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Social Security Experience Panels: disability benefit names

Social Security Experience Panels members' views on renaming disability benefits when they are transferred from the UK Department for Work and Pensions to Social Security Scotland.

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Other name changes

We asked respondents their views on other proposed name changes, specifically to Social Security Scotland staff titles.

Decision Makers – Likes

In the DWP, decision makers are the people who look at a benefit application and make a decision whether or not to award a benefit. We asked respondents what they liked about the name decision makers. 129 of the 278 respondents answered this open text question. For those who provided a positive comment, a number of themes were identified.

Most respondents said that they liked that decision makers is a clear, unambiguous and descriptive term. They felt that the name accurately describes the role of decision makers and distinguishes them from other staff who they may interact with.

"It is plain English. It is clear and precise. It describes the job exactly."

"Gives a better idea of who is responsible for a result."

"If they are the people deciding on claims then they are decision makers. It sets them aside from the admin staff."

Decision Makers – Dislikes

We asked respondents what they disliked about the name decision makers. 125 of the 278 respondents answered this open text question. For those who provided a negative comment, a number of themes were identified. Most respondents said they disliked that the name as felt 'authoritarian' and 'judgemental'. They described the name as feeling 'overly strict', 'ominous', 'severe', 'clinical', 'cold' and 'impersonal'.

"It sounds cold and unapproachable."

"It feels very authoritarian and impersonal."

Another key theme to emerge is that of 'power'. Many respondents said that the name suggests an imbalance of power between the individual and the decision maker. Respondents noted a feeling of powerlessness, particularly as the decision maker is responsible for making decisions which affect their income and quality of life. Many described this as feeling like their 'life is in the hands of others'.

"It sounds like you have no control"

"I feel that the name means 'power'."

"Connotation that this one person has your whole life in their power."

"It very much makes it feel like they are in control of any decisions made for you that will decide how you are able to live the rest of your life. Your life is basically in their hands."

Finally, some respondents said they disliked that the name implied a finality of decisions made by the decision makers. For these respondents, the name suggests the decision maker will also lack compromise and compassion.

"As a title it's not the kindest, it suggest to the applicant that it requires the relinquishing of all control to the "decision makers" and that the applicants input is not important. It also suggests that they cannot be reasoned with."

"Not very user friendly. Sounds like there's no room for movement/negotiation/compromise."

Some respondents said that decision makers evoked memories of negative experiences and interactions with the DWP in the past.

"Makes you think of unqualified, outside agency staff who do not know you, or care, let alone understand."

"The name is forever tainted. It now evokes images of dictatorship, inflexibility. Lack of understanding."

"It makes me think of people in offices who have no idea how a disability impacts on someone's life and they can take away money at the drop of a hat which can have serious consequences on the applicant."

A few respondents said that the name was irrelevant so long as the staff making decisions on applications show sympathy, understanding and are qualified to do so.

"As long as they have the experience and knowledge to make fair decisions on benefit applications and it is not just a paper exercise, I don't think it matters what their actual title is."

"Changing the name is irrelevant. The accuracy and sensitivity of the assessment process these people carry out, the standard of their background, training and humanity is what' crucial."

Case Managers – Likes

Respondents were told that one idea for the future is to change the names of decision makers to case managers in Social Security Scotland. We asked respondents what they liked about the name case managers. 124 of the 278 respondents answered this open text question. Of those respondents who left a positive comment, most simply said that they preferred it to the current name. Many respondents said that the name is 'better' because it sounds 'gentler', 'friendly' 'more supportive', 'less confrontational' and 'less authoritarian.' They felt that it implies less of a power imbalance than decision maker does.

"It's a big improvement on decision makers. Case managers makes it sound more of a collaborative process."

"Much more user friendly. It implies a helpful attitude to the applicant."

"I like that it sounds more approachable. They are managing your case."

"I think that it is a better title. It will give people the feeling that they are regarded as real people, not just a number."

"Sounds as if they are caring for an individual."

