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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.


5 – Perceived impacts of SCP on wellbeing

Key findings

  • 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.

In addition to reducing family debt and deprivation and generally improving their material position, it was also hoped that SCP would have a positive impact on both child and parental wellbeing. The mechanisms for this might include families having enough money to better meet children's 'basic' health and wellbeing needs, such as being able to afford more or better-quality food, or through enabling them to access play, social, educational and cultural opportunities. Wellbeing incorporates both physical health and emotional and social wellbeing, both of which are discussed below.

Impacts on children's physical health

Parents described various ways in which they believed receiving SCP had helped them to support their child's physical health. A key mechanism was by enabling parents to buy enough food for their children, or to buy better quality or healthier food, as described in Chapter 3. A parent whose son had allergies and intolerances reported that SCP had enabled her to buy a wider range of better-quality foods which suited his needs and meant that he had fewer upset stomachs.

Parents with disabled children also reported that having SCP had improved their ability to access the medical care or support their child needed, including by paying for transport to get to hospital quicker, or paying for specific items their child needs because of their disability or medical condition (such as incontinence pads).

SCP had also enabled parents to support their children to have more active lifestyles, for example by spending the payment on swimming, gymnastics, or dance classes.

"He likes swimming and gymnastics and they're the two most expensive groups, it helps his balance, coordination, how to move his body, we probably would have done them a bit less without [SCP]."

(Parent 32, age 18-24)

"Yes, activities like dance classes are excellent. She can exercise, she's interacting with other girls. It's helped build her confidence also."

(Parent 10, age 35+, single parent)

Impacts on children's emotional wellbeing and development

Interviews with parents identified various ways in which SCP was believed to have helped support children's emotional wellbeing, including:

  • By enabling to parents to meet their children's basic needs, SCP reduced emotional distress associated with hunger or other deprivation
  • By enabling parents to provide occasional 'treats'
  • By enabling parents to buy their children items directly aimed at improving their emotional and mental wellbeing (such as sensory toys or resources to support home learning)
  • By enabling parents to take their children on activities or trips, SCP benefited their emotional wellbeing both directly (in terms of enjoyment, improved social skills and confidence) and through supporting them to spend additional quality time together as a family, and
  • By reducing parents' own stress levels, which in turn had a positive impact on their children's wellbeing.

In cases where parents were able to stretch SCP further than this, to pay for their children to enjoy the occasional treat, like a magazine or an ice-cream, this also had a positive impact on their happiness. It was suggested that being able to provide these small treats was particularly important given the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children's emotional wellbeing.

"It made her life a bit better - especially now with everything going on, it gave her that option that we could do things to make her feel better. She's lost out on Christmas parties, starting school wasn't the same. It gave her something to look forward to."

(Parent 15, age 35+)

"It's made a huge difference being able to make my child happy. Just small things like ice-cream - I can't afford - if it stopped it would have an impact."

(Parent 10, age 35+, single parent)

Parents of children with additional support needs also described spending the payments on specific items aimed at supporting their child's emotional wellbeing, such as fidget toys or weighted blankets to help them to stay calm and to reduce anxiety.

When payments were used towards family activities or trips, the quality time and shared experiences it facilitated benefited both children and parents. One parent described how using SCP on swimming classes for her son had meant they spent time just the two of them, which she felt was particularly valuable as her daughter had additional needs which took up a lot of her time at home. Third sector organisations also highlighted the importance of families being able to spend time together.

"It's not just about covering essentials, but families need to be able to spend time together, do things together, even if it's being used for that it's still a benefit to families."

(Third sector organisation 1)

SCP was seen as having helped to mitigate some of the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children's emotional wellbeing or development, by enabling parents to buy resources to support learning at home, or by funding activities where babies and children could mix with each other post-restrictions, to boost their confidence and social skills. One parent living in a rural area felt this had been particularly important for her son, as where they lived meant there were fewer opportunities to socialise with other children and she had been worried about him becoming isolated.

"Honestly, it's helped him so much, before [SCP] and before groups were open, he didn't like other people he was a total pandemic baby […] he's now so confident."

