3 - How do families use Scottish Child Payment?
- 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.
There are no restrictions on how families can use SCP – it is paid by bank transfer direct to their account, to be used as parents or carers see fit. Given the choice families have around how they spend SCP, there is an interest in understanding how families are spending it in practice, and whether this is likely to further the overall aims of the payment (such as reducing family poverty and improving wellbeing outcomes for children and parents).
This chapter explores the different ways that families spend SCP and the different approaches people take to deciding how to spend it. This provides important context for the following chapter, which examines the perceived impacts of SCP – perceived impacts were often directly related to the kinds of items parents decided to spend SCP on.
What do parents spend SCP on?
Parents spent the money they received through SCP in a variety of ways. These fell into the following broad categories:
- Essential expenses
- Treat items like toys or magazines
- Activities and experiences for the child or family
- Items relating to their child's disability
- Saving for their child's future, and
- Expenses to help enable a parent to work/study.
Each of these uses is considered in turn, below. The impacts of being able to spend the SCP in these different ways are primarily discussed in the following chapter.
Parents reported spending SCP on various essential expenses, including essential items specifically for the eligible child (such as nappies, clothing, or food specifically for the child), and more general household necessities (such as a general food shop, or bills).
"I've not spent it yet, although I just got some bread and milk with it actually. The last one went on a food shop. Normally it goes on a food shop – grocery shopping. I use it to fill up the freezer."
(Parent 39, age 18-24, single parent, rural)
"[I spend it on] clothes and food for packed lunches, and it contributes to general shopping and electricity bills."
(Parent 2, age 25-34, 3+ children)
Families who spent the payment on essential expenses tended to take a more ad hoc approach to planning their spending: SCP was used differently depending on what was needed most each month. However, there were parents who reported allocating their SCP money to cover the cost of a specific area of essential spending each month. A specific example of this was using SCP to buy better-quality essentials for their children (for example, more expensive nappies, or an organic, free-range chicken rather than a factory-farmed one).
"It has helped us a lot with regards to how we eat and the quality of food that we're able to eat – a lot more fruit and veg, that's been the big thing for me. In fact, I've bought a juicer, and because I know I'm getting the money every month, I try and use that money just for foodstuff. So we've been making our own fruit juice, making oat bars, doing all that."
(Parent 28, age 25-34, single parent, care-experienced)
Treats for their children
Parents also described using the SCP to purchase (generally small) treat items for their children, which they would otherwise often be unable to afford. Examples included children's magazines, toys, ice cream and craft materials.
"If I want to take my daughter to the shops, I don't have to worry that there isn't money to buy her a magazine or there isn't money to do stuff with her."
(Parent 7, age 25-34, single parent, care-experienced)
"I went out and I bought paints and paper and that kind of stuff so that the kids could have an arts and crafts day in the house."
(Parent 30, age 25-30, single parent)
Activities and experiences for the child or family
A third way in which parents reported spending the SCP was on activities and day trips. This included both family days out with their children (for example, taking their child to the zoo) and activity groups their children participated in with other children (for example, play group or dance classes).
"Most months I had planned how to spend it and I did spend it on extra things for [my son] so he could do things that other kids at school were doing - football club, parkour and skateboarding lessons, or things for school like learning games."
(Parent 9, age 35+, single parent, care-experienced, 3+ children, has a disabled child)
Items relating to their child's disability
Families with disabled children often incur additional expenses in comparison with other families. Parents of disabled children interviewed for this research said they had used the SCP specifically to buy things to help their child with their disability. These included both essential medical items (such as incontinence pads) and items specifically designed to support their child's development or learning (such as sensory toys and books to help with a child's dyslexia). Parents also mentioned using the payment towards taxi journeys with, or for, their disabled child.
"I get sensory toys, fidget stuff as well, things for the bath that light up. Sometimes if he's having a breakdown, he can break them, and they need replaced."
(Parent 23, age 25-34, single parent)
"I can take the kids out more because I don't have to say no all the time, and I know we can afford a taxi home if [my child] gets upset."
(Parent 38, age 25-34, single parent, 3+ children, has a disabled child)
Saving for their child's future
Most of the families interviewed for this research reported spending their SCP in full every month, often on essentials they would not otherwise be able to afford. However, there were examples where parents said they tried to save some of it, when possible, in a savings account specifically for their child.
Spending to enable the parent to work/study
A final way in which parents mentioned spending their SCP was on expenses to help them to work or study – for example, spending it on travel to work or job interviews.