A key theme to emerge was that many respondents used the word 'personal' to describe what they liked about the name case manager. Respondents said the name suggests that the case manager's role is to support individuals and that they would take care and consideration over their decisions.

"Sounds more personal like they are working for you not against you."

"It implies some sort of involvement/concern about the case."

"It's a lot nicer and makes it sound like they are being more considerate with decisions."

Some respondents said that the name implies that there will be one case manager managing individual cases, who would follow a case from start to end, and be familiar with it.

"It makes it more personal, sounding like one person is taking ownership for decisions made about the application/award."

"This indicates a more personal service like having a key worker who individuals could contact directly about their case."

A few respondents said they liked that the name case managers sounds professional.

"It sounds more professional and suggests someone taking time and care over cases before making a decision."

Case Managers – Dislikes

We asked respondents what they disliked about the name case managers. 121 of the 278 respondents answered this open text question. For those who provided a negative comment, a number of themes were identified. Many respondents said they disliked that the name case manager appears to reduce individual people to 'cases' to be 'managed'.

"We are people not 'cases'. This title is cold and uncaring, exactly what the new benefit system is trying to avoid!"

"Gives the impression it is the person that needs managed and not the case."

Some respondents said the name case manager is vague. They felt it was not clear from the title if case managers would be responsible for making decisions on applications.

"It's very vague, what does a case manager actually do?"

"It's not self-explanatory - doesn't reveal that they are the person who makes the decision on whether someone is entitled to a benefit."

"Their role is less clear than "decision maker" which is an accurate description of what they do."

Respondents also highlighted that case manager is a term used by other services and professionals who may be involved with an individual/family, principally social work. They felt that this may be confusing for people.

"Too reminiscent of social workers."

"In Universal Credit, there are case managers and decision makers, and they are quite different roles. If you use the term "case managers" for new benefits, this is going to lead to a lot of confusion. I think a completely new title should be used."

As outlined above, some respondents liked that the name case manager suggests that a case manager will be responsible for managing individual cases through the process and would act as a single point of contact for applicants. For some respondents, however, this was felt to be misleading if that will not be the service or function provided by case managers.

"Case manager implies they will follow through, know your case from start to finish and take ownership for any issues/appeals etc. If the case managers are only one part of the system then they need a different name."

"It doesn't tell me what that person does. Do I have direct access to that person to discuss my application? Can they give me advice? Where are they in the system? It's very vague and doesn't inspire confidence in the system."

Whilst most respondents who provided a positive comment about the name case managers said they liked that it sounds personal and friendly, a few respondents said the opposite. They described it as being 'clinical', 'bureaucratic', 'official' and 'formal.' The word 'manager' was also felt to hold hierarchical overtones and suggest a power imbalance between the individual and case manager.

"Manager sounds very "authority figure" which could be intimidating."

Specialist Advisors – Likes

Within Social Security Scotland, sometimes decision makers might need to seek further advice or help if an application is complex or nonstandard. When this happens, they will seek help from specialist advisors. Specialist advisors will be responsible for providing decision makers with information and advice on health and social care matters - such as the side effects of a particular medication, how a specific disability impacts someone and the way in which two conditions might interact.

We asked respondents what they liked about the name specialist advisors. 118 of the 278 respondents answered this open text question. For those who provided a positive comment, a number of themes were identified. A majority of respondents said they liked the word 'specialist' as it specifies that a qualified individual with specialist knowledge and expertise will be advising on decisions. Respondents found this reassuring.

"Specialist implies they will be an expert in my condition and its effects on me."

"It informs us that these people have more medical knowledge or more understanding of how people and their lives are affected by their condition or circumstances."

Many respondents also said that they felt the name is a clear, descriptive and unambiguous. The role of the specialist adviser is to 'advise' using 'specialist'

knowledge, and is therefore distinct from the decision maker.

"It makes clear they are not the decision maker but an advisor."

"It's factual and accurate. They are specialists and they advise."