(Parent 32, age 18-24, spent SCP on groups)

Finally, some parents acknowledged that by reducing their own stress levels the payment may have indirectly benefited their children's wellbeing, as children often pick up on their parents' anxieties.

"It's good for the kids not having to see me stressed […] there's still an atmosphere when you're stressed."

(Parent 18, age 25-34, single parent)

However, others were keen to emphasise that they did everything they could to avoid their own financial stresses impacting on their children, either emotionally or materially. Similarly, parents often stressed that they always put their child's emotional wellbeing first; as a result, some did not necessarily feel that receiving SCP had a significant impact in this regard, although it may have made things easier for them as parents financially.

Impact on children's participation in social, educational and cultural opportunities

As noted above, there were examples where parents had used SCP specifically for days out to places they would not otherwise be able to afford to attend (such as a zoo), as well as for more regular activities (like parent and toddler groups). There was a clear belief that, in the absence of SCP, parents either would not be able to take their children to these places or activities at all, or their access to them would be very infrequent. For one parent, SCP was important in making sure her children did not miss out on opportunities that their peers, who may be from wealthier families, had access to.

"[SCP means] my kids can experience more things that other people from other families would be able to experience, maybe, [those] not living in poverty."

(Parent 30, age 25-30, single parent)

Even when parents did not use SCP directly to pay for trips out, having the extra money could still help to support them taking their children out more, particularly for families with a disabled child, where it provided a financial buffer to make trips out seem less risky.

"Taking them in shops I've always hated they'll always want something guaranteed. It's taken off that stress. … [SCP has] encouraged me to take [my son] out a lot more often. He was the hardest, he had zero concept of money. Obviously saying no can trigger a meltdown."

(Parent 38, age 25-34, single parent, 3+ children, has a disabled child)

Impacts on parental wellbeing

Impact on financial stress

Despite not being a central aim of the payment, the financial support provided by SCP also had significant reported impacts on parental wellbeing. This was primarily as a result of reducing financial worries. One of the main benefits of SCP discussed by parents and third sector organisations was reducing stress about money and worries for parents about how they would be able to afford what they and their children needed.

"[SCP] did lessen my worries quite a lot to be honest. Money's the one thing I'm always stressing about, always thinking about, always worrying about. It was a relief to have that extra boost."

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

"With the payment coming through it gives you a sigh of relief - not mentally burdening my mind. I wait for that payment, and I know I can get what we are lacking."

(Parent 12, age 35-34, 3+ children)

As well as reducing stress around everyday budgeting, the payment was described as providing general 'peace of mind' for families, particularly knowing that they would have money to use in the event of unexpected costs or an emergency. One participant reported that reduced financial stress as a result of receiving SCP had increased her quality of sleep.

"[SCP helps with] not having to stress out because you know it's coming. When I get stressed, I don't sleep. I don't deal well with stress. I don't want the kids to see me stressed."

(Parent 18, age 25-34, single parent)

"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."

(Parent 16, age 25-34, care-experienced)

Other impacts on parental wellbeing

In addition to supporting parental wellbeing by reducing financial worries, parents described several other 'wellbeing benefits' they had experienced as a direct or indirect result of receiving SCP, including:

  • Increased happiness as a result of seeing the benefits of SCP for their children
  • A decreased sense of guilt or embarrassment at not being able to afford things for their children
  • Boosts to parents' health and wellbeing as a result of being able to use the payment towards items for the whole family (such as healthy food) or for family trips out, helping reduce parental isolation
  • A sense or recognition and care from the Scottish Government.

When parents were able to use SCP to boost their children's wellbeing, this typically improved their happiness at the same time and could make them feel like they were 'doing a better job'. Parents talked specifically about the impact of getting the payment in terms of reducing 'parental guilt' around not being able to afford things for their children or having to say 'no' all the time when they ask for small treats.

"When you say 'oh, we'll do it next week' and you've still not got it, it's heart-breaking."

(Parent 18, age 25-34, single parent)

"[SCP has] also made me less stressed about having to feel bad because my kids can't have other things that other kids can maybe get."

(Parent 30, age 25-30, single parent)

"I don't feel that she's missing out on things because she's coming from a low income just now. It makes me feel I'm doing a bit of a better job because at least I'm starting to do things with her."

