


2 - Applying for Scottish Child Payment

Key points

  • 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.

This chapter discusses how parents and carers became aware of the SCP, their understandings of what the payment is for, and their experiences of applying for it. In discussing these topics, it considers evidence relating to the following key research aims:

  • Key barriers to applying for, or receiving SCP, and
  • Whether applying for SCP has raised awareness about other forms of support that people are entitled to.

Awareness of SCP among eligible families

Parents and carers interviewed for this research reported becoming aware of SCP through a variety of routes, including:

  • Word of mouth (either through formal support services – health visitors, midwives, housing officers, support workers – or from friends and family)
  • Media advertising (including TV news, TV adverts radio adverts, and social media promotion), and
  • Advertising through existing services they already used (for example, seeing it mentioned on their council's Facebook page, online benefits calculators, advice organisations, or communication from or posters at their child's school or nursery).

Parents were happy to hear about the new payment – it was an unexpected additional benefit, and they felt it could have a significant impact for their families.

"£80 [for my two eligible children] would help a lot to keep the kids happy. (I was) quite happy to hear about it - it's not a nice life living on benefits, scrimping and scraping."

(Parent 22, age 18-24, care-experienced, 3+ children)

"I was quite happy because, although it's just like ten pounds, it means a lot me."

(Parent 8, age 25-34, 3+ children)

Overall, the parents interviewed were fairly clear about why SCP had been introduced and how it was intended to work. Participants variously described the payment as intended to help families out of poverty, to make it easier for them to buy essentials for their families, and to help provide a better quality of life for their children. There was also some recognition that intervention like the SCP in the early years might have an important impact on a child's long-term outcomes.

"My understanding is that it's for a child under the age of six, to support or try and prevent or get us out of this poverty that a lot of people in Scotland are in… which obviously if you look at it in a longer period of time, [causes] loads of problems later on in life, so I feel like if you're getting these supports now… for me to be supported to offer [my son] a better quality of childhood that will obviously prevent a lot of [issues] when he's a bit older"

(Parent 28, age 25-34, single parent, care-experienced)

Where confusion did arise, it generally related to eligibility criteria - for example, whether eligibility was defined by existing benefit entitlement or income. A third sector participant also felt that parents did not always understand that their entitlement would end when their child turned six.

"I think what they don't understand is the fact that when the child reaches six it stops. […] A single parent who's been receiving a set amount of income and got used to it – all of a sudden, they're losing £10 a week, they don't understand that. And a lot of them haven't budgeted for that."

(Third sector participant 1)

This had indeed been the case for one of the parents interviewed for this research, who applied shortly before her child turned six without realising that she would soon become ineligible. Her payments stopped unexpectedly (as far as she was concerned) after the child's sixth birthday, which she found a stressful and disappointing experience.

All the parents and carers interviewed for this research were already in receipt of the SCP. It is not, therefore, possible to gauge anything from these interviews about wider awareness of SCP, among families who are eligible but have not applied. Third sector participants expressed mixed views on awareness among parents and how SCP had been publicised. One the one hand, it was suggested that it had been fairly well and widely publicised, including through third sector organisations themselves. On the other, there was a belief that it could have been publicised more effectively, both in the run up to applications opening and after this point.

"I think it's very clear what's being offered. There's been a lot of talk about it at local levels, nationally as well. We put word out to local kinship carers' support groups, schools are talking about it, health visitors are talking about it."

(Third sector participant 2)

"We do ask where parents see stuff, and it wasn't publicised the way it could have been. Especially back in November, or the lead up to November, with the application window opening, I think it was a bit of a missed opportunity. So, by the time it went live, I think they'd done most of the publicity, because they assumed people would have already applied, I think."

(Third sector participant 1)

The third sector participant quoted above also suggested that publicity could be improved by using different forms of social media, like Facebook Live, and by putting on a new campaign to promote take-up every year to make new parents aware of the benefit.

Among parents who had applied for SCP when it first opened to applications, in late 2020, there were also mixed levels of understanding that the payments would not actually start until early 2021. While in some instances, parents recalled being told or having read that they would not receive payments until February, in other cases parents had a vaguer recollection of being told it "could take a while" without a specific start point being intimated. Parents in this position experienced varying levels of stress while waiting for the payment: there were parents who were anxious about when the payment would arrive, while others were managing financially without it and did not find this waiting period overly stressful.

Experiences of applying for SCP

Participants had typically applied for SCP online or (less frequently) by phone. They had either applied by themselves, with help from their partner, or occasionally with the help of a support worker.

Overall, the parents and carers the research team spoke to were very positive about their experience of applying for SCP, reporting finding the application form easy and quick to complete. This was compared favourably with previous experiences of applying for benefits, which were often described as having been more complicated and burdensome.

"It was very quick. I was surprised, I asked my Mrs, "Is it done?" She said "Yes", and I was like, "Really?". It's the easiest benefit you can claim."

(Parent 26, age 35+, Male)

"It was actually quite easy. Compared to a lot of forms that I've filled out, that was the most easiest form ever. I didn't have any difficulty with that – it was just a matter of your name, your date of birth, address, everything like that."

(Parent 6, age 35+, single parent)

Several parents with dyslexia interviewed for this research specifically referenced finding the SCP application form much easier than other forms.

"It was quite straightforward. It wasn't hard – I actually suffer from dyslexia so usually things like that are quite daunting for me, but it was quite easy, they weren't asking hard or difficult questions."

