Social Security Experience Panels: annual report 2021

Fourth annual report from the Social Security Experience Panels programme, covering the key activities and outputs from 2021.

This document is part of a collection

2021: How we worked

This section will give a project update on what we were up to in 2021. It will cover:

  • Research with Seldom Heard Groups
  • Sharing our approach
  • Research with Social Security Scotland Clients
  • Feedback from Experience Panel members
  • User testing work

Research with Seldom Heard Groups

In the 2019 and 2020 Annual Reports we highlighted the programme of work to engage with seldom heard groups. This covers topics and groups that are sensitive, marginalised or dispersed, who are less likely to be visible in a project like the Experience Panels. We know many of these groups have particular experiences or characteristics that mean they may face barriers when engaging with public services and we want to make sure Social Security Scotland is designed with these on mind.

Our programme of seldom heard research, has four strands:

  • Mobile populations: Gypsy/Traveller populations, temporary EU migrants, refugees.
  • Care Experienced and Carers: Care experienced people, foster and kinship carers, young parents, single parents.
  • Vulnerable groups: people who have offended, people with experience of homelessness, veterans.
  • End of life: people with terminal illnesses, bereaved families.

We have commissioned external experts to conduct two stages of fieldwork with each of these groups. Some of this work had to be paused during 2020 due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions.

Work in this area has resumed remotely where possible, however ongoing restrictions have impacted on the ways researchers have been able to recruit participants. This is because researchers often ask for help from organisations and charities who work with the groups of people they are interested in doing research with. With COVID-19, many organisations stopped face-to-face contact and began to deliver services remotely. This has meant that researchers have not been able to recruit as many participants as originally planned.

At the end of the second stage of fieldwork, the external researchers will provide a report outlining their advice for recruiting and undertaking research with each of the groups. We are keen to make sure we learn from them.

We published the findings from wave one of this work in December 2021. We will share the findings from wave two of fieldwork in 2022.

Spotlight On: Research with Seldom Heard Groups Wave 1 findings

The three reports published in December 2021 focused on the following strands: vulnerable groups, carers and care experienced people, and those at the end of life.

We found that the three groups faced some common barriers when engaging with the social security system such as: a lack of knowledge and awareness of the benefit system, difficulty finding information, complex application forms, and unpleasant and stressful interactions with staff from DWP and Job Centre Plus.

The three groups also reported and suggested some common positive experiences, called enablers. These included the need for a variety of channels of communication and clear and streamlined information. Other enablers reported were the key role of third sector organisations in helping people navigate the benefit system, as well as knowledgeable and empathetic benefit staff.

Certain barriers and enablers were particular to some of the groups.

Vulnerable groups commonly experienced barriers around restrictive application forms, and spoke of health assessment staff as lacking training or being insensitive to mental health conditions and trauma. Participants for this strand suggested the following enablers: simplified application forms and different ways of assessing eligibility. They suggested that GP records and medical evidence should weigh heavier during benefit assessments and that health assessment reports should be agreed jointly between the assessor and applicant.

Carers and care experienced participants reported barriers around health assessments being unable to capture fluctuating and chronic conditions. They also spoke of financial hardship as a result of long waiting times, changing benefits and overpayments. Common enablers mentioned by this group were reducing waiting times between application and payment, and providing more flexibility to pay back overpayments, loans and advance payments.

Frequent barriers experienced by end of life participants were around lack of certainty about support available and what happens to benefits after a person with terminal illness dies. They also flagged financial and practical barriers when attending appointments. Common enablers suggested by participants in this group were the provision of more proactive financial advice from health professionals, as well as a ‘fast-tracked’ benefit process in the context of a terminal illness. Another suggested enabler was a single point of contact in benefit agencies.

The Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland has addressed or will undertake work to address the barriers and suggested improvements set out in this research.

You can read more about the findings and next steps for this work on the Experience Panels publications website.

Sharing our approach

In 2021 we spent more time sharing our findings and approach with others in the Scottish Government and beyond.

The Scottish Government has made a range of public commitments to put people at the heart of everything we do. This means including the voices of those with lived experience across a range of policy areas. A few examples include:

  • The Poverty and Inequality Commission provides independent scrutiny and advice to Scottish Ministers on poverty and inequality. They have set up a panel of 19 experts by experience from across Scotland, which informs and supports the work of the Commission, ensuring that those affected by poverty are central to identifying issues and developing solutions.
  • Scottish Government has funded the Mental Health Foundation and Health and Social Care ALLIANCE to set up a lived experience panel to work with them to inform and advise on policy development.
  • Transport Scotland has set up a People’s Panel to inform delivery of the National Transport Strategy. The Panel comprises a range of people with different experiences of accessing and using transport. In addition, Transport Scotland has recently undertaken qualitative research with low income families to explore their experiences of transport in response to the Child Poverty Delivery Plan.

These are just a few examples of the types of lived experience work taking place across the Scottish Government. There is also a new Participation and Lived Experience Working Group which aims to support government researchers doing this work.

In the Experience Panels team, we are often asked to give advice to others considering lived experience work, discussing how our panel was set up and is run, with a focus on ensuring accessibility and support for panel members.

We will continue to share our findings and be open about our approach with panel members, social security colleagues, external stakeholders and advisory groups, and colleagues across government and the wider public sector.

Research with Social Security Scotland Clients

In the 2020 Annual Report, we highlighted a new programme of research in Social Security Scotland called Client Panels. The Client Panels are made up of clients who have volunteered to take part in research projects to support the continuous improvement of Social Security Scotland’s benefits and services.

