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.

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Interpreters, other third-party support, and video communication

Participants also spoke about other ways in which Social Security Scotland could support and communicate inclusively with ethnic minorities. 

Interpreters and other third-party support

While participants agreed that Social Security Scotland could make itself more approachable by being contactable in different languages, there was division about the use of interpreters. A number of participants suggested that they would not always feel comfortable with an interpreter to help them with social security issues. Some described applying for benefits as a deeply personal matter that they wouldn’t necessarily want to share with any third-party interpreter. They said that they would want to apply for their entitlement by themselves without any added help. 

"I would like to go through the application by myself." 

These participants thought that if Social Security Scotland had internal support staff who could speak different languages, this would keep conversations private between two parties. 

"Bilingual staff in Social Security Scotland would be good." 

Others described issues with the reliability, availability or suitability of interpreters. Several talked about the difficulty of using interpreters that spoke in different accents or languages. 

"I’ve had issues with interpreters not turning up to my medicals." 

"Sometimes there are accent issues with interpreters for Mandarin, where it’s difficult to understand."

"I need someone to translate. There’s no Nepali translator in the council. I asked for a translator, they brought a Pakistani translator. It’s ok as I can understand Hindi, but not everyone does."

A few also talked about how Social Security Scotland could make available support more visible to applicants and clients. Several described how they had relied on third party support in the past (e.g. advocates, support workers), but were concerned it was not always clear what kind of support was available. A few felt it was particularly important that those who needed to go through reconsiderations or appeal a decision through a tribunal were aware of the third party support they could access.[8]

"My application was difficult but my support worker completed and sent off the application so I didn’t have to do much. But I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them."

"People who are refused reconsideration do not fight back – only a tiny percent of people then take the next step when they are refused. If the two parties can not agree then there needs to be a mediator."

Communicating by video

Many participants - particularly in the sessions conducted with older groups - said that they didn’t use the internet or digital technology. However, there were some who felt that Social Security Scotland would be more approachable if it offered more opportunities to communicate by video. These participants said that although it wouldn’t necessarily be accessible to everyone, video communication would be a useful tool for some applicants and clients.[9]

Some suggested that applicants or clients could book video catch-ups with Social Security Scotland staff. These participants said that people could feel more comfortable whilst talking in their own home. They also thought that video chat consultations would help to make the contact with Social Security Scotland seem more of a human interaction. A few said that online video chat would be good because there would be less chance that an applicant or client would forget to bring an important document with them. 

"They could maybe do more video chat services. People are comfortable in their own home and can speak freely. It might be easier for them to provide information if they are at home too."

"It is a dehumanising process – and a video could humanise it."

Several wondered if video content could be provided to help guide applicants through benefit application processes. 

"We are living in a digital age – what about automated film to help people fill in the forms. I could be a bit like a health and safety induction – the same sort of thing." 



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