Social Security Experience Panels - ethnic minorities: visual summary

This summary 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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Language barriers and inclusive communication

Creating accessible public information

Almost all focus groups felt that language barriers prevented ethnic minorities accessing what they were entitled to. 

Many said that having limited English made it difficult for them to access information about the benefits system. 

"For a person who doesn’t have English as a first language, the experience is not positive. Because the form, the booklet that describes how to fill the form, or leaflet about entitlement, all in English."

Some said that language barriers meant they could understand bits of information. But they struggled to know exactly what benefits they were entitled to and how they could get them. 

"For a person who doesn’t have English as a first language, the experience is not positive. Because the form, the booklet that describes how to fill the form, or leaflet about entitlement, all in English."

Others said that they were worried about making an error and then being sanctioned or prosecuted.  

"If I read some information on my own, I can’t work out exactly who is eligible, what is expected of you once you are getting benefits. I can’t work out other bits of the process and I would feel like I was telling a lie if I tried to answer something I didn’t fully understand."

Some said that information was particularly inaccessible for older ethnic minorities. 

"Usually, older members of the community ask their children to make contact with the relevant organisation and read the letters. This is because they speak no English at all."

Many suggested that information about different benefits could be translated into different languages and dialects.

They said having two languages in one place would help them cross-reference and have a clearer understanding of what certain words meant. 

Multi-lingual resources were also helpful because they would allow families (with different language skills between older and younger generations) to work through information about the benefits system together

Several suggested that Social Security Scotland create a booklet in different languages to explain eligibility for benefits

"A booklet is the best source for basic information. Could be printed in community languages. English is not my first language, so if there was a booklet printed in 6 community languages, I would pick it up and have a look. I’d be more confident to apply."

Difficulties making contact by phone

Many said they had struggled to speak to authorities by phone

Some said past experiences meant that they did not like using the phone to talk about important matters. These included:

  • Feeling judged while on the phone 
  • Staff were not willing to speak slowly  
  • Did not want to be charged for the call  

"I feel like staff at the other end of the phone don’t understand me."

Multi-lingual phone line

Some participants liked the idea of Social Security Scotland using interpreters to help clients communicate. 

Several said that they would like Social Security Scotland to create something similar to the NHS Language Line. They said that they particularly liked the way interpretation could be instant.

It was thought this would give people with limited English an opportunity to call, ask questions, and speak for themselves


Some said that they would not always feel comfortable with an interpreter helping them with benefits. They said that applying for benefits was a personal matter that they would not want to share with any third-party interpreter.

Others said that language interpreters were not always reliable.

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

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

Communicating by video

Some felt that Social Security Scotland would be more approachable if it let clients communicate by video.

These participants felt that video meetings with clients and applicants would: 

  • Allow people to feel more comfortable while speaking at home 
  • Build trust through more face to face contact 
  • Reduce the chance of forgetting an important document   

Several suggested that videos could be provided to help guide applicants through benefit application processes. 



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