Social Security Experience Panels - ethnic minorities: report

This report is on research with ethnic minority groups about their past experiences of social security and the barriers that exist to them in accessing support. It provides information about the steps Social Security Scotland is taking to help overcome these barriers.

This document is part of a collection

Interacting with staff

Participants spoke about how the behaviour and conduct of staff could make it harder to access the benefits system. 

Negative experiences

Some participants also spoke about their negative experiences of interacting with staff from public services. These participants described how that staff had been quite hostile to them over the phone in the past. 

"The staff said ‘is there something wrong with you?’"

Some said that they had been treated a certain way because of their ethnic background, their name, or the way that they spoke. Several said that cultural and social issues made it difficult for ethnic minorities to use public services. 

"Sometimes I feel like others are racist. I feel like they have attitudes about our community which say that we aren’t entitled. So that means I’m dissuaded from applying or appealing."

"There are cultural and social issues that prevent you from engaging with services. You feel ostracised from engaging with services throughout your whole working life in the UK."

A few participants said that they had experienced situations where phone line staff had been unwilling to speak more slowly for them. These participants described being unable to understand the words that the phone operator was saying. They described how it was unhelpful if staff were embarrassed to speak more slowly. 

"Sometimes I’ve asked staff to speak slowly, but they have said I can’t speak slow – like they are embarrassed."

"On the phone people speak very fast and it makes it difficult to understand."

How Social Security Scotland staff should be

A number of participants also felt that staff should be well trained, polite, and patient with the people who called them. 

"They need to be patient, explain things slower, give time, and be friendly."

"Some of the staff I’ve seen don’t have a clue. Having said that, they must be dealing with the same type of problems every day. It must be hard for them. But it is so important that they get it right with the public."

"Have people that are trained. Every day is different, but you have to keep you professional hat on. When you see someone that could be the first and last time you see them; every moment is important."

Some said it was important that staff had knowledge of the different cultures in Scotland, and how to respect them.

"It would help if they knew something about different cultures."

Others said that staff should be able to spot when a person was vulnerable or was behaving in an unusual way. 

 "You need staff who can recognise people with problems. Staff that can recognise what’s not normal behaviour. Maybe this person has something that is a wee bit wrong? A little bit of empathy.

Some said it would useful if Social Security Scotland staff would proactively tell applicants and clients about other support that was available (such as advocates).



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