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.

7. Conclusions and recommendations

The overall aim of this research was to provide robust information on the seldom heard groups at particular risk of being marginalised from the Scottish social security system.

7.1. Take-up rates among seldom heard groups

One of the objectives of the evidence review was to explore the current take-up rates of social security benefits in Scotland among seldom heard groups by reviewing data on current levels of participation, representation and engagement in order to understand how successful the impact of the Scottish Government’s efforts to date to target these groups had been.

Current data on take-up rates are available for some, but not all, devolved benefits. For benefits that data are available for 2022-23, take-up rates vary widely. While this could provide some insight into the impact of the Scottish Government’s efforts to target specific groups, these figures should be reviewed with caution. It is very difficult to accurately estimate the take-up rates of social security benefits, particularly among seldom heard groups. This is because data on marginalised groups are not routinely collected by the social security system, and there are difficulties in identifying the number of people potentially eligible to claim a number of benefits. This challenge is further execerbated by complex and changing eligibility criteria for some benefits, such as disability benefits. Therefore, it is possible that current data on take-up rates of social security benefits in Scotland among seldom heard groups are inaccurate. To improve the understanding of take-up rates among marginalised groups, better collection of data from these groups are required.

7.2. Identifying seldom heard groups with low rates of benefit take-up

Another objective of the evidence review was to assess the evidence for the ongoing accuracy and relevance of the seldom heard groups identified by the Scottish Government in 2019 and to identify whether there are additional seldom heard groups with low rates of benefit take-up.

It is clear from the current evidence that the seldom heard groups identified by the Scottish Government in 2019 are still relevant. However, there is also evidence of additional seldom heard groups, including:

  • People from established minority ethnic communities who are at risk of marginalisation due to prejudice, language barriers and cultural differences.
  • People with long-term physical and mental health impairments or conditions, including fluctuating and/or less visible conditions.
  • People with learning disabilities and learning difficulties.
  • Socially isolated older adults.

7.3. Barriers to claiming benefits among seldom heard groups

The review also sought to identify evidence that can help describe the groups of people who are likely to face barriers to accessing social security, and set out what these barriers are, the reasons why these groups face these barriers and the likelihood, or not, of these groups taking up their entitlements.

There is a large and robust body of evidence identifying barriers to claiming benefits which are categorised into three groups:

  • Psychological barriers: include stigma and prejudice, fear and distrust of authority, and experiences of trauma and violence.
  • Learning barriers: include the complexity of the social security system, inaccessible information, and a lack of support to make a claim.
  • Compliance barriers: include complex application processes, challenges in proving eligibility, decision-making delays, and difficulties in complying with conditionality.

Psychological, learning and compliance barriers all act to increase the personal costs of applying for and maintaining a benefit claim.

While there is less evidence on who is marginalised by these barriers to claiming – due to a lack of data and the absence of the voices of seldom heard groups – there is evidence of challenges faced by marginalised people that are highly likely to exclude them from the benefits system. People who face the greatest barriers to accessing benefits can be identified by first identifying people who are at increased risk of poverty, ill-health, low educational attainment, violence, insecure work and housing, or marginalised from public service such as healthcare, education and financial services.

7.4. Interventions that support benefit take-up among seldom heard groups

As part of the review, ScotCen reviewed existing evidence to identify interventions which might support the needs of the seldom heard groups to access social security support.

A lack of data on marginalised groups creates challenges for designing and judging the effectiveness of interventions to improve benefit take-up. However, there is evidence of approaches that, while rarely formally evaluated, appear to be effective in improving access to benefits for a range of marginalised groups.

  • Strategies to help overcome psychological barriers to claiming include: positive and sensitive messaging around benefits, and culturally aware support services.
  • Strategies to help overcome learning barriers include: joined-up approaches such as automatic enrolment and data sharing, targeted and culturally responsive awareness raising, and the provision of accessible, accurate and timely information.
  • Strategies to overcome compliance barriers include: simplified application processes delivered through a range of modes, support to make a claim, and increased value and widened eligibility for benefits.

Some barriers to claiming will be easier to address than others. For example, learning barriers can be reduced by relatively low-cost strategies such as improving the quality and accessibility of information. Increasing and improving support to apply is likely to be more costly; however, there is evidence that support is vital for improving take-up rates among the most marginalised. Some strategies for improving take-up – such as extending eligibility and increasing the value of benefits – will be among the costliest to implement. Without evidence on the effectiveness of interventions it is difficult to prioritise one intervention over another.

7.5. Prioritising seldom heard groups

Finally, the review aimed to consider which seldom heard groups to prioritise in terms of the extent of their exclusion from Scotland’s social security system.

The lack of data on marginalised groups and the lack of evidence on the nature and extent of marginalisation create challenges for targeting specific groups. A further important consideration is the existence of high levels of intersectionality within marginalised groups. The presence of many groups within groups of seldom heard people means that a range of strategies is likely to be required to improve take-up rates.

Therefore, rather than focusing efforts on particular seldom heard groups, addressing barriers to claiming is likely to be more achievable and effective in increasing benefit take-up. This review identifies approaches to reducing barriers that are likely to be effective for many marginalised groups – for example, improving support, increasing awareness, and simplified application and compliance processes.

7.6. Recommendations

There are a number of findings from this evidence review which could support the Scottish Government in the ongoing implementation of its Benefit Take-up Strategy; both in relation to developing new approaches to support people to access social security benefits, and in strengthening data collection of benefit take up rates.

There is clear evidence that additional groups other than those identified by the Scottish Government in 2019 face barriers accessing social security benefits. To incorporate these new groups, we recommend using the categories suggested in this review: minoritised ethnic communities; people with disabilities, impairments and/or chronic ill health; children and families; and vulnerable people. These groups should be kept under review as new data become available.

The evidence points to the intersectionality of groups facing barriers to accessing social security benefits. Therefore, addressing specific barriers to accessing social security benefits, rather than specific groups facing these barriers, should be prioritised, and may have a greater reach.

Finally, to understand the impact any future action taken by the Scottish Government to support people to access social security benefits, improved data collection is required. This includes designing an evaluation before any intervention is rolled out, and implementing data collection aimed at seldom heard groups specifically.



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