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

What's next?

The chart below summarises the barriers that carers and care experienced people faced, the corresponding enablers and suggested improvements and sets out the action Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland will undertake (or has already undertaken) to address these barriers.




The benefit system is complex and unfamiliar

The social security system has become more complex, inflexible and inaccessible than before

A general duty to promote the take-up of devolved benefits is enshrined in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. Social Security Scotland and the Scottish Government to date have published two take-up strategies that set out all the activity and engagement being undertaken to ensure awareness of benefits improves.

Social Security Scotland will build on these findings by carrying out further research to identify and explore how best to communicate and market benefits to hard-to-reach and marginalised groups. The results of this research will be used to develop bespoke communication and engagement plans to support communication activity.

The findings from this research have been fed into the consideration to implement a joined-up approach to improve access to information and support, and the importance of providing a range of communication options, in the work to develop Scottish Carer's Assistance, the Scottish replacement benefit for Carers Allowance. The intention is for the new benefit to reach more carers, and help carers find out about the wider support which is available to them.

Difficulty finding information

Social Security Scotland has introduced inclusive communication approaches in all its work; working towards clear and accessible information, and a clear and transparent explanation of the eligibility criteria for each application form.

Various channels of communication and support

Preferences to local delivery services

Joined up services to help access and navigate social security services

For the benefits that have been and will be devolved to Scotland Social Security Scotland will offer a range of ways to apply for the benefits they deliver including online, telephone, paper-based or face-to-face. Further applicants will be offered support when applying for disability benefits. This multi-channel approach will ensure that those who cannot or choose not to adopt digital methods will not become isolated through technology.

The findings on the preference for face-to-face support will be fed into the development of the Local Delivery service in local communities across Scotland. This service will be person-centred by providing local presence to meet people's needs in key locations where clients currently attend. Local delivery staff will provide pre-application advice and support to encourage people to take up the payments they are entitled to.

Stigma built in the system

Specialised training of DWP assessors and staff

Trust inbuilt in Social Security System

Social Security Scotland and Scottish Government have gone to great lengths to ensure that fairness, dignity and respect are embedded in the new system. Our Charter was co-designed to ensure that what a good system looks like is set out in full. This system includes the need for staff to be knowledgeable and empathetic. The Charter Measurement Framework (also co-designed) monitors and reports on a yearly basis the progress being made against the Charter.

Complexity of the application forms (prescriptive, rigid)

Rigid format of application forms and assessments

Easier understating of benefit eligibility and advise (using a joined up approach)

Simplification of application forms

Applications forms should allow explanations of individual circumstances

Simplification of by having information or evidence from previous application stored

Social Security Scotland has introduced inclusive communication approaches in all its work including application processes, all systems and client/staff interaction.

Further, the design of forms and application processes are undertaken in collaboration with people with lived experience of the benefit being devolved.

Social Security Scotland has provided telephone and online services to advise clients on each aspect of the application processes.

Storing information from clients to prevent duplication is addressed by a new practice to gather information. This practice will focus on Social Security Scotland being able to proactively store information from the client since the start of application when that is possible. This will reduce the burden on the applicant.

Health assessment staff are poorly trained or insensitive to mental health conditions and trauma

Decision Making Guidance and Agency Medical Guidance will be developed with stakeholders. They will fully capture the impact of living with mental health conditions, other fluctuating conditions, and learning disabilities.

Assessment reports are one sided, subjective and inaccurate

Health assessment reports should be a joint agreement between assessor and applicant

GP records and medical evidence weighted heavier on assessments

These suggestions are aligned with the approach to supporting information being implemented by Social Security Scotland. This approach will consider using supporting information from the medical profession.

Strong reliance of third sector organisations to help navigate the social security system

Scottish Government has published two take-up strategies that include engaging with advocacy organisations to address barriers to benefit take-up. The findings from this research will inform a targeted approach with these specific groups for the implementation of interventions committed to in the Benefit take-up Strategy.

The findings from this research will be used to inform stakeholder engagement which communicates changes on Social Security Scotland benefits. Activities include workshops which bring together a wide range of organisations. These workshops involve various teams across Social Security Scotland working with third sector organisations. This engagement will help organisations to provide relevant and accurate information on benefits and their eligibility to their clients.

Payments and financial hardship due to long waiting times

Social Security Scotland has implemented a short-term assistance payment to cover the income reduced or stopped during the process of redetermination or appeals of disability payments. This will ensure a client is not discouraged from challenging that decision and they access administrative justice by having to manage, for a period, with a reduced income.

Further to the next steps outlined above, Social Security Scotland will also undertake a full assessment of the impacts and corresponding actions required as part of their business planning and prioritisation process.

The Scottish Government is doing further research with Seldom Heard voices.

Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research (now Diffley Partnership) is doing a second wave of fieldwork with Vulnerable Groups which we expect will be completed in the winter of 2021/22. Similarly to the recruitment strategy applied in the first wave, participants are being recruited through stakeholder organisations and in some cases via public sector organisations. The second wave of interviews with vulnerable groups will include participants identified in the previous sub-groups and a further sub-group (to include prisoners, ex-offenders or their close family members; and participants with community sentences).



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