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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.

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6 – Conclusions

The final chapter of this report summarises the main findings and considers whether and how SCP might be improved to secure more impact for eligible families.

Does SCP improve outcomes for children and families?

A central aim of this research was to assess the evidence on whether SCP improves outcomes for children and families by removing some of the financial challenges faced by low-income households.

The findings clearly demonstrate that it can have a significant financial impact for families. It has enabled families to afford essential items that, in some cases, they would struggle to cover without falling into debt or going without something else. There is evidence that it has contributed to reducing food poverty, both by helping parents access more or better-quality food for their children, and by enabling them to do so without themselves having to skip meals. It has helped disabled families to cover some of the additional expenses they incur, around equipment, transport, and materials to support their child's wellbeing.

By helping with some of these financial difficulties, there was also clear evidence that SCP was helping to reduce stress and improve parental wellbeing. Moreover, where families were able to use the payment towards small treats, activities, or trips out, the payment also benefited both children and parents in terms of their wider physical, social and emotional wellbeing.

However, at the same time, it was clear that the families interviewed for this research were continuing to face significant financial challenges. While SCP was contributing to helping them manage those challenges, it did not remove them altogether. Both parents and third sector organisations felt that the amount SCP was set at (£10 at the time of writing) was not high enough to have a completely transformative impact on low-income families' finances.

The increased cost of living was seen as a key threat that may constrain the future impact of SCP – put simply, the money will not go as far. The UK Government's cancellation of the Universal Credit uplift was also seen as 'cancelling out' the positive financial impacts of SCP; at the same time the payment was clearly seen as even more important in the context of this decision.

In short, although this report presents considerable evidence of positive perceived impacts on the financial circumstances and wider wellbeing of low-income households, findings from both parents and carers and third sector representatives indicate that, on its own, SCP cannot remove the challenges. As set out in the introduction to this report, SCP is only one part – albeit a very important part – of the Scottish Government's strategy for tackling child and family poverty. The evidence presented in this report confirms that it will need to work in tandem with other interventions and wider support for Scottish families in order to realise the vision set out in the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan.

Has SCP led to a greater awareness of the support people on low incomes are entitled to receive from Social Security Scotland?

In designing the processes for accessing devolved benefits, like SCP, the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland have sought to link up different types of financial and non-financial support as far as possible, in order to maximise people's access to the help they need.

As discussed in Chapter 2, it was often difficult to assess whether SCP had led to greater awareness of other support among applicants. Parents could not always recall what had been discussed at the point of application, and some had already been in receipt of other benefits (like Best Start Foods and the Best Start Grants) by the time they applied for SCP. However, there was evidence that some parents heard about and applied for other benefits – like Best Start Foods – through applying for SCP. This provides further support for the value of consciously designing such links into the system; it clearly has the potential to help some families maximise their income.

It is also worth noting that the way SCP has been implemented – specifically, the relatively easy and straightforward application form – helped some parents to feel they were entitled to claim it. This was contrasted with their experience of applying for some other benefits. Being offered SCP was also associated with a perception that the Scottish Government cares for and wants to help families like theirs. These outcomes indicate that SCP may be helping to change low-income families' views of how government and the benefits system see them and interact with them. This may also be important in terms of increasing future awareness and take-up of the support on offer in Scotland – if families trust the system, they may be more likely to use it for help and advice when they need it.

Can SCP be improved to secure more impact for eligible families?

Overall, the families and third sector organisations interviewed for this research were very positive about their experiences of SCP and there were relatively few suggestions for improvement. However, participants did share some ideas about how it might be enhanced further to maximise its impact for low-income families. These focused on:

  • Awareness raising – it was suggested that there could be more advertising of the benefit, including an annual campaign to highlight it to new parents.
  • Clarification around the eligibility criteria – although parents generally understood, in broad terms, what the payment was for, they were not always sure exactly why they had been eligible. There was also some evidence that families were not always clear in advance that the payment would end when the eligible child turned 6. As such, it may be worth reaching out to families in advance of their payment cut-off date, to let them know it is approaching.
  • The application process – the SCP application process was generally seen as working well and was compared favourably with process of applying for some other benefits. However, there were a few specific suggestions for improvement, including:
    • Considering whether any elements of 'proof' of status can be made easier, particularly around 'proving' a new baby has arrived
    • Considering whether anything further can be done to shorten or simplify the application process, especially for those applying over the phone – although it should be noted that in general, parents felt the process was already very easy and quick
    • Considering whether all demographic questions (such as sexual orientation) are needed – an alternative suggestion might be to provide a clearer explanation of why they have been included and how they will be used
    • Considering whether it might be possible to provide any further reassurance to parents that SCP is genuine, and that their confidential details will be securely held.
  • Communication from Social Security Scotland after an application is submitted – again, generally parents felt the communication from Social Security Scotland about their SCP applications and payments was good. However, in cases where parents felt they had not been kept as informed as they would have liked, particularly about whether their applications were successful and when payments would start, this could cause them stress. Given the importance to low-income families of knowing whether and when any additional income will be forthcoming, it may be worth considering whether there is anything further that could be done to enhance communication around SCP, particularly between application and first payment.
  • Raising awareness of other support – as noted above, it was often difficult to establish whether SCP had raised awareness of other benefits. In addition, there was little evidence from these interviews that applying for SCP had increased families' awareness of wider support and advice. This may be something that should be reviewed again when SCP is evaluated more fully. It may also be worth considering whether there is any scope to increase awareness of wider support through SCP. For example, could there be more communication with recipients about this outside the application and decision-making process (given they may be more focused on SCP itself at this early stage)?
  • Frequency of payments – although, in general, the parents interviewed for this research were happy with receiving payments every four weeks, it was noted that some parents would prefer a fortnightly option. Findings from elsewhere have also indicated that having the option of different payment schedules might benefit people who manage their money in different ways.[22] It may, therefore, be worth exploring the possibility of offering different payment schedules for SCP, so that parents can choose the option that best fits their particular circumstances and approach to financial management.

Contact

Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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