The Scottish Government is becoming responsible for some of the benefits previously delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions. As part of the work to prepare for this change, in 2017 the Scottish Government set up the Social Security Experience Panels. The Experience Panels are made up of people who have experience of at least one of the benefits that will be devolved to Scotland. The Scottish Government undertakes research with panel members to inform key decisions in the design of social security in Scotland. As hard to reach and marginalised groups are less likely to be visible in the Experience Panels, we have set up a programme of research for 'Seldom Heard Voices' to ensure these voices are included in the design of social security services.
There are four groups identified as 'Seldom Heard' in this research programme. They are Mobile Populations, Vulnerable Groups, End of Life, and Carers and Care Experienced. For each group two waves of fieldwork were undertaken.
This is the report for the two waves of the Mobile Populations strand. The group is divided into the following sub-groups: Gypsy/Travellers, refugees and seasonal migrant workers. It will highlight key barriers and challenges in accessing benefits faced by Mobile Populations participants, as identified through analysis of qualitative interviews. The report also discusses enablers or potential improvements which may support increased benefit uptake among this group.
General experiences of benefits
Research participants from the Mobile Populations strand had a strong reliance on council support workers, third sector organisations and/or informal support networks to navigate various aspects of the benefit system. This support was mainly for access to information on benefits and support to complete varied applications processes. Participants mostly had experience of applying for and receiving Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment.
Mobile Population participants experienced common barriers and challenges with the benefit system.
Research participants felt they could not find correct information on benefits and eligibility from official government channels such Department for Work and Pensions and Jobcentre Plus. Many perceived the benefit system as complex and difficult to understand.
The structure and the wording of applications forms were perceived as repetitive, prescriptive and long. Some participants mentioned that the questions did not allow to convey additional information to explain the nuances of their particular circumstances. Some felt that forms were purposefully designed to make it hard to get successful benefit claims.
A few highlighted barriers to access information and apply for benefits online because they did not have internet access or digital devices.
Many participants reported long waiting times during the benefit application processes, in particular when claiming Universal Credit and disability related benefits. The long waiting times caused them financial difficulties such rent arrears, the need to use foodbanks, borrowing money to get by, getting emergency loans and/or homelessness.
Participants who had experience of claiming Universal Credit commonly held negative views towards it. They highlighted challenges around complex online processes and negative views towards the amount of their Universal Credit payment, as they felt it did not cover a minimum standard of living.
Participants from the Mobile Populations group reported feeling stigmatised, misunderstood, judged and discriminated against by the DWP and Jobcentre Plus staff. Many indicated that there is stigma attached when applying for benefits. They also felt discriminated against by benefit staff as a result of their origin i.e. being a Gypsy/Traveller, a refugee or a European citizen.
Positive experiences (enablers) and views on how the benefit system can be improved were identified by the Mobile Populations group.
Participants stressed that the benefit system needs to be compassionate on their support of benefit applicants. Several participants emphasised the need for benefit staff to be suitably trained to understand the specific circumstances of different groups. Many highlighted the need for benefit staff to be aware of mental health conditions and experiences of trauma when interacting with clients. Some also mentioned the need for staff to be approachable, empathetic, patient and friendly when communicating information and supporting participants with application processes.
Third sector organisations which advocate and work on the specific needs of Mobile Population groups contributed to positive experiences with the benefit system. Many participants perceived these organisations as a trustworthy source for information and support. Some participants highlighted the key role of council support workers and Gypsy/Traveller liaison officers for information and support to navigate the benefit system.
Participants said that they would like communication on information and applications of benefits using various methods suited to their individual circumstances and preferences.
Many said that they preferred to access support face-to-face. They mentioned this support can be provided in a specific location, local libraries or at home. They felt that face-to-face communication will ensure they are given the correct information and support to complete forms. Refugees and seasonal migrant worker participants highlighted the support they required from translators and interpreters during those face to face appointments so they can explain their particular circumstances clearer.
Some participants mentioned that benefit system needs to be designed with more flexibility. It should be able to consider their specific and complex situations and to be able to deal with sudden changes of circumstances of clients.
Some participants suggested that application processes need to be simplified. This included making application forms simpler. Some suggested shortening waiting times of application processes and payments so they could help clients to avoid financial difficulties.
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