Scottish Child Payment: interim evaluation
Findings from the interim evaluation of Scottish Child Payment.
This document is part of a collection
The Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 introduced a range of new benefits devolved to Scotland. Scottish Child Payment has been implemented using these new powers. The payment is designed to deliver regular, additional financial help to low-income families who are in receipt of certain benefits. It is also one of a range of Scottish Government policies set out in the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan which are intended to reduce child poverty in Scotland.
Social Security Scotland began taking applications for Scottish Child Payment on 9 November 2020. This report presents an interim evaluation of the benefit which is based on progress towards its immediate and short-term policy outcomes. However, it also considers progress towards Scottish Child Payment’s medium-term outcomes, and its contribution to the Scottish Government’s long-term aims (e.g. reduced child poverty). The policy outcomes of Scottish Child Payment relate to the benefit’s impact on people who receive the payment (hereafter referred to as ‘recipients’), but the evaluation also considers the experience of Scottish Child Payment applicants in general.
The interim evaluation of Scottish Child Payment is largely based on findings from qualitative research that was commissioned and undertaken by Ipsos MORI, attached in full at Annex B. The qualitative research involved interviews with Scottish Child Payment recipients and third sector representatives who support people on low incomes. However, it also draws on Official Statistics and a survey of benefits applicants which was undertaken by Social Security Scotland.
It should be noted that the data used for the interim evaluation covers the period from November 2020 to March 2022. During this time, Scottish Child Payment was a weekly sum of £10 per child aged under 6, paid every four weeks. However, the payment amount doubled to £20 per week in April 2022 and will further increase to £25 by the end of 2022 – by which time the benefit will also be rolled-out to all eligible children under the age of 16.
Promotion and take-up of Scottish Child Payment
People find out about Scottish Child Payment in a range of ways, including word of mouth, media advertising, and through various support organisations. However, while third sector representatives feel the benefit has been fairly well and widely publicised, there is also a belief that it could be publicised more effectively e.g. by using different forms of social media like Facebook Live, and by staging a promotional campaign every year to make new parents aware of the benefit.
People across Scotland with a diverse range of demographic and equalities characteristics claim Scottish Child Payment. As of June 2021, take-up of Scottish Child Payment was estimated to be 77%. This means that a majority of eligible people had claimed the benefit, and indicates that early promotional efforts were largely effective. However, it also shows that almost 1 in 4 eligible people had not claimed Scottish Child Payment in June 2021, suggesting further steps may still be needed to maximise take-up of the benefit. The next take-up estimate of Scottish Child Payment is due to be published later this year.
Understanding Scottish Child Payment
People are generally clear about the purpose of Scottish Child Payment and how it is intended to work. However, there is some confusion over eligibility - e.g. whether it is based on existing benefit entitlement or income. Additionally, third sector representatives say that some parents do not realise that the payment will stop when their child turns 6. This was the case for a parent who took part in the qualitative research, and she found it to be a stressful and disappointing experience.
Applying for Scottish Child Payment
A large majority of Scottish Child Payment applicants feel that they are treated well by Social Security Scotland during the application process. The application form is also considered quick and straightforward to complete. This can give recipients a sense they are entitled to the payment, as opposed to feeling they have to prove themselves for it. People are also generally satisfied with the process of receiving payments.
Despite these positives, the evaluation highlights some issues with the application process:
- Application processing times have been increasing since September 2021. This includes time spent waiting to receive copies of documents or evidence requested from clients.
- A minority of applicants feel Social Security Scotland could have kept them better informed about the progress of their applications. This is particularly important for families who are struggling financially.
- Around 1 in 3 applicants who speak to Social Security Scotland staff would like to be informed about other benefits or additional forms of support (e.g. Citizens Advice Scotland) when making an application, but are not.
- Some individuals flagged specific issues with the application form e.g. a perception that telephone applications take too long, or that some of the questions in the Equality Monitoring and Feedback form seem intrusive or irrelevant (it should be noted that applicants can select a ‘prefer not to say’ option when answering questions in the form).
The impact of Scottish Child Payment
Progress towards short-term policy outcomes
Scottish Child Payment has had a number of positive impacts for children and families. It has led to more money being spent on children, including spend which enables them to participate in social and educational opportunities. Examples include:
- Essential items like food and nappies, and treat items such as small toys or ice cream
- Family day-trips to places such as the zoo, and regular activities like parent and toddler groups or dance classes
- For parents of disabled children, spend on essential medical items and items designed to support development or learning (e.g. sensory toys and books to help with a child’s dyslexia).
Scottish Child Payment has also helped to reduce financial pressure on households. People who use payments for essential household items such as food or bills feel its impact keenly, and say they depend on the money to avoid getting into debt. There is also testimony from individual recipients that, before receiving the benefit, they had to rely on food parcels or would sometimes have skipped meals to ensure their child(ren) could eat. Some recipients also feel that without Scottish Child Payment they might be forced to use food banks.
Others recipients say they do not rely on Scottish Child Payment for essentials. However, they feel the payment helps to fund trips or treats their children would otherwise miss out on. Additionally, parents and carers say that Scottish Child Payment has helped to reduce their financial worries around everyday budgeting, and that this had a positive impact on their own mental health.
