Scottish social security system - seldom-heard groups: research

Evidence review setting out the current seldom-heard groups across the Scottish social security system and the barriers they face to accessing their entitlements.

5. Enablers to claiming benefits

In the previous section, we identified psychological, learning and compliance barriers to take-up of social security benefits that acted to marginalise, often already marginalised, people. In this section we report on the evidence for approaches and strategies that help to overcome these barriers to claiming and, therefore, increase take-up rates. Examples of approaches being used to reduce barriers to claiming for marginalised groups are included in Appendix D.

5.1. What works to reduce psychological barriers to claiming benefits?

While this review found no formal evaluations of strategies or interventions to reduce the psychological costs of claiming benefits, the literature offers several suggestions from primary research with seldom heard groups for ways to reduce barriers to claiming.

5.1.1. Positive messaging

The first suggestion to reduce psychological barriers is to change the tone of political and media narratives about claiming benefits to help reduce the stigma associated with claiming[16,19,52]. A study exploring how disability benefits could reduce poverty in Scotland suggested that stigma and prejudice around claiming Adult Disability Payment could be reduced by messaging to “re-establish the fact Disability Assistance is for additional costs of living incurred by disabled people”[49].

The Scottish Government has committed to delivering devolved benefits in keeping with its values of dignity, fairness and respect[78]. There is evidence that this commitment is inspiring hope of meaningful culture change in Social Security Scotland among disabled people and disability support organisations[41,49]. In the Trussell Trust’s study of drivers of food bank use among disabled people, a participant reported that the inclusion of people with a wide range of disabilities in a television advertisement for Adult Disability Payment had made them feel more validated as a disabled person entitled to support from the social security system[41]. However, there is a risk of reputational damage and of damage to claimants’ trust in the benefits system if real change fails to occur[41,49]. If stigmatising beliefs about and prejudice towards benefit claimants are to be eliminated from Scotland’s social security system, it is vital that culture change is embedded across the system through ongoing staff training and development[41,49].

5.1.2. Sensitive messaging

Secondly, a need is identified for sensitive and careful messaging to avoid further stigmatisation of people from already marginalised groups (see Appendix D). Seldom Heard Voices Research participants stressed the need for empathetic communications to avoid further marginalising vulnerable people. Age Scotland highlighted the risk of inadvertently stigmatising people marginalised from the labour market in messaging that characterises benefits as entitlements earned in return for paid work[52]. Staff from organisations supporting minoritised ethnic communities, who took part in a qualitative study on the intersecting impacts of mental ill-health and money problems on the financial wellbeing of people from ethnic minorities, identified the importance of messaging that responds to the ways in which concepts and the language used to describe them can differ across cultures[50]. This study also highlighted the importance of involving people from minoritised ethnic communities in delivering communications around benefits.

5.1.3. Culturally aware support services

Finally, there is evidence of the importance of providing culturally adapted support services that are aware of and responsive to the needs of diverse communities[50,61]. For example, Evans et al stress the likely importance of services staffed by people who properly understand the range of cultural sensitivities around talking about issues such as money worries and mental health[50].

5.2. What works to reduce learning barriers to claiming benefits?

5.2.1. Joined-up approaches

As reported in Section 4 above, benefit take-up can be negatively impacted by incorrect assumptions that information is routinely shared between, or within, agencies. Data sharing between national and local government departments that allows data-led targeting and targeted take-up campaigns have been shown to be effective in helping local authorities to increase benefit take-up rates[19,79]. The older-people’s advocacy organisation Independent Age cites as an example of good practice the ‘Tell Us Once’ bereavement service, which shares information between government departments including council services, the DWP and the HMRC[80]. This suggests that the Tell Us Once approach could be usefully replicated to increase take-up of Pension Credit and Council Tax reductions[80]. Collecting information from welfare advice and advocacy organisations on ‘pressure points’ in the benefits application system are also being used to improve take-up[76] (see Appendix D for more detail).

5.2.2. Awareness-raising

Several sources identify the effectiveness of maximising awareness of benefits by disseminating information and advice through a wide range of contact opportunities; for example, through healthcare professionals, housing associations, emergency services, and care providers (see enablers tables in Appendix D for examples). There is evidence to suggest that taking advice and information to where people are may be particularly effective in increasing take-up of benefits for marginalised groups[81,82]. For example, locating advice services in general practice. Further, following an advertising campaign promoting the Scottish Best Start Foods payment in 2000 convenience stores across Scotland there was a 5 percentage point increase in take-up[39] suggesting that promoting payments in places where people go could have a positive impact on take-up.

Already known and trusted professionals would be well placed to help people check and claim their entitlements[29]. NHS England’s Making Every Contact Count (MECC) approach, where public-facing workers use routine contacts as opportunities for health and wellbeing conversations, is an example of strategic awareness raising that may prove effective in other contexts. There is early evidence that the MECC approach can have positive impacts for seldom heard groups and staff who support them[83]. Evan’s et al highlight the importance of public services that are encouraged and enabled to go beyond providing their core business (e.g. health, education, policing) to address wider determinants of poor outcomes among minority ethnic communities, including insufficient income[50]. Integrating services that provide support and advice on applying for benefits into general practice has been found to increase take-up[84,85,85,86,87] (see Appendix D for further details).