(Parent 25, age 25-34, single parent)

The view that the application form was straightforward was supported by third sector participants, who reported either that they had received positive feedback from parents, or that parents had not reported any problems (something that was viewed as relatively unusual with the introduction of a new benefit).

"[The families I work with] reported no problems. […] That's quite good for a new benefit because there's usually teething problems when a new benefit is introduced."

(Third sector participant 7)

The fact that the application form was perceived to be less onerous, and that it asked for comparatively less detail in support of parents' applications, had not only helped to make it easier for parents and carers to apply, but also helped to foster a sense that families were entitled to apply for SCP.

"I liked that you didn't have to prove yourself to get SCP, you were already entitled to it. It was less daunting because it wasn't evidence-heavy and you don't have to justify taking the money, which is something I have found off-putting about applying for support."

(Parent 38, age 25-34, single parent, 3+ children)

However, while in general the application process was described as very straightforward, interviewees did identify a small number of areas where they felt the process could be clarified, made easier or less burdensome. These included:

  • The requirement to provide proof that the baby had arrived – one new parent commented that it had been tricky to have to provide copies of documents to prove this immediately after having a baby.
  • A perception that the application process takes too long when conducted over the phone. Although most of the parents the researchers spoke to had chosen to apply online rather than by phone (as did 93% of SCP applicants up to 31 December 2021[20]), a parent who had applied by phone felt this had been a 'very lengthy' process, particularly during lockdown when she had to be on the phone while her children were at home.

"… so it got a bit stressful for me trying to give my son all the time and attention he needs, while being on this long phone call for so long. I normally do all these kind of phone calls when he's at the childminder, but that wasn't [possible] as there was no childcare at that lockdown."

(Parent 28, age 25-34, single parent, care-experienced)

  • Nervousness about sharing bank details –A parent who mentioned this suggested she would have found a phone call to confirm that the payment and form were genuine reassuring.
  • A belief that some of the demographic questions seemed intrusive or irrelevant (e.g. the question on sexual orientation).

Communication from Social Security Scotland

In general, participants were also positive about the communication they had received from Social Security Scotland after submitting their application form, describing this as clear and prompt. They received confirmation (in the format they had chosen) that their claim had been received, that their claim had been successful, and notification of when the first payment would arrive. However, there were exceptions to this positive experience, where parents reported having wanted more communication to keep them updated on the progress of their application and payment. The quote below illustrates the importance to families who are struggling financially of being kept as fully informed as possible about any benefits applications, so that they know whether and when any additional financial help is likely to be forthcoming:

"The majority of the time I think it was me phoning them – to see what was going on, and if I was eligible, and what was going on. I phoned them a couple of times. So on their behalf, I feel like the communication was a wee bit poor. Because I did call them a couple of times, because I was struggling when she was born, money-wise."

(Parent 36, age 18-24, rural area)

Raising awareness of other support

Parents and carers were asked specifically about any other benefits (such as Best Start Grants) or other potential services (such as money advice) they might have become aware of through applying for SCP, in order to explore whether SCP was having any impact on awareness about other sources of support families are entitled to. In practice, this was often very difficult to establish. Parents could not always recall exactly what was discussed about other benefits or support at the point of applying for SCP. To the extent that they could recall, families generally either did not remember being advised about other support at the point of application, or said they had already been in receipt of the other benefits they remembered being mentioned (such as Best Start Grant or Best Start Foods).

However, there were exceptions to this, where parents said they had found out about other benefits from SCP letters or through the application process and had applied for those benefits as a result.

"I think they told me about the card for vegetables, I applied for both around the same time, I found out about the card through the payment."

(Parent 32, age 18-24)

"Yes - they told me about Best Start Foods - I didn't think I was entitled to that. That was the lady over the phone - she was absolutely fantastic. I do receive that now - that gets paid onto a card."

(Parent 5, age 35+, single parent)

There was no evidence from the parents and carers interviewed that applying for SCP had led to referrals to advice services or other non-financial support.

The case study below describes one mother's experiences of learning about and applying for SCP, as well as the impact it has on her family.

Case study 1: Amina

Amina is a single parent in her late 20s, living in a city with her 2-year-old son. She first heard about SCP from a Facebook ad in Urdu, her native language. She was very happy to hear about the payment as she was quite worried about money and found it very expensive to take care of her baby.

She applied for SCP online and found the application very straightforward. The information that she saw about SCP was all very clear and helpful, and she heard back in less than a month which she felt was quite quick. Overall, she found the communication from Social Security Scotland during her claim very good, although there was one issue with backdating. She received an email saying that her money would be backdated to her application date, but this was followed by another email saying that this was incorrect.

Amina still worries a lot about money and has noticed rising prices. She felt SCP was a big help but was not enough to lift her family out of poverty.

"Money is difficult and my expenses are much higher than my income. […] Scottish Child Payment is helpful. Sometimes I don't even have £1 in my account."

Amina usually spends the payment on whatever her son needs most at that point – food, clothes or toys. Without SCP, she would have bought fewer toys and would not have been able to replace her son's clothes as quickly when he grows out of them. She would also have borrowed more money from friends, although even with SCP she still borrows money from friends almost every month.

Amina feels that SCP has had a positive impact on her family – she uses it to feed and clothe her child, which benefits him, and she feels it has also improved her wellbeing as a result.

"Obviously, I'm happy because my baby is happy. He's healthy, he's eating so many things, I can give him so many things."

Contact

Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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