"It's helped my partner when he started this new work. At first, he had to use some of the money for travel to get in to work. […] He needed to get a weekly ticket, which is roughly £20. So that's helped greatly, and he's still in that job."
(Parent 16, age 25-34, care-experienced)
It was generally more exceptional for parents to say they had used the SCP in this way – in part because many of our sample were not currently working or studying, since they were caring for young children, and in part because, as discussed below, parents often wanted to allocate the parent specifically to spending on their children rather than on their own travel or expenses. However, there were examples where parents felt the payment might be able to help them access work or study in the future.
Where parents spend the payment
On the whole, parents spent their SCP money in the same places they usually made their purchases. In other words, SCP allowed them to buy more or different things, but did not change the shops they used. Participants discussed going to large local supermarkets, shopping online, or sometimes going to a mix of (generally bigger) shops to get the best deals.
There were exceptions to this where SCP had allowed participants to buy from local shops and buy higher quality produce that would otherwise be outwith their budget.
"I can buy more local produce which is something that I value. I can buy better food. Fruit and veg, or I'll buy an organic chicken – I get quite a lot out of it."
(Parent 29, age 25-34)
How do parents think about and decide how to spend SCP?
Families factored SCP into their budgets in different ways. One approach was to view SCP as money to be used for whatever was most needed by the whole family, such as the next big food shop or gas bill. However, there was also a strong emphasis from parents on the SCP being for their children. There was evidence of families 'ringfencing' the money to be spent only on the eligible child. Where parents had other children who were not eligible for SCP, the payment might still be reserved for their children, but not necessarily solely for the child who was actually currently eligible (in other words, it might be shared across all their children).
"[My partner and I are] on the same page that the money is for our son. We both work, so the money we earn goes towards the house, food etc. and SCP is for [our son]."
(Parent 31, age 18-24)
"The money is purely for [my child] - I don't spend it on the house, I tend to manage it within her budget."
(Parent 10, age 35+, single parent)
Parents also differed in whether they allocated SCP to similar things each month or varied how it was spent based on changing family priorities or needs. As described above, some spent SCP differently each month depending on what was needed (or whether there was enough flexibility in their budget to spend it on non-essentials), while other parents made a point of spending the money in the same way (for example, on buying better quality, healthy foods) each month.
Another subtle difference in approach to SCP spending among parents was whether parents planned their SCP spending ahead of time (for example, deciding on an activity to spend it on before it arrived, or dedicating it to a specific area of their regular budget) or whether they spent it in a more ad hoc way (for example, spending on food because that was what was most needed at the point in time SCP arrived in their bank account, or spending on a more spontaneous day out). This distinction in spending approaches appeared to align with parents' varied approaches to managing their money more generally, as well as differences in their overall outgoings and expenses from month to month.
"I split it into four different budgets - arts and crafts, books, days out and savings account."
(Parent 5, age 35+, single parent)
"I took my wee girl to see Santa, and yesterday I took her to the soft play and stuff. [How it's spent] just depends on what I'm needing that month, so sometimes it might be clothes for her, or food for us, or to put towards gas and electricity. It just depends on what's needed."
(Parent 24, age 18-24, single parent, 3+ children)
The case studies below reflect two different approaches to deciding how to spend the SCP.
Case study 3: June
June lives in a city with her husband and baby. She is currently a full-time parent but plans to return to work once her child starts nursery. She first saw SCP mentioned by her friends and family on social media, and then her housing officer told her about it as well as her brother-in-law. She thought it was a great idea and applied right away.
She wasn't sure if she'd be eligible, but she applied anyway and found the application process to be very easy. She was slightly concerned about how long it took for the money to start arriving, but she understood that it was a new benefit with lots of applicants.
June spends the SCP money differently each month, in discussion with her husband. Since they have been receiving the payment, they have used it on food shopping, baby clothes, gas and electric bills, toys, and travel to work.
Getting SCP made a big difference to June's family, particularly at times of heightened financial stress when both parents were unemployed.
"It just gave us that extra wee boost of not having to worry as much, just the way it fell for us, we'll get the SCP then 2 weeks later we get the child payment, so we know there's constantly money coming in."
Getting SCP has helped June's wellbeing by taking some of the pressure off financially.
"It's helped me. It's helped my mental health knowing there's more money coming in that we don't need to worry about it. it means I know it's there and it just give me that peace of mind."
