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

Unaware of the support available

Participants were asked how they found out about the benefits system and specific benefits that they might be entitled to. In response, many participants – across different groups that spoke in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Cantonese, Mandarin, Nepalese, and English – said that they did not have regular sources of reliable information about social security. 

Some participants said that they knew nothing about the benefits system or the kinds of support that might be available to them. Others said that they knew a little about the benefits system, but were mostly confused about how it worked. 

No knowledge of the support available

Some participants said that they simply did not know how to find out about any additional support they might be entitled to. Several spoke about state pensions, but then described how they were not aware of any other support. 

"I’ve never heard about the benefits system, or where you can apply for money or anything like that."

"All we know is when we retire we get a pension in this country."  

These participants gave a variety of reasons why they didn’t know more about the benefits system. Some said they had known a little bit from a long time ago, but didn’t directly know anyone who had applied for specific benefits recently. This meant it was difficult for them to get accurate information about the support available. Others said that they hadn’t put much energy into finding out about specifics benefits, because they had assumed that they would not be entitled to any. 

A number of participants - particularly in the sessions conducted with older groups - described how they and others they knew were isolated from information in the wider world. They said that they spent most of their time at home or at religious venues. There was a feeling that because of their lifestyle they were not likely to find out about support that might be available for them. Several described how they were isolated from information because they had limited transport options to access public places. 

"I think I’m quite isolated from situations where information would be available. When I out, I’m at the Mosque. Otherwise, I’m not able to get out due to my bad health."

"The community doesn’t ever come together here – we need a reason to get together to discuss these things."

"We don’t know about these benefits. We stay in the home. We don’t go away. It’s a struggle because you don’t have a car. This means you are socially isolated and can’t participate fully."


Other participants said that they knew a little about the benefits system, but found it difficult to find useful information for them from the sources that they were aware of. 

Several described not knowing which authorities were the providers of different benefits. These participants said they were unclear which authorities provided different benefits – i.e. between the Department of Work and Pensions, their local council, the Scottish Government, and Social Security Scotland (Note: It should be noted that much of this fieldwork took place to before Social Security Scotland was publicly launched as an agency).[7] These participants described not knowing where to go to find out about a range of support that they may or may not be entitled to. Several described not knowing who should be contacted about blue badges, pensions, boiler schemes, ill-health benefits, and Universal Credit. 

Some said it was hard to keep fully updated about how benefits changed. There was also a some confusion about changes in responsibilities between the UK Government and Scottish Government.

"All of this is a jungle. I just go around in circles. Not sure who to contact and who is in charge of what."

"I look, but it’s hard to keep track of when benefits change."

"I have no idea where I would get the right information. Even reporting issues to council - like issues with bins. I wouldn’t know where to go or who to call."

"I learned a fair bit about computers when I was working – it is something amazing. You learn quick and forget quick. It is confusing – I don’t know what to do or where to go. There is also so much information. I don’t use it now."

A few participants - who spoke in groups conducted in Urdu – also described how it had been hard to know where to find information when they had returned to the UK after spending some time abroad.  

"I didn’t know where the offices were when I returned to the UK from abroad. I asked a neighbour, and he told me where the benefits office was and I went there. But I did not know where any help about social security was until then."  

Several participants also described not having any sources of information because the charities that they had used previously were no longer running. 

"Many years ago there were charities that provided information. But now these organisations have disappeared so people have no idea."

Many participants also said that they had a problem accessing and fully understanding information materials that were not available in their first language. This is covered in more detail later in the ‘Language barriers and creating accessible public information’ section of the report.

Technology barriers

Many - particularly in the sessions conducted with older groups - said that they were not able to find out information about the support available because they did not have access to the internet. For some, lack of a smartphone or a laptop in the house made accessing online resources difficult. Others said they couldn’t access information online because they didn’t know how to use the internet at all. 

"I only use phones for making calls. None of us have smartphones or tablets at home. It hard to find out what is online if you can’t afford devices."

A number of participants - particularly in the sessions conducted with older groups - said that they no longer used any online resources because of concerns about internet security and online hackers. These participants described how after being tricked by online scams in the past, they were now reluctant to trust any online information that claimed to be offering support. 

"After buying products online, I no longer trust the technology. There’s lots of tech crime, stealing people’s details, stealing their savings. You become less trusting of people you think are helpers."

"I don’t use online. I have some friends and people who I can ask to check certain things but I wouldn’t have checked to see what benefits I might be eligible for."

Several described that using technology was particularly a problem for themselves and other older people they knew. They said that they had to ask for help from family members to assist them with devices. 

"Old people stay at home alone. They don’t know how to use the internet. Some can’t even use the TV. I can’t use the TV! I have to ask my son or daughter."



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