Social Security Experience Panels - Seldom Heard research programme: vulnerable groups

This report presents the main findings of the first wave of research with vulnerable groups as part of the ‘Seldom Heard Voices’ research programme.

This document is part of a collection

General experiences of benefits

Many of the participants lived with multiple, often interrelated physical and mental health conditions which sometimes included addictions. The impacts of such conditions went beyond loss of health. They affect areas of day-to-day life such as social relations, employability, mobility and housing security.

Due to the complex and ongoing impact of such conditions, participants across all three sub-groups often had many years' experience of claiming benefits. A few participants had experience of claiming benefits that extends across two decades, while most ranged from 2-10 years.

Support networks and resources

Each of the three sub-groups reported a strong reliance of third sector organisations to help navigate the social security system. These organisations are credited with helping participants understand their eligibility for specific benefits; fill in benefit application forms; accompany and support participants during assessments, appeals and tribunals and generally help navigate the social security system.

A wide range of third sector organisations were credited as providing support. Citizens Advice were mentioned by participants across all three sub-groups. However, the majority of third sector organisations provided support specific to the needs of, or collective identity of, that sub-group.

Veteran participants mentioned The British Legion, Unforgotten Forces, Veterans Assist, Bravehound, and Advice Works (among others). For the HIV/Hepatitis C sub-group, third sector organisations included Waverley Care (Edinburgh based), the Terrence Higgins Trust, HIV Scotland and Quarriers. Within the Homeless sub-group, third sector organisations mentioned were Social Bite (Glasgow based), Turning Point Scotland, Cyrenians, Change Grow Live, and Safeguarding Communities – Reducing Offending (SACRO).

To a lesser extent, GPs and nurses, council workers, and Job Centre staff were among those credited with 'signposting' participants to third sector organisations, other benefit services and advising on eligibility.

Participants had mixed experiences of support from the UK government DWP. A few were positive about their use of UK government websites to inform them of eligibility, to apply for benefits, and to receive updates on their application status. However, no single research participant credited these websites and digital services alone as providing all the information and advice they needed to submit an application. They all relied on mostly third sector support.

For some participants, UK government websites were experienced as a barrier to finding out about benefit eligibility and filling in forms. Notably these participants were used to receiving information or applying for benefits and receiving updates in paper formats. Similarly, participants who had limited access to digital devices and internet connection experienced these as a barrier.

When it came to the availability and quality of face-to-face or telephone helpline services, participants were mostly negative about their experiences with DWP staff.

For a few participants, social media and the internet in general was where benefit applicants/recipients shared information on eligibility criteria and the application system.

Benefits claimed

Research participants identifying as living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or Hepatitis C were most likely to have experience of receiving multiple benefits when compared to the other sub-groups.

Participants identifying as Military Veterans were least likely to report receiving multiple benefits (simultaneously, or consecutively) when compared to the other sub-groups.

The HIV/Hepatitis C sub-group were the group most likely to be in receipt of PIP and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

The Homeless sub-group were most likely to be in receipt of PIP and Universal Credit (UC).

The Veteran sub-group were the most commonly in receipt of ESA and Disability Living Allowance (DLA).



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