Social Security Experience Panels: benefit take-up – report

This report covers findings from research with Social Security Experience Panels members about their experiences of accessing the benefit system.

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Ways for Social Security Scotland to challenge stigma

We asked participants about how they would want Social Security Scotland to challenge the stigma related to claiming benefits. In response, participants had a number of suggestions. 

Positive stories

Many participants talked about the need to re-balance the negative stories that existed about people who claimed benefits. Some felt that Social Security Scotland could aim to tell particularly positive stories about the impact of their benefits on improving people's lives and lifting them out of poverty. They felt that these stories needed to emphasise that people who claimed benefits did so because they needed the support. 

"Bad news sells but with the rollout of the new system they should be giving positive examples of situations. I already have examples of the funeral payment." 

"Display how people can better themselves, I am a single parent on disabled benefits running my own business. There is no positive stories out there that show the kind of impact benefits can have on lives like mine."

A number of participants also thought that positive client stories could challenge the idea that benefits payments cannot be helpful for the economy. They spoke about how benefits are spent by claimants, and will ultimately go back into the economy to businesses. 

"We need messages that benefits are enablers. They enable people to contribute finacially, or spend money that supports local businesses."

"I am forever grateful for the help I've received. When I get irritated and upset, I remind myself that if I didn't have this support and time, my son wouldn't be who he is. It is embarrassing to say I am on benefits especially with my previous lifestyle."

Challenge stereotypes

A few wondered if Social Security Scotland could also look to challenge stereotypes about the type of person who claimed benefits. They spoke about providing case studies of people who have claimed Social Security Scotland benefits. It was felt that case studies could challenge some of the negative stereotypes that had been made popular in TV series. Participants felt it was particularly important to challenge public perceptions around hidden disabilities, 'laziness', and the level of benefit fraud that existed. They also talked about highlighting how difficult everyday life could be for those with disabilities or caring responsibilities.

"I've never seen a positive TV programme about anything like that. Like we only ever hear about the bad cases, the cases that go wrong, we don't hear the thousands of success stories."

"I like little stories that charities do about hidden disabilities. Lots of people are basically kind. Some people that I know like to look down on people. But if I told them that a person has a severe and complex issue, they would be the first to say that's a shame. I think positive stories are really important and just making people aware about how bad some people's situations are."

"Case studies are a great thing. Telling stories is what people like. Look at two families. One where you compare the lifestyles where the parents have the same number of kids and one set of parents are disabled. Some people believe that people who are on disability benefits still have as much opportunity."

Some suggested case studies would help to show that anyone could claim benefits at any point in their life. They suggested focussing on a person who had worked all their lives and been forced into claiming benefits due to health conditions. Several also wondered whether stories could focus on more high profile figures – e.g. professionals or celebrities - who had used the benefits system. They felt that these stories would help to change perceptions about who Social Security Scotland was for. 

"If there are higher profile people or celebrities mobilising positive stories about the benefits system it would be more effective. Mental health is an example of this as there are more people being more open about it. It should be normalised so that it's not just somebody who might be painted in a bad way. The benefit system is a safety net for everyone, since anyone could be disabled, so its a right for everyone."

"I've been absolutely floored to learn that Bank Managers, Accountants and Lawyers were homeless and needed to claim benefits. Unless you talk to them, you don't know. There's no recognition of these stories."

Education about public money

Participants also said they wanted the public to be better informed about how the benefits system works and where taxpayer money goes. They spoke about how there were beliefs among citizens that they were paying large sums of their tax towards the benefits system. Several said that they directly felt stigmatised from those who felt like they were paying large sums of their own wage to support them.

"Try to point out where the money for this is funded from and it doesn't come out from your next door neighbour's pocket. Actually stating this would help reduce the stigma."

"People have said to me 'I'm paying tax on people on benefits.' I have to explain to them that they're not spending £20,000 a year on benefits. Some people read this in the paper then think it's true."

"I would like to see more information on where the budget would come from."

Some also mentioned the need for clear messaging about commonly scapegoated groups such as disabled people and immigrants. 

"Dispel myths about immigrants claiming benefits and getting free money, we need to fact check we need an official group that dispels false stories."

Education about the benefits system

Participants also spoke about the need to educate the population about the benefits system more generally. Several talked about options for Social Security Scotland to help to provide information for school curriculums to cover the benefits system and poverty in greater detail. It was felt that teaching children the facts about the benefits system would help to change attitudes in the long term. 

"The reality of living on benefits, not these contrived shows, should be taught to every child in school. Every adult in further education. Any ways of learning, community education. The reality of living on benefits is completely different."

"There's so much miseducation about what the benefits system is there for. Learning about the Romans shouldn't be more important than our benefits system. We have to teach our system of acceptance of everyone."



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