A small number of respondents said the name sounds professional and positive. Many respondents described it as 'fine', 'good' or 'ok', but did not provide any further information on why they thought this.

"This is much better, and doesn't immediately make people think it's a them or us situation. I encourages disabled people to think of these staff members as helping us."

Specialist Advisors – Dislikes

We asked respondents what they disliked about the name specialist advisors. 116 of the 278 respondents answered this open text question. For those who provided a negative comment, a number of themes were identified. A majority of respondents said they disliked that the name is vague and unclear. Specifically, respondents said that the word 'specialist' is confusing as it is unclear from the title what special advisors 'specialise' in and what their qualifications and experiences are. Respondents assumed that specialist advisors would be health professionals with a medical background. Some felt that medical titles should therefore be used in the name. Other respondents noted that the word 'specialist' should only be used if the individual has specific medical and pharmaceutical knowledge of a particular health condition.

"It does not say what they do or whom they advise."

"The potential for the people in this role not to be specialists or to be consulted on an area in which they are not appropriately experienced or qualified."

"The name suggests that a person in this position would have specialist training and knowledge of all aspects of a person's condition and medication. This would be impossible since a person with complex health issues would be under the care of several health specialists, who have years of training to have the knowledge and expertise they have."

"Does not state the specialist title, not trustworthy."

"From the job description you give, claimants might get the impression that this person is medically qualified. If they are, then the job title should reflect this. "

"It does not explain that they are health professionals specialised in their field, this needs to be made clear."

A few respondents said that the name specialist advisors sounds too 'official' and 'clinical.'

"It could also could be perceived as people who think they know better when that may not be the case."

Professional Advisors – Likes

Finally, respondents were told that an alternative to specialist advisors is professional advisors. We asked respondents what they liked about the name professional advisors. 114 of the 278 respondents answered this open text question.

Most respondents who a provided comment said that the name is 'fine' and a few said that they prefer it to specialist advisors but did not say why. Similar to the word 'specialist', many respondents said the word 'professional' denotes knowledge and expertise.

"This also makes it look like they are using professional knowledge and understanding to help and support people to the best to their ability."

Professional Advisors – Dislikes

We asked respondents what they disliked about the name professional advisors. 111 of the 278 respondents answered this open text question. For those who provided a negative comment, a number of themes were identified. A majority of respondents felt the name is too broad and general. They said that the title is vague and does not reflect who the adviser is and what they do. Some respondents noted that the word 'professional' does not necessarily indicate expertise, qualifications or specialist knowledge in health conditions.

"Professional in what? Disability comes in many forms and a specialist opinion is what I would be looking for."

"Professional advisors could be anything or anyone. It's too opaque."

"It is as vague as healthcare professional. It doesn't really mean much unless what the person is professional in is made very clear. Professional doesn't suggest any particular or specific knowledge or experience. It is often a term used to describe behaviour rather than experience or qualifications."

Many respondents also felt that the term 'professional' is not appropriate because it describes a quality or behaviour rather than a job role or function. These respondents highlighted that the name is misleading because not all professionals are specialists and not all specialists are professional. Moreover, some respondents said that they expect all Social Security Scotland staff to be professional so there is no need to distinguish only these advisors.

"The word professional should be in relation to all staff, their practice and behaviour and not a name for their role or job."

"Can be misleading as you can be professional without being a specialist."

"I prefer "Specialist advisers" to "Professional Advisers" because people can have a speciality without being a professional in any field. For example, someone working in a charity setting can be very knowledgeable on a particular illness, but have no professional qualification."

"It's not a good description. All the staff are supposed to be professional. 'Professional' does not mean 'Specialist'. The point of having 'Specialist Advisors' is that they should be specialists in specific fields so that they can help with difficult applications"

Some respondents described the name professional advisors as sounding 'formal', 'pretentious', 'distant', 'authoritative', 'clinical', 'corporate' and holding private sector connotations.

"It still sounds very murky, and not transparent."

"Bureaucratic. Managerial. Cold."

Contact

Email: socialsecurityexperience@gov.scot

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