(Parent 33, age 25-34, single parent)

SCP had also reduced embarrassment among parents around having to ask to borrow money from relatives.

"[Without SCP] I would need to ask my gran for money. I don't like to do that; I want to be independent. I don't like her knowing."

(Parent 1, 25-34, single parent, with care experience)

Parents also described SCP helping make parenting a little bit easier, by enabling them to divert a tantrum with a small treat or giving them the option of jumping into a taxi rather than getting on a crowded bus with a crying toddler.

In terms of parents' physical health and wellbeing, there were examples where parents felt SCP had enabled the whole family to eat healthier food together, and where they had avoided having to skip meals themselves or cut back on other things they needed to provide for their children. As noted above, where SCP contributed to trips out or activities, quality time together benefited both parents and children. In addition, parents reported wellbeing benefits from being able to connect with other parents:

"Yeah, I'd definitely say [SCP impacted my wellbeing], especially when I was on maternity leave. On a Monday at one PM I had to get ready to go to Turtle Tots and, on a Wednesday, we had such and such, and it really did help my mental health having a routine, meeting other mums and babies. Definitely one hundred percent helped with connecting after pandemic."

(Parent 32, age 18-42)

A final impact discussed by parents was a sense that they felt recognised and cared about by the Scottish Government. The feeling of security associated with believing that the Scottish Government was offering long term support to families was particularly important to one participant who grew up in care and did not have the same level of support from family members as some other people.

PARENT: "It just shows that the government cares about parents and caregivers and children in Scotland."

INTERVIEWER: "Is it important to you to feel recognised?"

PARENT: "Yeah, between that and the baby box and it's just nice to know that you've got a radical government that actually does care."

(Parent 32, age 18-42)

"I don't have a mum and dad [grew up in care], my husband's mum might give him £20 here or there to fill the car, he gets that support, I don't ask them, so having SCP it feels like I've got somebody saying here you are, making sure you're okay and getting by, that's how it feels to me."

(Parent 20, age 25-34, with care experience)

Case study 5, below, highlights the different ways in which one parent felt SCP had benefited both her child's wellbeing and her own.

Case study 5: Sarah

Sarah is in her early 20s and is lives with her baby daughter Matilda in a rural area of Scotland. She is currently on maternity leave, and also had to take some time off work at the beginning of the pandemic due to ongoing health conditions.

Sarah usually spends her SCP on trips out – for example they recently went to an animal park – or to pay to take Matilda to a local playgroup. Luckily, the pandemic restrictions have allowed for more parent-baby activities and trips in the period since Matilda was born.

Sarah started receiving SCP when Matilda was born, so it's hard for her to know what it would have been like without it. However, she thinks it has helped 'massively' and says that if she didn't have SCP they wouldn't have been able to afford these activities and Matilda would have had to go without.

Despite the pandemic restrictions being relatively relaxed since Matilda was born, Sarah thinks it's been really important for Matilda's development to go out and to socialise with other families. Since attending the playgroup, Matilda has improved her social skills and confidence as well as learning more quickly by watching other babies.

"I'm able to take her somewhere, she's watched other babies, she's learned from it. She's wanting to crawl when she sees a baby do it, she's watching them roll over- I think for her, it's totally benefitted her. She's started […] not being scared to go out in public which a lot of babies will be when they've been born in COVID."

Sarah believes that having SCP has reduced how stressed she would have felt about organising activities for her daughter, which would have been difficult to afford without it. She also thinks it has eased her anxiety that Matilda might be missing out on things that children from other families with higher incomes get to do. She takes photos when they're out to show Matilda when she's older, so Matilda will know she didn't miss out on anything.

Sarah also thinks that, by facilitating outings with her daughter, SCP has also boosted her own mental health.

"It makes me feel I'm doing a bit of a better job because at least I'm starting to do things with her. It gets me out the house which I know for a fact I wouldn't – I wouldn't have the money to go, and I wouldn't be able to persuade myself to even go, with anxiety, stress and all that. But no, we get out, which is better for me mentally anyway."

Contact

Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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