Case study 3: Katie
Katie is a young single parent with two children under 3. She lives in a rural area of Scotland, and she has a health condition which means she is unable to work at the moment. She receives SCP for both her young children.
She first heard about the payment through her sister, who had been receiving it for her children. At first, she thought it was too good to be true, but after more of her friends started to receive it, she decided to apply as well. She found the information about the payment online, and the subsequent communication from Social Security Scotland, very clear.
Katie applied for SCP online. Overall, she found this process very straightforward, although she was a bit nervous giving her bank details through the form – she would have found a phone call reassuring. The first payment arrived 2-4 weeks later, but initially she wasn't sure what it was. She would have liked a bit more communication between submitting her claim and receiving the first payment.
Katie's finances are a regular source of stress for her. Her main source of income is Universal Credit, and she uses that for household essentials. For her SCP money, she sets it into weekly amounts when it arrives in her account, then decides what it will cover – often milk and snacks for the children. Sometimes she has also used it on clothes for her children. She feels that having SCP means that she can use UC to cover her essential outgoings, like heating the home, while knowing that she will also have the money she needs to get essentials for her children. Without SCP, she would worry more about being able to cover her bills; if her children needed food or clothes, she would prioritise buying those over paying household bills.
Katie views SCP as being her children's money, to be spent on them. However, since she started getting SCP she has had enough money left at the end of the month to buy herself the occasional item of clothing. She sets her SCP into weekly amounts, so she knows she has enough money for specific food and snacks for her children, including fresh fruit and vegetables which she wasn't always able to afford before. Occasionally, she has also used it to take the children out for a low-cost lunch. Receiving SCP has helped Katie financially and emotionally, by reassuring her that her children will have everything they need.
"It has helped a lot with my anxiety and me over panicking about if the kids will get what they need. So, it is helping me knowing that I am getting that little bit extra help to make sure they have got everything."
Frequency of payments
SCP is paid every four weeks. Parents were asked whether this frequency worked for them in terms of how they use the payments. In general, those interviewed were content with payments being made every four weeks. One view was that since other payments (such as Universal Credit, Child Benefit, and wages) were generally made monthly, it made sense for SCP to be paid on this basis too (although in fact, it is four-weekly rather than monthly). Another was that it was helpful to be able to plan a month ahead.
However, parents did mention knowing other families who would prefer a different payment schedule, such as fortnightly. There was a perception that, ideally, parents should be able to choose (and change) the frequency with which payments like SCP are made:
"You should be able to pick for yourself and change it at any time – life and finances can change in heartbeat – so you should be able to log into the online portal and change it yourself."
The impact of COVID-19 on SCP spending
On the whole, parents did not feel that the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on how they spent the SCP. They felt that their family still needed the same things (nappies, food, bill payments) regardless of the pandemic. They also reported having tended to stay at home a lot of the time even before COVID-19 lockdowns. This might, in part, reflect the costs of going out, or that it can sometimes be easier staying at home with small children
However, there were some examples where parents did report spending their SCP differently as a consequence of COVID-19 restrictions, including:
- Having to choose different activities (for example, outdoor rather than indoor venues) to take their children to, due to restrictions, and
- Needing to use the payment towards different or additional household expenses incurred as a result of the pandemic – for example, needing to buy more food as they were in the house more (and school-age children or children with free Early Learning and Childcare places were not receiving free meals), or having to spend more on heating their home when they were at home more of the time.
How do parents expect to spend SCP in the future?
Parents typically expected to spend future payments in similar ways to how they had spent SCP to date. This was particularly the case where parents thought of SCP as being for a specific purpose (for example, where they considered the payment to be reserved for activities for their child).
However, parents also expressed worries about rising costs, and suggested that they might be forced to spend future SCP money differently to mitigate the impact of this. In particular, parents mentioned the increasing cost of energy and electricity, although rising costs in the supermarket were also mentioned.
"I think I might try and save it, but if needs be, I might have to use it for gas or electric."
(Parent 22, age 18-24, care-experienced, 3+ children)
"Now that these energy prices are going up, that child payment will probably have to be distributed among different things."
(Parent 28, age 25-34, single parent, care-experienced)
Due to the time of year that fieldwork was conducted, parents also talked about using upcoming SCP payments to pay for Christmas expenses. This included parents who normally spend the payment every month who were trying to save their SCP from the last few months of the year to spend it on Christmas gifts and food in December.
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