Despite the positive short-term impacts of Scottish Child Payment, the payment (at the £10 weekly rate) was not considered a large enough sum of money to completely transform peoples’ financial situation. For recipients, household budgets remain very tight, and spending requires careful planning from week to week to ensure they have enough for everything that they and their children need. The findings also suggest that recent increases in the cost of living reduced the spending power of Scottish Child Payment.
Contribution to medium-term policy outcomes
A full assessment of progress towards Scottish Child Payment’s medium-term outcomes would require: (a) more time to have passed since the benefit was implemented, and (b) access to more robust quantitative data. However, the findings indicate that the benefit has led to reduced debt and material deprivation. As mentioned above, some recipients rely on Scottish Child Payment to pay for household essentials, and feel strongly that it has stopped them having to borrow money.
In addition to reduced financial stress, there is also evidence that Scottish Child Payment has contributed to better health and wellbeing in other ways. Examples given by recipients include:
- Feeling less guilt or embarrassment at not being able to afford things for their children
- Improvements to their children's physical health as a result of being able to buy enough (or better) food for them, and being able to pay for them to take part in activities such as swimming or gymnastics
- Improvements to their children’s emotional wellbeing by reducing the distress associated with hunger, and being able to buy them treats or pay for activities or trips
- For parents of disabled children, being more able to pay for medical care or support for their children, including transport to get to hospital quicker, or to pay for specific items for a medical condition (e.g. incontinence pads).
There is only a limited amount of evidence that Scottish Child Payment has reduced barriers to education and the labour market. However, examples given by recipients include using the money to pay for travel to interviews, a new job, or college.
There is also limited evidence the payment has had a positive impact on the Scottish economy. However, to assess this fully would require a full economic evaluation which is outside the scope of this work. Some of the improvements to children’s health and wellbeing set out above might be expected to have long-term economic benefits for Scotland’s economy including improved educational outcomes, reduced inequality and higher earnings potential for recipients.
While the payment has allowed recipients to buy more or different things, it has not changed the shops they use – they tend to shop in large local supermarkets, online, or sometimes go to a mix of (generally bigger) shops to get the best deals. As such, there is only limited evidence of recipients increasingly shopping locally.
Conclusion and policy implications
The evaluation shows that Scottish Child Payment has largely achieved its immediate and short-term policy outcomes, and has made progress towards its medium-term policy outcomes. It is therefore likely to have contributed positively to the Scottish Government’s long-term aims (e.g. reduced child poverty and inequalities of outcomes for children). However, the evaluation also highlights some issues with Scottish Child Payment. These issues and their implications are as following:
1. Third sector representatives feel that the benefit could be promoted more effectively e.g. by using different forms of social media and putting on a yearly campaign to promote the benefit to new parents. Regarding take-up, the most recent estimate suggests that 23% of eligible people had not claimed Scottish Child Payment in June 2021. While this figure may have changed since then (a new estimate will be published later this year), steps may be needed to maximise take-up of Scottish Child Payment, including further promotional work.
2. There is some confusion over eligibility – e.g. whether it is based on existing benefit entitlement or income. There is also evidence that some recipients do not realise the payment will stop when their child reaches the upper age-limit for eligibility. As such, there may be a need to review information on Scottish Child Payment to (a) increase clarity around eligibilty rules, and (b) communicate more clearly that payments will stop for eligible children when they reach the upper age-limit.
3. Regarding the application form, a small number of issues were flagged by individual recipients e.g. a perception that the telephone application took too long, or that some of the demographic questions (for which a ‘prefer not to say’ response can be chosen) in the Equality Monitoring and Feedback form seemed intrusive or irrelevant. Although it is not clear how widespread these perceptions or experiences are amongst applicants, it may be necessary to review the application process to see if changes are necessary or possible.
4. There has been a trend of increasing application processing times since September 2021. Additionally, a minority of applicants feel that Social Security Scotland could have given them more updates on the progress of their application. This is particularly important to families who are struggling financially. As such, there may be a need to (a) review the application decision-making process to see if it can be expedited, and (b) take steps to ensure that applicants are kept better informed about the progress of applications, especially in cases where processing takes a long time.
5. Around 1 in 3 applicants who speak to Social Security Scotland staff would like to be informed about other benefits or additional forms of support (e.g. Citizens Advice Scotland) when making an application, but are not. In general, applicants who are told about other benefits or support are more likely to rate their overall experience with Social Security Scotland staff positively. As such, steps could be taken to ensure that applicants are always informed about other benefits or support, where applicable.
6. While Scottish Child Payment has a positive impact on recipients’ finances, they are still faced with financial difficulties, and rises in the cost of living can limit the payment’s impact. As stated above, Scottish Child Payment doubled from £10 to £20 per week per eligible child in April 2022, and will increase again to £25 by the end of the 2022 – by which time eligibility will have been extended to children aged under 16. However, to ensure that Scottish Child Payment continues to have a positive financial impact for families, recipients’ perceptions of impact should continue to be monitored over time, and the rate of Scottish Child Payment kept under review.
7. While the interim evaluation indicates that progress has been made on the medium-term outcomes associated with Scottish Child Payment, it is not possible with the information available to provide a full assessment across these areas. As such, more data should be sought and made available for the future evaluations of Scottish Child Payment.
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