Targeted awareness-raising delivered by trusted organisations has also been shown to be effective in increasing benefit take-up among marginalised groups[29,34,41,69,85]. Public awareness-raising campaigns can also succeed in increasing take-up of benefits (e.g., Pension Credit campaign)[16]. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s analysis of underclaiming of benefits among people on low incomes suggests that a Universal Credit take-up campaign that emphasises the value of passported benefits (e.g., access to free school meals, free prescriptions and cost of living payments) may be successful in increasing take-up rates[88]. However, to be successful in the longer-term, campaigns need to receive long-term funding[67]. As part of its Benefit Take-Up Strategy, the Scottish Government has funded information campaigns to raise awareness of the devolved benefts[39]. There is some evidence that these campaigns were followed by increased take-up of some benefits. For example, following national and targeted marketing to raise awareness of extended eligibility for children up to age 16, take-up rates of the Scottish Child Payment for children aged under 6 increased by 8 percentage points between the years 2021/22 and 2022/23[39].The increase in take-up rates for younger children might, in part, be explained by increased awareness of the payment arising from the wider marketing campaign.

5.2.3. Accessible, accurate and timely information and support

While delivering information through a wide range of sources is likely to increase awareness of entitlements, it is equally important that information received is accurate and up to date. Research with members of marginalised groups identified the importance of trained benefit staff who could provide information on benefit changes and how benefits interact[6]. Qualitative research with people supporting minoritised ethnic communities identified the role of trained advice workers in countering ‘fake news’ and misinformation about benefit entitlements that can spread through communities[50]. Making information about benefits fully accessible requires considerations of both format and language. Participants in the Seldom Heard Voices Research programme highlighted the importance of providing information in a range of formats[6]. Accessibility of information could also be improved by providing ‘one-stop-shops’ for advice and benefit checks[16,41,50,89]. In their evidence to the Scottish Parliament Social Security Committee on Benefit Take-up, One Parent Families Scotland recommended informing people of their potential benefit entitlements at “important trigger points”, for example, when registering a birth, or leaving a relationship[90]. Ensuring that information is provided at the earliest opportunity could increase the likelihood of a claim being made.

5.3. What works to reduce compliance barriers to claiming benefits?

5.3.1. Simplified application processes

As discussed in Section 4, there is evidence that the simplification of benefit application processes would improve take-up of benefits. The introduction of automatic enrolment for Scotland’s Five Family Payments (see Appendix D) is an example of a streamlined application process that is likely to positively impact benefit take-up among families. Increased automation of Scottish Child Payment processing has resulted in reduced payment delays[39]. Following the introduction of automated payments for Scotland’s Best Start Grant School Age Payment, take-up rates increased by 20 percentage points[39].

Offering a range of application modes may also improve take-up[19,29,41,50,76]. There is early evidence that the provision of an online application form for Scotland’s Adult Disability Payment is reducing barriers to take-up among some disabled people[41]. However, as reported above, digital exclusion among many marginalised groups means it is important that there is provision of a range of application methods.

5.3.2. Support to make a claim

Providing support to make a claim has been widely identified as vital for increasing take-up[6,6,29,30,37,41,50,53,91]. Research on disability benefit take-up conducted on behalf of the Trussell Trust found that, for many disabled people, receiving support with an application played a fundamental role in the success of their claim[41]. In evidence to the Social Security Committee, Spicker identified ‘human contact’ as one of the most effective ways of increasing benefit take-up[11]. Social Security Scotland provides an independent advocacy service for disabled applicants. However, while welcomed by disabled people there is qualitative evidence that levels of awareness about the advocacy service are low and better promotion of the service is required to ensure that people receive the support to which they are entitled[41].

A need has also been identified for frontline staff to be trained to provide culturally aware support that recognises and responds to the barriers to take-up experienced by different marginalised groups[50,61]. An interesting example is provided by the CEMVO who identified cultural barriers to take-up of Scotland’s Funeral Support Payment for communities who are already marginalised from the benefits system and/or who require burial to take place very shortly after death[61]. The CEMVO suggest that frontline staff focus on raising awareness of Funeral Support Payments in these communities and are trained in cultural and religious practices related to funerals[61].

5.3.3. Increased benefit values and extended eligibility

Increasing the sufficiency of benefits is highly likely to increase take-up, firstly, by reducing the need for a complex array of support (e.g., discretionary funds, crisis loans, and social tariffs) and, secondly, by increasing the utility of claiming[17,18]. There is evidence that people are missing out on passported benefits by not claiming the small amount of Universal Credit to which they are entitled[40]. Extending eligibility to currently ineligible groups (for example, by removing the bedroom tax, two-child policy and benefit cap) would also improve benefit take-up among the most marginalised groups (including survivors of abuse, kinship carers and large families)[35,65,92,93]. While extending eligibility through benefit reform is a long-term solution, there are more immediate actions that could be taken. For example, in the Dying in Poverty report, Marie Curie suggest that local authorities should consider fast-tracking people at the end of life through Scotland’s Scheme of Assistance and extending eligibility for Winter Heating Assistance to the terminally ill[32].



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