Like Experience Panels, Client Panel members share feedback about their experience and their ideas for improvements through surveys, interviews and other research methods. Client Panels also help Social Security Scotland understand how they are delivering against the commitments set out in Our Charter and the Charter Measurement Framework.

As of January 2022, there are nearly 3000 Client Panel members. Over time, membership will grow to represent the full range of benefits delivered by Social Security Scotland. At the moment, people can be members of both the Experience Panels and the Client Panels. Clients are offered the chance to join the Client Panels when they complete the Client Survey. This survey allows Social Security Scotland clients to tell Social Security Scotland about their views and experiences of the service. It goes to everyone who has applied for or received a benefit.

In 2021, the Client Panels and Experience Panels teams worked closely together to carry out research with both groups. This is where we feel there is benefit from including participants from both live and future benefits.

In early 2021, the first joint project explored how the Covid-19 pandemic may have changed how clients want to interact with Social Security Scotland. In the summer, members who live in or around Dundee and Glasgow were invited to take part in a survey about Social Security Scotland’s main buildings in those cities, seeking views about things like how staff should welcome you to the buildings and the type of uniform staff should wear. The third joint project focused on the working location of Social Security Scotland staff and their opening hours.

We will publish reports and summaries for the last two projects later this year. The next section will give more detail on some of this work.

Spotlight On: Coronavirus impact on communication preferences

From January to April 2021, we asked both Experience Panel and Client Panel members to tell us about how the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted on their preferences for how they would want to interact with Social Security Scotland.

In total, 484 members across both Panels chose to complete a survey exploring this topic. Follow-up interviews were carried out with 41 panel members.

The research looked at experiences and views on interacting with Social Security Scotland before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around a quarter of survey respondents said that their preferred way to get in touch would be different during or after the pandemic. Older respondents and respondents with a long-term health condition or disability were more likely to say this. Many of those who indicated a change said they would prefer more online communication.

Over three quarters (79%) of respondents said they could be interested in meeting Social Security Scotland in person in the future. Respondents with a long-term health condition or disability were more likely to say this. The majority (67%) said they would only feel comfortable meeting in person once all COVID-19 restrictions had been lifted.

The majority said they would expect some safety measures to be remain even after restrictions were eased or removed.

You can read more about the full findings of this research and how they are being used by teams working in a range of areas in both Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland here: Social Security client and experience panels research: effects of the coronavirus pandemic on communication preferences - (

Spotlight On: Charter Measurement Framework

In November 2021, Social Security Scotland published the latest Charter Measurement Framework report. The framework is a list of measures relating to the commitments set out in Our Charter, which sets out what people should expect from the new social security system. The Measurement Framework has two purposes. First, it shows how Social Security Scotland and the Scottish Government are getting on with delivering the commitments. Second, it helps Social Security Scotland and the Scottish Government to constantly improve what they are doing. The Charter and the Charter Measurement Framework were both developed with Experience Panel members.

The report includes statistics, but also research with Social Security Scotland clients, staff and stakeholders. Most clients interviewed as part of the Charter research felt Social Security Scotland had been open with them by providing clear information about processes and timescales and regular updates on applications. Client interviewees said staff made them feel comfortable, treated them with kindness and listened to them. Nine in ten (94%) Client survey respondents who had been in contact with Social Security Scotland staff ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that they were treated with kindness.

Every year Social Security Scotland will collect information and data on the measures, put it into the framework and then publish the results. This is the second time the Charter Measurement Framework has been published.

Thank you to any panel members who helped to design Our Charter and the Charter Measurement Framework.

Feedback from Experience Panel members

It’s incredibly useful for us to understand who is on the Experience Panels and how they are experiencing being involved. The most recent survey asking panel members about this was carried out at the end of 2021.

In this survey, we asked panel members to update the information we hold about them. This information helps us to invite and hear from specific people when carrying out research on a given topic.

We also asked panel members to give feedback on their experience of being part of the Experience Panels. Nine out of ten (91%) panel members agreed or strongly agreed that they enjoyed being a member of the Experience Panels. Panel members said that having the opportunity to take part in research to help shape decision making made they feel listened to, and that they were making a difference to the lives of others. Over eight in ten panel members agreed that they were happy with the number of opportunities to take part in research (85%) and that the opportunities are relevant to them (80%).

There were some areas that respondents highlighted as suggestions or areas for improvement. Some panel members expressed missing group discussions and face to face events which have stopped since the start of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We continue to review how we interact with panel members in line with national restrictions and professional research guidance. We will offer face to face events once it is safe to do so. In the meantime, we are keen to ensure panel members can get involved in a way that suits them, whether through surveys, phone or video interviews. Another suggestion from panel members about how we work is for more updates and information about how Experience Panels research has been used in practice to help shape decisions about Social Security Scotland.

We will share the findings of this survey early in 2022.

User research and testing

In 2021, we worked with our partner user researchers to give panel members opportunities to get involved in shaping specific elements of the design of Social Security Scotland's systems and processes. This is different from our usual surveys and interviews. It involves asking panel members to look at draft parts of a process to make sure those systems are as easy to use as possible.

In 2021, there were five rounds of user research and at least 234 panel members took part in user testing interviews.

User testing like this feeds directly into design, and doesn’t have a research report like our other work. We do, however, include articles in our newsletters on how such testing has shaped processes.

There are more user research sessions scheduled to take place over 2022.



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